When a bite of food elicits a giggle of pleasure, you know you’re on to a winner. When another bite plunges a dining room into a revered silence, you know you have discovered the power of a good plate of food.

But then describing what Kevin and Nicola Tickle have created at Heft in High Newton, as good, is to undersell them by many country miles. 

This gorgeous rural inn – which wasn’t so gorgeous when they first took it on three years ago – has been pulled from the dining wastelands and turned into a shining beacon of what every good restaurant and inn should be, with understated culinary excellence in abundance.

It’s not surprising – when Kevin opened the now hallowed kitchens at Grasmere’s Forest Side, he’d been awarded a Michelin star and two Lancashire Life Food and Drink Awards – within just a few months of opening. 

Expectations for Heft were high. But every one of the 12 courses of gastronomic heaven my dining pal and I ate on a chilly late winter’s night were nothing short of genius.

Take their chip shop curry and scraps. The sauce tasted every bit the same as the chip shop favourite but was altogether more elegantly put together with a mussel glazed in an XO sauce and mead delivering a punch of flavour. 

Then there was When Daisy Met Bramble – the one that causes that dining room silence each time guests, clamouring to decide on the flavour, are served the course.

I’m not giving it away, but Kevin uses an ingredient that grows in abundance in the Lake District and has refined it into this delightful dish.

The lightly scorched monkfish served with celeriac, chanterelle and a comforting broth was everything you’d hope for in a dish and the nattily titled Onion, Onion, Onion, Mint, was a fresh on the palate plate of heaven. It’s also the dish the Heft team never dare take off the menu for fear of a revolt from regular diners.

The main event of Scotty’s Red Deer With Fennel and Hen Of The Woods – using venison sourced from the Cartmel Valley by Cartmel Valley Game – displayed the kitchen team’s supreme skills and paid perfect homage to the local area.

You might think eating 12 courses would make some of the dishes more forgettable. Not a bit of it. This was course after course of food that will be etched in my memory – and on my palate – for some time. This is food that elegantly, if there can be such a thing, knocks you off your feet.

It’s all executed with no fuss but with care and consideration for all the ingredients, many of which are foraged locally. This is undoubtedly some of our region’s, if not the country’s, most exciting food. And in a region that has some of the best restaurants in the world, I appreciate that’s some claim, but I’m sticking to it.

What Kevin and Nicola have managed is something many have found unachievable. With a quiet confidence, they have found that perfect balance of serving a local community and retaining the soul of the local pub – Kev’s jalapeño pasties and sausage roll bar snacks sealing the deal. 

But they have balanced this with a restaurant serving dishes diners are willing to travel for – and remember long after they have left Heft.

This is no small feat. But this team make it look easy. All led by a formidable, hardworking couple. With plans for rooms for diners to spend the night in the pipeline, too, Heft is the place with it all.

Heft, High Newton, Grange-over-Sands LA11 6JH