Roadside dining reaches new heights at The Bridge Bistro, Kirkby Thore

Light trails from trucks and cars blaze past  The Bridge Bistro, one of Cumbria's most elegant dining and drinking venues.

Light trails from trucks and cars blaze past The Bridge Bistro, one of Cumbria’s most elegant dining and drinking venues.

Located on the A66 gateway to the Lake District near Penrith, stylish bistro café The Bridge sets a new benchmark in roadside cuisine by serving affordable foodie fare.

How many times have you passed through Kirkby Thore on Cumbria’s A66 and have hardly been aware of the fact?  We always knew Kirkby Thore was there of course, most of us have driven through it numerous times on the way to somewhere else. The road bends, signs are there and we slowed down for the place and passed on through rejoicing. It was that sort of place, but …. it is no longer unremarkable, far otherwise.

elegant interior design at The Bridge Bistro

Elegant interior design. Calming, suave, warm and bright, our visit to The Bridge Bistro was uplifting.

Now a very elegant Bistro has put Kirkby Thore squarely on the map of really nice places to eat! It’s called The Bridge Bistro, and not only is it beside the bridge, on the Penrith side, but it bridges worlds by elevating roadside dining to new heights.

Yes, after today’s experience I’d even say that I think its worth detouring large distances for Kirkby Thore now, certainly planning an eating stop there for A66 travellers and here’s why, first in a nutshell for those  who are busy, but do read on for the full account if you can.

The nutshell version

  • A nice range of meals and drinks variously priced for different pockets
  • Great quality food
  • Substantial portions
  • Stylish and comfortable
  • Warm, friendly staff
  • Clean as a whistle
  • Long opening hours, at time of writing Mon – Thurs from 9 am to 10 pm, Fri – Sat 9 am to 11 pm, Sun 12pm – 6 pm.

More detail

Imagine that a husband and wife team decided to do a very good job of designing a stylish cafe cum bar cum restaurant (Bistro), using the best materials, with tasteful consideration of your comfort and aesthetic satisfaction in mind at every stage of the process, no expense spared by the looks of things and then went ahead and realised the dream. They then staffed it with nice people who want you to enjoy fresh food cooked well, and then they resisted the temptation to charge you the moon to eat there.  That’s exactly what happened. Matthew and Louise Reay have produced a really good restaurant. Matthew grew up  in nearby Culgaith, worked in London for a number of years where he met Louise and the couple moved north in 2006 to start their family. As keen travellers, they felt there was a gap in the market for good quality, reasonably priced food available on the road. They have now filled that niche, and how!

Friendly staff behind the bar at The Bridge Bistro, Kirkby Thore

Shapely bar  and  a warm welcome and fine eating await travellers on the A66 at The Bridge.

Louise Reay beside the hand painted silk wallpaper.

Louise Reay beside the hand painted silk wallpaper.

Hand-painted silk wallpapers, wood-panelling, bespoke lighting and a handmade bar shape the venue’s contemporary, elegant setting, with a glazed, gable end lending a bright, welcoming feel.

The Bridge is owned by husband-and-wife team Matthew and Louise Reay.

Matt says “Eating out in Cumbria is fairly limited – there is either fine dining or the local pub. The Bridge offers an outstanding mid-range alternative in a unique dining environment and as our Trip Advisor reviews show, we’re proving popular with locals and tourists alike. Having just been open for six months, we’re honoured to be included in next year’s Michelin guide.”

When we eat out we want it to be worthwhile. Today’s lunch was a fine experience from start to finish.

Pretty lady enjoying fine filter coffee at The Bridge Bistro in Kirkby Thore

Great uplift! Freshly brewed coffee in refreshingly elegant surroundings at The Bridge Bistro

Gujons of Plaice in light. crispy tenpura beer batter on a bed of french beans, peas and rocket, with chips, Tartar sauce and the best mushy peas that I've ever tasted!

Goujons of Plaice in light. crispy tempura beer batter on a bed of French beans, peas and rocket, with chips, Tartar sauce and the best mushy peas that I’ve ever tasted!

Here’s that dish viewed again from the side, because I want to share the visual appeal and I’m showing off my new camera. Today’s special at The Bridge Bistro.

Today's special at The Bridge Bistro.

Yes, it was as good as it looks.  My wife enjoyed the Mushroom Risotto very much.

The Bridge Bistro serve a rich Mushroom Risotto with light, crispy battered cauliflower florets for texture. Locally harvested forest mushrooms impart deep, complex flavour. Delicious!

The Bridge Bistro serve a rich Mushroom Risotto with light, crispy battered cauliflower florets for texture. Locally harvested forest mushrooms impart deep, complex flavour. Delicious!

The Bridge Bistro is full of light and beside the expansive front window I encountered the French Electronica band Kwoon, pausing en route to Glasgow as part of their European tour having played in London and Hull. Parisians know Bistro dining, it’s in their blood  and these guys declared their meal to be very good. Sandy Lavallart, the composer, pictured in striped top, declared that it exceeded his expectations of English food, especially from a roadside restaurant. Spot on! I must say the same.  I wish them best of luck with their tour.

Parisian Electronica band Kwoon taking time out on their European tour.

Parisian Electronica band Kwoon taking time out on their European tour.

During a quiet spell, we chatted with the Chef, Paul Mckinnon who uses local, fresh produce to create a varied menu, ranging from simple sandwiches in artisan bread to classic French and Italian dishes. Originally from Gateshead, Paul spent eight years working under Tyneside’s Michelin-starred chef Terry Laybourne at his ’21 Queen Street’ restaurant in Newcastle and at Newcastle United FC.

There is a map theme running through the menus and decor that befits the roadside Bistro

There is a map theme running through the menus and decor that befits the roadside Bistro

Paul says “Freshness of the ingredients is really important in our menu. You’re not eating things from plastic bags here. Take your Plaice for example, it came in on the boat last night, early this morning, and is cooked today. We’ll be offering game soon, pigeon, widgeon, pheasants and grouse.”  Son of a gamekeeper, Paul is skilled in venery, knowing the proper preparation and cuts of game. He is training up local lads in the culinary arts and is pleased with their development so far. The A66 is a major, arterial thoroughfare, with motorists, bikers and truck drivers travelling to and from Scotland, Yorkshire and the northeast.

He says at The Bridge there’s a fine balance in providing a variety of good quality food to suit people who need to eat quickly and be on with their journey and also in serving those who wish to linger and relish a protracted dining experience. He’s passionate about his art and I feel sure that The Bridge will continue to successfully achieve that balance.

Chef, Paul McKinnon explaining how fresh, often locally, sourced ingredients are brought together for outstanding dishes.

Chef, Paul McKinnon explaining how fresh, often locally, sourced ingredients are brought together for nourishing and tasty dishes. Apples and plums, forest mushrooms and fine meat as examples.

East Cumbria’s Eden Valley offers a great deal for visitors including  lovely landscapes, traditional towns, pretty villages, castles, stately homes, prehistoric heritage sites and nature reserves  including Lowther Castle, Acorn Bank, Lakeland Bird of Prey Centre , Lacy’s Caves and Appleby Golf Club.  Now there is fine roadside dining on the A66!

Appleby Golf Club - impressive views  £25 Green Fee

Appleby Golf Club – impressive views of  Pennine Fells and  Eden Valley

The Bridge serves breakfast/brunch, lunch and dinner with a sizable kids’ menu, pricing from £5-20 per person.

Check out the menus, correct at time of writing:

BFast & Kids sample Evening Sample Menu The Bridge Christmas 2013 Weekday Sample Menu

Opening times: Mon thru Thurs 10am–9pm; Fri – Sat 10am–11pm; Sun midday–6pm.

The Bridge, Kirkby Thore Bridge, Penrith, Cumbria CA10 1UZ

Tel: 01768 362766 / www.thebridgebistro.co.uk

Text and photos Charles Paxton of www.thewebcat.biz

The opinions expressed here are genuine and the author received no financial inducement to write this review.

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