Food & Drink: Cavendish-lite George an annual lunch treat

George Hotel, Hathersage for food and drink picture. Pictured l-r is Head Chef Helen Prince, Sioux Chef Steve Sumpner and Manager James Fair.
George Hotel, Hathersage for food and drink picture. Pictured l-r is Head Chef Helen Prince, Sioux Chef Steve Sumpner and Manager James Fair.
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Cast your mind back to April when this page fancied roast beef for Sunday lunch in a posh local hotel. But did it do it? There was no mention on the website.

“No sir we don’t but I’ll email our menu,” said the man on reception.

It was pretty pricy at £36.50 for a roast-free lunch so we booked elsewhere. Three hours later another email popped up with three different roasts. Too late!

Four months later and I again think of that posh hotel which I can reveal is the three star George at Hathersage.

There’s still not a whiff of roast beef or a hint of horseradish on the website but reception says she’ll check. There is. We book.

It’s also, as we find out later, a lot cheaper on Sunday: £20 for two and £25 for three courses.

I choose my shirt carefully before setting off because the website has definite ideas about dress.

“While our restaurant may focus on fine dining, formality is not on the menu; however, despite there being no dress code per se, smart casual dress is the done thing when dining with George, don’t you think?”

So no jeans, but I am mortified when I later see a chap taking coffee in his shorts. Not quite the done thing, don’t you think?

Now you might dismiss this as PR spin, giving the venerable 500-year-old former coaching inn a patina of poshness, but some will recognise this as the authentic voice of the owner and he’s not called George.

He’s Eric Marsh, at 71 the nearest the Derbyshire hospitality industry has to a national treasure, who also manages the super-posh Cavendish Hotel at Baslow for the Chatsworth Estate.

It is Eric you hear on the George’s answerphone if reception is busy although he claims disarmingly not to be aware of the style guide.

Nor is he aware there is no mention of Sunday lunch which might account for the fact that we dine alone that Sunday.

Despite running two hotels Eric ensures he is at the George every day to silkily welcome and bid goodbye to guests, for this business is what wags have called his pension fund.

You might call the George the Cavendish-lite. Eric says: “It has everything the Cavendish has except the view and the association with Chatsworth for which you pay extra.”

That’s putting it a little bit strong because the décor here is best described as quirky. The lounge has mismatched pictures on the wall and old beams and stone walls contrast oddly with a modernist fireplace and purple furniture.

The best bit is a little snicket marked ‘Library,’ a cubby hole full of books which include Dickie Bird’s autobiography and Sir Harry Hotspur by Anthony Trollope. It would have to be a very dull day to take those titles off the shelf.

The colour theme is continued through to the dining room, where tables have glass tops over purple tablecloths (each with a single purple gerbera in a glass vase), there are fake beams and pictures with price tags dangling from the frames.

Not quite the done thing, don’t you think?

But service is as sleek as Eric’s and the food is thoroughly deserving of its two AA rosettes. The head chef is Helen Prince, recently returned from maternity leave (it’s a boy) but it’s her sous, Steve Sumpner, in charge today.

“The menu has got back its woman’s touch and Sundays mean the kitchen can experiment,” says the restaurant manager with the air of a man letting us in on a secret.

We begin with excellent breads, probably more because there is no one else to eat them, and I follow with orange and chilli soused mackerel with udon noodles. I’m surprised the fish is served warm but this works wonderfully well with a summery zing.

My wife has a luxurious tagliatelle with a sinful mascarpone and pancetta sauce. The pasta has that firm, almost meaty texture of good egg pasta: this is made with duck egg.

We continue to purr approvingly. The sirloin (from Castlegate Farm, Stoney Middleton) looks a picture and tastes divine: two thick, juicy slices blushing pink, meaty juices in the gravy, a crisp Yorkshire pudding in which nestle the roast potatoes and veg.

Our other dish is thickly-sliced calves liver flashed in the pan only briefly to ensure maximum taste and texture with pickled red cabbage, although my wife thought vegetables would have served the dish better than a salad so she shares mine.

We have never before heard of Venezuelan chocolate truffle cake but this was so rich and yet light in texture it would sweep the board on The Great British Bake Off.

I have a bit of fun with a salted caramel, banana, chocolate and peanut fudge ice cream sundae.

A lovely meal for £50 but here come the add-ons: a large and small glass of wine cost £10.25 and a bottle of Hildon water a stonking £4.10. Coffee in the topiaried courtyard cost us another £6.50.

Then there’s the compulsory service levy of five per cent.

“I got fed up with people asking whether to pay 10 or 15 per cent service.

“There should be no obligation to leave anything so I made it a contractual five per cent which goes to the staff,” says Eric.

With pre-dinner drinks our meal totalled £82.27.

Worth a once-a-year treat, don’t you think?