We are not sure how to find Glumangate in Chesterfield and ask a friendly-looking bloke who turns out to be the town’s Walking Sat Nav.
“Follow me. It’s not easy explaining,” he says, taking us across the Knifesmithgate junction with alarming disregard to the Green Cross Code but filling us in with a little bit of the town’s Viking history.
The Sat Nav leaves us yards from our destination restaurant but almost 2,000 miles south in spirit from those Norsemen to sunny Italy.
We are making our first visit to Calabria which has been open almost four years and is a winner in Derbyshire’s food awards, owned by second generation Anglo-Italian brothers Vittorio and Severino Risorto.
Don’t expect to see the Italian flag or pictures of footballers on the walls, let alone buckets of pasta on the menu. There is bruschetta if you want it, pasta of the day and risotto, but if I had been led blindfold into the restaurant to eat the food I might not have guessed immediately it was Italian.
This is because so much of upmarket Modern British Cooking has Italian and Mediterranean influences it can be hard to see the join. And I’m being complimentary here.
Calabria is a pleasant little 40-seater eaterie with a bow fronted window, comfy seats, with a plain brick wall on one side and a mirrored one opposite, flanking a bar.
What’s brought us here is that we sense a bargain. The lunchtime and weekday evening menu comprises most of the a la carte dishes at a discount, two courses for £17.95, three for £19.95.
Since, say, the goat’s cheese with beetroot is normally £5.95 and the sea bass with crabby potatoes costs £16.50 that’s a saving of £4.50. And vegetables don’t cost extra.
It sounds too good to be true so I ring to check and ask again when we’re seated. “We don’t skimp on portions,” says our waitress, bringing us two elegant glasses of impressive Calabrian house wine.
The brothers’ parents moved from Calabria in Southern Italy almost 50 years ago but there is no back story of a cosy little trattoria turned posh.
Vittoria was a retail banker for 20 years who changed tack because he suffers from what he calls his “misfortune” He can fall asleep during the day and lie awake most of the night.
“I tend to have more waking hours to think things through,” he says drily.
It has paid off. We are to have a starry meal and discover that Calabria is one of only 40 restaurants in Britain awarded the Marchio Ospitalitá Italiana seal of quality from the Italian government for provenance of food and wine, which you don’t get by opening a tin of tomatoes and sprinkling in some dried oregano.
Our pranzo, Italian for lunch, begins with fegato di vitello cotto al tegame con composta di prugne, pancetta e rucola (normally £5.95), which sounds so much nicer, doesn’t it, than veal liver with prune jam, pancetta and rocket?
There are four pieces of pink veal on a slate with some griddled ciabatta and a sensational prune jam, imported from Calabria. Rocket is listed on the menu but the kitchen has run out and replaced it with cress, hoping I wouldn’t notice.
My wife is enthusing over her smoked salmon roulade (normally £6.50), taken to new heights by a vivid, citrusy creamy filling and candied orange peel. “I’m already addicted to this peel,” she says.
We’re beginning to make purring noises of approval, which get louder over our mains.
I’ve got rosemary flavoured pork loin (normally £16.50) rolled and stuffed with diced vegetables on an intense, salty red wine sauce, a real humdinger.
It comes with fennel, reduced to a puree. I ordered the pork for its ‘caramelised walnuts’ – they are actually candied – and ironically this was the one jarring note in this impressive dish.
“I’m having a roly sort of day,” murmurs my wife, tackling her pancetta-wrapped chicken rolls stuffed with cheese (normally £14.50), every bit as tasty as mine, although the fondant potato could do with a little more salt. The plate is strewn with cheffy puddles of purees and essences.
The chefs here are a couple more brothers, Tim and Nick McNerney, who show a deftness and lightness of touch with the food.
We were giving the meal top marks even before dessert, a lively flavoured raspberry and lemon posset with citrus jelly and mandarin sorbet, a fruit bowl in a glass, with an elegant tiramisu.
This place hardly put a foot wrong. Service, which began with opening the door for us, is exemplary, the pricing keen, the cooking sharp.
They even check on your dietary needs when you book (vegetarian, gluten and lactose-free dishes are on the menu). Vittorio Risorto’s sleepless nights were not wasted.
Our waitress said some locals still did not know of the restaurant and first-comers were surprised to find it. Our Walking Map did. Go there before they change their mind on prices. They might have some rocket by then.
We paid £39.90 for food, £8 for wine and £3.45 for coffee. Excellent.
30 Glumangate, Chesterfields40 1TX. Tel: 01246 559944. Open Mon-Wed 8am-2.30pm and 6-9.30pm (last orders), Thursday until 3pm then 6-9.30pm, Fri-Sat open all day. Credit cards.Licensed. street parking. Website: www.calabriacucina.co.uk
THE DAWES VERDICT
(out of five)