THERE’S a chap coming to take our order at the Devonshire Arms, Baslow, and he appears to be busy texting. Surely not?
“That would be very rude,” says David McHattie, showing me the latest restaurant gizmo. The menu’s on the screen and when you order he punches a button and it prints off your check in the kitchen.
There’s even a picture of the dish if you want to take a peek. Whatever next?
After a career working for other people in the pub business he’s now doing it on his account since taking on a lease from Punch Taverns for the rundown boozer in the middle of the village.
A £350,000 refurbishment, finished just before Christmas, has seen it turned into a warm, friendly place. There are beams, banquettes, a Chesterfield or two, wood burning stove, high chairs and in what had been the rotunda-shaped function room, another zone of the 140-cover eating area.
At one end is a smartly furnished tea room – loose leaf tea, coffee and fancy cakes – so you can get fed and watered any time of day.
David, aged 47, who runs the place with business partner Gary Hodgkisson, had originally searched for a pub near Newbury where he lives with wife Emma. But he was born in Froggatt and went to school at Lady Manners, Bakewell, so he already knew the area when the Devonshire came on the market.
If you want a bit of snap you’re spoiled for choice in Baslow, what with the Michelin-listed Fischer’s, the Chatsworth estate’s swanky Cavendish Hotel, Rowley’s, Charlie’s and now here, so there’s something for every size of wallet.
In fact there’s a lot of brass in Baslow, which is the reason they’re all there.
At this stage David’s still very much hands on so it was he who greeted us as we came in and invited us to sit where we liked.
“Now that must be the friendliest welcome of the year,” said my wife (it was just before Christmas when we called).
We’d chosen a great place to sit, by the stove, against a wall papered with a blown-up vintage copy of the local Ordnance Survey map long before they numbered the A and B roads. Annoyingly, the Devonshire Arms is not actually marked on it.
The pub, which a little tweely calls itself an “inn and kitchen,” has a menu which won’t frighten the horses. There is soup, terrine and risotto for starters and steak and ale pie, fish and chips and roast pork belly on the mains, as well as salad and sarnies.
The important thing is, just as at the Fox and Goose at Wigley a few weeks before, it’s all done expertly well.
The website emphasises that the Devonshire is not in the business of serving “pretentious food” or what it oddly terms “balancing carrots.”
The chef here is Tom Samworth, who has already cooked for us at Rowley’s and then at the Schoolrooms in Bradfield, so we are pretty confident we are going to get a decent meal.
We begin with potted stilton and walnuts (£5.95), which can’t really go wrong (and doesn’t), served with a properly dressed salad and a good pear chutney.
My chestnut soup (£4.95) tastes nutty and smooth. It includes some mushrooms. In fact, I was impressed enough to ask Tom after if he first roasts the chestnuts. Just a little, he said.
At present, the pub buys in its bread and the soup was let down by an undistinguished roll served cold and without butter.
We both chose mains from the top end of the menu to get an idea of what the kitchen can do.
The baked plaice with a “petit pois a la Francaise” seems to be a signature dish as we had a variant of this at Bradfield.
Now this is a fish whose taste can easily be spoiled by ineptness in the kitchen but here were two very accurately cooked and tasty fillets with a sauce of peas, onion and lettuce cooked in stock, cream and butter (£13.95), rich but not enough to drown the flavour of the plaice.
Lamb shank (£14.95) is a by now tired pub classic and not always guaranteed to be cooked on the premises.
Tom gives it a new life by cooking the shank whole as an “Irish stew” so it came in a bowl surrounded by a broth of carrots, pearl barley and baby onions, with a dollop of mash. Lovely.
This part of the animal has long been messed around by kitchens but here it’s a case of the Lambshank Redemption.
Boss David is hands on to the extent of collecting the empty plates, when he also checks the reaction to the food, so I had to be pretty quick in coming to a conclusion about my dessert, marmalade bread and butter pudding (£5.95).
It was good if just a little bit too solid for personal taste. A chocolate torte (£5.25) was exceptionally rich.
Despite the lack of acrobatic carrots (or, indeed any other vegetable) this was a very well executed and memorable meal in very pleasant surroundings.
The bill for food was £52.30. The beer is local (Bakewell Best) and the coffee good.
The Dawes Verdict
Nether End, Baslow DE45 1SR.
Tel: 01246 582 551.
Food available 12-3pm and 6-9pm Mon to Fri, all day Sat and Sun. Sunday roast £9.95. Breakfast 8-10am daily.
Vegetarian meals. Credit cards. Disabled access and toilets. Large car park.