A restaurant in Cumbria has been named the world’s best by customer review website Tripadvisor. The Old Stamp House in Ambleside picked up the top prize ahead of a French establishment, Restaurant La Maison d’a Cote in Montlivault, and Tokyo’s Ise Sueyoshi. The gong cements Cumbria’s place as one of the world’s food capitals.
“This one is a big one for me, I was in disbelief,” says head chef and owner Ryan Blackburn in response to the news, which was announced today. “The commitment to run a restaurant like this is phenomenal. The sacrifices you make, it’s hard. I’ve always had respect for Tripadvisor and used it as a guide. If something gets said on there constantly, it’s something I need to look at.”
The Michelin-starred Old Stamp House led a strong showing from British establishments in Tripadvisor's 2021 Travellers' Choice Restaurants Awards. The Kitchin in Edinburgh, which has recently been embroiled in allegations of bullying and abuse, finished 10th in the fine-dining restaurants Europe category and was the second-highest British restaurant. Rounding off the top five UK spots were L’Enclume, also in Cumbria, Adam’s from Birmingham and Moor Hall in Lancashire.
The awards are decided by an algorithm which takes into account millions of reviews and opinions from the past year that have been published on the Tripadvisor website.
It’s easy to see how the Old Stamp House, which is located in William Wordsworth’s former office, won on that metric, with a five-star average generated from 1,352 reviews. Recent visitors have been impressed. “Culinary magic," one wrote. "What a wonderful tasting menu experience today. From the quirky sealed envelope to the unusual plating decor, everything felt infused with originality.”
“It’s not often I write a review within hours of a visit,” posted another. “But what an amazing lunch we have just had. Everything was perfect food wise and so tasty the tasting menu is perfect to get flavours of Cumbrian food and provenance perfect portion size.”
Blackburn focuses on showcasing the best local produce and reimagining some of the region’s classic dishes. The tasting menu, priced at £45 at lunch and £75 for dinner, includes the likes of black pudding ‘bon bons’, local oysters, Cumbrian crab and Lake District hogget.
“To get this recognition sounds a bit over the top,” admits Blackburn humbly. “To be named the best restaurant in the world, it’s a bit dramatic, a bit embarrassing. Especially in a world with such good restaurants. L’Enclume is my favourite restaurant in the world and I’d never compare my restaurant to it, let alone think we’re better.”
The Old Stamp House’s success has its downsides, the chef admits. Blackburn has recently decided to close the restaurant on weekends from August until October, such is the pressure on the small village of Ambleside from visitors, which has only worsened in this year of staycations. “Customers can’t park and suppliers can’t get through because the traffic is so horrendous,” Blackburn reveals.
The chef is also planning to reduce working hours for staff and come up with some new food concepts. “These awards give you that confidence, that stability to make changes.”
What does Blackburn put the success of Cumbrian cuisine down to? “It’s because we have the customers; you can’t do anything without customers. Ambleside, and the Lake District in general, is like a suburb of London, it’s busy all the time. The demand for tables is year round. People are here for a spa weekend, or a trip around the Lakes, and are looking for a bit of luxury.
“And before Covid there were so many international guests, from America, Japan, France, all over. We even had regulars from Denmark. But a lot of it is down to Simon Rogan [of L’Enclume]. He’s a real trailblazer, he showed us it was all possible.”