For a village of little more than 1,800 inhabitants lodged at the bottom end of the Lake District, Cartmel can boast a curious number of credentials, from its medieval priory and racetrack to sticky toffee puddings so good that they sell under trademark in California.

Now a young chef with Michelin aspirations aims to earn it a new cachet: a place on the British gastronomy map and the repeat of a phenomenon achieved by Rick Stein in Padstow, Cornwall.

Simon Rogan, 34, quit the rat race 12 months ago with the aim of creating a restaurant of his own after 10years in London under the tutelage of Marco Pierre White and others.

Though Cartmel is exquisitely beautiful, with its 12th-century priory and beautiful walks across the nearby Duddon valley, Rogan found the prospect of locating there unappealing at first ­ "All that way north? No," was his reaction when a friend suggested the former smithy building opposite the priory.

But after two property deals fell through in his location of choice, Brighton, Rogan made a near £1m investment in Cumbria, hoping it would be the place to emulate his hero, Ferran Adria ­ one of the world's most exciting and influential chefs.

Delivering experimental cuisine among the stone walls and winding lanes of south Cumbria constitutes one of the more audacious culinary investments in the regions in recent years.

But the gamble seems to have paid off. Yesterday Rogan revealed that he now has a third Cartmel property to expand accommodation for his restaurant, L'Enclume, (its name is French for anvil) and that he has healthy bookings to the end of the year.

The tricky bit has been taking the locals with him. Only five per cent of Rogan's diners are local and success has been dependent on importing wealthy southerner customers. A remarkable 50 per cent of the restaurant's diners are from the South-east, and typically descend for a two-day stay. That explains why Cartmel's place on the culinary map has been accompanied by a makeshift helicopter pad ­ on a field beside the restaurant.

As half-term brought a new tide of custom last week, the accompanying local scepticism was palpable. "My daughter went there but all the portions were small," said one local. "It wasn't filling enough."

Reactions were just the same when Damien Hirst tried to tickle Devon's palate with a new restaurant in Ilfracombe last month. "They won't be selling cows in formaldehyde," said a stony-faced fisherman, one of many local sceptics.

The attempt by the former footballer Lee Chapman to ship his Soho bar and restaurant, Teatro, to Leeds, ended in ignominy two years ago. "The punters aren't the same," he complained. His Soho club has since crashed.

Whatever the precedents, culinary success currently seems to be doing for Cartmel what it has already achieved for previously anonymous towns from Ludlow in Shropshire, to Padstow ­ now affectionately known as "Rick Steinsville".

The village, barely known south of Manchester 12 months ago, finds itself awash with new visitors on two-day breaks to L'Enclume.

Local pubs are brushing up their own menus to pick up lunchtime business from Rogan; the local organic farm, which supplies L'Enclume with its produce, finds itself shipping goods across Britain and estate agents report a 30 per cent increase in house prices as southerners join the pursuit for the rare properties that come on the market.

"The restaurant has had a tremendous effect as it has indicated to its customers that some of its produce is supplied by us," said Paul Hughes, co-owner of Howbarrow Organic Farm, who has even fielded requests to despatch his salads by mail order.

"There's a big increase in people visiting our farm shop and we are sending out organic lambs, turkeys and herbs by mail order across the UK. Of course, it's very expensive to send a box of vegetables by mail order. We do encourage people to try their local box scheme."

In the village shop, Howard Johns is swimming in the benefits of "super-chefs".

Not only have the L'Enclume weekenders increased his pudding trade, but his produce also won acclaim from a recent Rick Stein programme.

The restaurant ­ with its grand hooping wheel just inside the door and its anvil ­ might be a reminder of the building's past, but its mission is fiercely modernist. Rogan's £90 16-course "taste and texture" menu is a culinary adventure and as far from comfort food as it is possible to get. From a creation called Cubism in foie gras, with liquorice and sichuan pepper, to sweet red cabbage ice cream, the idea is to throw convention out of the window ­ with natural ingredients, some even gathered from local hedgerows.

"Some people still have no idea what we are doing, but we are trying to open people's minds," said Rogan.

"It's the whole French dégustation thing of going in to eat at 7pm, taking 17 or 18 courses and wine and staying all night. When I left London I was clear ­ there'd be no more catering for the prawn-cocktail brigade."

There are a few noses out of joint among local businesses. "L'Enclume is great and we're all pleased but it's not the be all and end all and it's not to everyone's taste," said Jacqui Hamlett, who has run the King's Arms in Cartmel for the past 18 years. "A lot of the diners seem to be outsiders or from the Cheshire Set."

With growing trade from Leeds, Manchester and Cheshire, the chef is undauntedby his critics. "We'll just continue to innovate," said Rogan. "It's a risk, but we believe there's a market for us."

Rural retreats wiht haute cuisine

By John Gray

PADSTOW, CORNWALL

Once the Cornish terminus of the Southern Railway, Padstow's links to London were severed by Dr Beeching's knife. Chef Rick Stein's role in the village's rejuvenation began in earnest in 1975, when he opened The Seafood Restaurant. Since then, he has opened five eateries in Padstow, including The Bistro at St Petroc's, Rick Stein's Café, The Seafood Deli and Stein's Patisserie.

LAUGHARNE

Laugharne (pronounced 'larn') a seaport and market town situated on the marshes of Camarthen Bay, was described by Dylan Thomas upon his first visit in 1934 as "the strangest town in Wales". Outside interest in the town has been rekindled following actor Neil Morrisey's joint partnership in a hotel, Hurst House, and pub The Three Mariners in the town. Morrisey bought the hotel for £380,000 in 2002, and claims to have spent another £1m on its renovation. He intends to open another four hotels all in out-of-the-way places.

LUDLOW, SHROPSHIRE

Ludlow now boasts more Michelin starred restaurants than anywhere in Britain, aside from London. When Restaurant Magazine asked a number of the best qualified reviewers and restaurateurs to nominate their favourite places to eat, The Merchant House in Ludlow not only found itself ranked number 14 in a list of the top restaurants in the world, but at £33 pounds per person it was also awarded the prize for outstanding value. The Merchant House and The Hibiscus are the most celebrated.

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