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Is a change really as good for a Rest?
Traveller's Rest Inn (Grasmere)
Member Name: SWSt
Traveller's Rest Inn (Grasmere)
Advantages: Excellent food, good real ales, pleasant atmosphere
Disadvantages: Quite expensive, portions on the small side, over fussy presentation
The Traveller's Inn on the main road, just outside the village of Grasmere is perfectly placed to attract passing trade, walkers and visitors to Grasmere itself. Although it doesn't look much from the outside inside it's a different story, with a real sense of history and character (it's an old coach house). On opening the door, you are immediately greeted by a roaring log fire - always welcome on a cold day, with the small bar immediately in front of you.
As soon as you walk in, you normally get a very cheery welcome from the bar staff. Service generally is pretty friendly (although smiles apparently cost extra from the waitress we had on our last visit) There's often quite a subdued atmosphere, with people talking often in low voices, but to be honest, that's a good thing. If I'm out for a meal, I don't want to listen to some opinionated blob holding forth on every subject under the sun!
Still, enough of my prejudices, back to the review! The pub is split into a number of distinct areas. If you just want a relaxing drink, there's the bar area or another section with a TV screen, pool table and some fruit machines. Just inside the door are a series of small tables - perfect if you want a more informal meal. Beyond that there's a more formal dining area. Unless they're very busy, you don't have to wait to be shown to a table and can choose to sit anywhere you like.
As with most Lake District pubs, the Traveller's Rest is a real ale pub. Their range is not that huge, and most belong to the Jennings brewery which owns the pub, but they make my favourite - Snecklifter - so that's fine! Considering the location, drinks are pretty competitively priced and not much different from other pubs in the region.
Food-wise, things have changed quite a bit at the Traveller's Rest recently. It used to offer fairly traditional pub food using local produce. The typical menu would include Gammon, Cumberland sausage, mixed grill etc. - all hearty meals of the kind enjoyed by walkers and tourists. On my recent visit some of the traditional bar snacks had been replaced by more fancy dishes. Clearly, the Traveller's Rest is trying to re-position as a more up-market restaurant.
Personally, I think this is a mistake: the Traveller's Rest had developed a good reputation for good, honest local food and now might be seen as, well, a little bit poncey. Portions are considerably smaller than previously, and presentation a lot more ostentatious. This might put some people off, and have contributed to some of the less than positive reports I have heard about the place recently.
The menu was certainly less varied than previously. There used to be a wide range of starters vying for your attention, now there is just a handful, none of which tempted me or Mrs SWSt. The main meals have been similarly pruned. People looking for traditional pub food may look at the menu and decide to pass on to the next pub. After all, that's one thing you can be sure of in the Lakes - the next place to eat is never far away!
The Traveller's Rest is not cheap. It always was more expensive than other, similar pubs and there is no doubt that you paid a premium for the location. However, it did offer value for money. Food had become even more expensive since the last time we visited. It's moved out of the price range most people would consider spending on a bar snack and moved into the territory that makes it somewhere to go for a special occasion. Gammon, for example, was £12.95 - expensive compared with the £8 or so charged by most pubs in the area. Most of the other dishes showed a similar kind of mark-up.
That said, there were no complaints about the quality. Once you've placed your order, a slice of home-made bread is brought out, which is a nice touch and gives you something to nibble while waiting for your meal. Service was fast and efficient (if lacking in smiles!). From placing the order to our food arriving, we waited around 15 minutes or so. Admittedly, we went in at a quiet time and out of season, so you might have to wait longer at other times.
The food was delicious. I had steak pie with Guinness gravy, mashed potato, carrot, swede and braised red cabbage. The pie was packed with succulent chunks of well-cooked beef and the Guinness gravy actually tasted of the dark stuff. There enough gravy to leave you wanting more, without the dish being drowned in it. Mrs SWSt had a cheese, parsnip and onion pie, served with ratatouille, which was also extremely tasty . The menu may well have changed, but the food is as good as ever.
On the downside, the presentation was a little pretentious. Each dish, for example, came served with a rather large sprig of rosemary. Whilst this both smelt and looked nice, it's not the sort of thing you're going to eat and so just sat on the side of our plates, presumably to be thrown away. Similarly, Mrs SWSt's pie had gold leaf (essentially gold foil!) on parts of the crust, which again seemed unnecessary and probably contributes towards bumping up the prices. The Traveller's Rest of old didn't need these gimmicks to attract custom - it relied on good, home-cooked food and a friendly atmosphere - something I personally value more than a few bits of Bacofoil being lobbed on my dinner.
Portions were quite small and whilst there was enough for Mrs SWSt and myself, others may feel disappointed - particularly when you consider how much they cost. This again emphasises that the Traveller's Rest has moved out of the "value for money" range and into the more up-market "special occasion" bracket
It's a brave move and, to be honest, one which I'm not entirely sure will be successful. The Traveller's Rest had developed a reputation for good, home-cooked food and people who liked it for that reason are starting to shun it. Gorgeous though the food was, neither of us is in a rush to go back any time soon. The more limited menu and increased expense rule it out for casual diners and it's cutting itself off from the more lucrative tourist market. In one regard, it's nice to see somewhere trying to provide something a little different. In practical terms, the Traveller's Rest may be committing commercial suicide. Time alone will tell...
Traveller's Rest Inn
© Copyright SWSt 2009
Summary: Not as good as it used to be
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