Baba Ganoush, Kendal
Immediately, this daytime "canteen" feels like a keeper. High-up on one wall, a long shelf of cookbooks includes wise words from Simon Hopinkson. That suggests that Baba Ganoush is a place where things are done correctly. In the open kitchen – stainless-steel, utilitarian, serious – a couple of cooks beaver away with reassuring industry. The chalked-up specials menu is full of interesting, tempting things: a spicy sausage stew; a warm Roquefort and pear salad; a harissa and cumin-roasted lamb flatbread.
Two breakfast dishes deliver, and how. Rarebit with Lee & Perrins roasted tomatoes is proper in every respect, the rarebit mix a smooth, lightly unctuous paste with a pointed mustard-ale tang. A plate of scrambled eggs with chorizo is equally good, the eggs deliriously creamy, the chorizo fulsome but not overbearingly hot, the thick-cut granary bread (from Cumbrian artisan bakery, More?) excellent. Baba Ganoush is not the easiest place to find: "It's lovely, one for the locals," I was told, when I asked someone for directions – but hunt it out. The original Baba Ganoush, a few doors up, focuses on sandwiches and takeaway if you need to grab and go.
• Unit 4, Berry's Yard 27, Finkle Street, 01539 738210, baba-ganoush.co.uk. Dishes ?2.75-?8.50
Known primarily for its teas (it has won multiple Tea Guild awards and sources rare leaves from India and Sri Lanka), the Hazelmere takes a similar pride in its food. Sound local ingredients are key to dishes that range from potted Morecambe Bay shrimps to sausage and mash, using spicy Cumberland bangers from much-loved Grange butcher, Higginson's. However, the best value at Hazelmere is to be found not in its somewhat buttoned-up tea room, but in its bakery. Take your pick from pies, savouries, sausage rolls, sandwiches and, to wash them down, local beers from Hawkeshead, Jennings and Watermill Brewing Co (from ?2.84).
A meat and potato slice was robust, filling and tasty; a huge, stuffed wholemeal Italian flatbread fine, if perhaps a little worthy. The cakes are fantastic. You might be in the wrong county, but do not miss Hazelmere's sharp, moist Yorkshire curd tart. Picnic across the road, in the Ornamental Gardens, where you can gaze out across Grange's eponymous sands to Morecambe. Weekday lunchtimes, Hazelmere offers a two-course senior citizens' lunch, with tea or coffee, for ?10.
• 1-2 Yewbarrow Terrace, 015395 32972, hazelmerecafe.co.uk. Takeaway baked goods from 99p, sandwiches from ?1.80. Cafe meals ?4.25-?11.95
After many years of using and loving Cartmel Village Shop – home of the town's famous sticky toffee pudding – I actually bought something duff on this visit. The base soggy, the filling bland, something had gone very wrong with my slice of quiche. But I'm prepared to put that down as an uncharacteristic one-off, given that this deli and (new, first-floor) cafe also delivered what was, by some distance, this trip's best patisserie.
A slice of apricot and ground almond tart was a serious, five-star bit of baking, the pastry as perfectly thin and crisp as anything you will eat this side of a Michelin star restaurant. It cost just ?1.55. If you're self-catering locally, you should also visit Unsworth Yard, where you will find Cartmel Cheeses (1 Unsworth Yard, 015395 32845) and first-rate bakery, the Bread Shed (2 Unsworth's Yard, 01539 533839). The Yard (4 Unsworth's Yard) also has its own microbrewery which makes a decent traditional bitter, Cartmel Peninsula, ?3 a bottle from kitchenware shop, the Red Pepper (Devonshire Square, 015395 36025).
• The Square, 015395 36280, cartmelvillageshop.co.uk. Takeaway sandwiches from ?2.50-?2.75. Cafe light lunches ?3.60-?6.45.
If you're out walking locally, it is well worth diverting to this excellent artisan bakery-cafe in sleepy Broughton. It uses local, organic and Fairtrade ingredients in a wide selection of sweet and savoury bakery items (the fragrant cinnamon scrolls are particularly good), sandwiches and simple hot daily specials.
A sample lunch of chickpea and lentil stew (takeaway, ?4) was wholesome, Italianate stuff: a generous pot crammed with sprightly supporting vegetables, full of deep-set, slow-cooked tomatoey flavours. The accompanying granary bread was impeccably fresh. As bright and cheery, in fact, as the service.
• Princes Street, 01229 716284, broughtonvillagebakery.co.uk. Bakery items and takeaway sandwiches ?1-?4.95. Eat-in dishes from ?3.50
In order to eat well, the budget traveller has to accept certain limitations. For instance, you'll have to eat at the Jumble Room at lunchtime, on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Even then, the menu only offers around six dishes at under ?10 a head. For cooking of this quality, however, it is well worth the inconvenience.
The chef, David Clay, is clearly a highly-skilled, knowledgeable craftsman, his global dishes cleanly and precisely executed, whether he is cooking fish and chips or a roasted pumpkin risotto. A plate of gnocchi Romagna (ultra-light, pan-fried polenta gnocchi, not the potato version), served with rocket and an intense, punchy olive and tomato sauce was very good. The Jumble Room itself is a homely, slightly hippyish spot, a relaxed bolt-hole full of bric-a-brac and art, the low-key soundtrack veering from ruminative folk to eccentric, bluesy US rock.
• Langdale Road, 015394 35188, thejumbleroom.co.uk. Lunch mains from ?7.95
Like a lot of tourist destinations, the Lake District is not exactly overrun with conscientious venues producing great food at keen prices. A large captive audience means that mediocre, overpriced food is the norm. All of which makes Chesters a bit of a gem. Not only is it a smartly modernised cafe in a prime riverside location, but its locally-sourced food is genuinely good and, generally, fair value.
For ?3.95 you can mix and match a couple of its colourful, zingy salads: blood orange and fennel; cauliflower and sesame; lentil, feta and red onion. If you want to make up a more substantial meal, add something (pork pie; leek and gruyere tart; chargrilled lamb pitta) from the "main bits" section of the menu. Weirdly, the only thing that didn't impress was Chester's famous cakes. A slice of carrot cake was underpowered and tasted expensive at ?3.50.
• Skelwith Bridge, near Ambleside, 015394 34711, chestersbytheriver.co.uk. "Main bits" ?3.95-?6.95, salad bowl ?3.95 (two-person, four salad sharing plate, ?9.95)
A kitchen has recently been installed at Hawkshead's Beer Hall. The menu is overseen by Steven Doherty, a former head chef at Le Gavroche and the man who, back in the 1990s, during that brief golden age of the gastropub, put Crosthwaite's Punch Bowl Inn on the map. He and head chef Kester Marsh know their onions, both technically and in terms of what beer drinkers want to eat.
The menu is split between smaller and larger "beer tapas" (everything from local pork pie and mustard to cullen skink) and more substantial dishes, such as macaroni cheese with truffle oil or stout-braised beef with mash, at just under ?10. Babyback BBQ ribs (?3.50) were properly glazed in a tangy, sticky sauce and the meat fell off the bone. "Perfect bar food," was the verdict across the table. An intermediate-sized plate of rosti topped with beef stroganoff was full of good flavours and, at ?4.50, a substantive portion. A pint of Hawkshead Windermere Pale (from ?2.60) was superb: fresh, floridly hoppy, crisply bitter. An on-site beer shop also sells bottles from many of Britain's leading micros, such as Magic Rock and Marble. Note: food midday-3pm and until 7pm Friday and Saturday, 6pm Sunday.
• The Beer Hall, Hawkshead Brewery, Mill Yard, 01539 825260; hawksheadbrewery.co.uk. Beer tapas ?1.50-?4.50, meals ?6.50-?12
This little side-street chip shop is making quite a name for itself. The staff include the 2010 Young Fish Frier of the Year and a 2011 runner-up, and, in its own bluff, no-nonsense way, Angel Lane is clearly striving (emphasis on sustainability; plenty of home-cooked specials) to be the model modern chippie. A sample pollock and chips bore this out. The pollock – which readily breaks into pearly flakes like cod, but is almost as meaty as monkfish – is good, the batter crisp and nicely seasoned with a cute, residual tart flavour.
The chips are brilliant, unusually and pointedly potatoey. Which shouldn't be as rare as it is. The star of the show, however, is a portion of Angel Lane's amazing steak and ale pie (?2.60). Packed with meltingly tender slow-cooked meat, under crisp multiple layers of filo, slathered with the shop's own gravy, it is a savoury humdinger. There is a cafe section upstairs, if you want to eat in.
• 17 Angel Lane, 01768 866762, angellanechippie.com. Fish and chips from ?4.15 (takeaway)
An obvious choice? Maybe. But there is nothing stale about Britain's only independent, family-owned motorway services. Between its farm shops, to-go outlets and its main cafeteria, Tebay remains not just an anomaly on the M6, but one of the best places to eat in the Lakes at this price-point. From takeaway items such as handmade cakes from Kendal's Ginger Bakers, great, rare breed Gloucester Old Spot pork pies (?1.60), fat, attractive pre-packed sandwiches and honest homemade soups (from ?3.45, takeaway), through to its full-meals – all cooked on-site, using high-quality, local ingredients - Tebay is like some parallel universe where good sense, not profit, is the guiding principle.
This is a motorway services which uses a brick oven to cook its flatbreads and panini. One where main meals are, if necessary, cooked to order, but where clever one-pot casseroles and curries, and big trays of chicken, leek and bacon pie or mushroom and spinach crumble, put no little pizzazz into mass catering.
• Between junctions 38 and 39 of the M6, Orton, 01539 624511, westmorland.com. Dishes ?3.95-?8.50
Being the "wrong" (ie east) side of the M6, it is easy to forget that Kirkby Lonsdale is in Cumbria. It would be criminal to overlook the Sun Inn. In recent years, Lucy and Mark Fuller have given this gussied-up boozer a new lease of life. In collaboration with a network of fantastic local suppliers– not least Dales Traditional Butchers and Churchmouse Cheeses, both neighbours of the inn's on Market Street – they have significantly recalibrated the food, while maintaining an entry-point for the budget traveller. At lunch, they do a core of pub favourites, such as sausage and mash, fish and chips and haggis, at ?9.95, but they also serve smaller, "starter size" plates all day until 10pm.
If there's a couple of you, split your ?20 across the likes of Dales' pork and damson pie, cauliflower cheese with fresh bread and a plate of ham hock and chicken terrine, and you should be able to put together a reasonably filling, very tasty, selection of dishes – and still have money left over for a couple of halves from the rather vanilla real ale roster (Thwaites, Hawkshead, Timothy Taylor, half ?1.60). The sausages with mustard and the Lancashire cheese croquettes served, on this visit, with a seasonal rhubarb relish are both recommended. They also have 11 smart, contemporary rooms [reviewed by Sally Shalam in 2007] from ?99 a double a night.
• 6 Market Street, 015242 71965, sun-inn.info. Bar menu dishes from ?3.50-?6.95