SO what do you get for your £32-a-head posh Sunday lunch at East Lodge country house hotel, Rowsley?
Well, they hold the entrance door open for you even if, like us, you don’t come by helicopter but by battered Astra.
Its ten acres of grounds south of Chatsworth on the banks of the Derwent include landscaped gardens, a small lake, a fountain and a helipad.
“Sumptuous Peak District accommodation, award winning cuisine and outstanding hospitality,” boasts the website and East Lodge is weighed down with national gongs for hospitality and food – the restaurant has three AA rosettes and came first or second in the county’s food awards three years on the trot.
“I feel like I’m being wrapped in a warm hug,” said my wife after we had been pleasantly shown to our seats for drinks in the conservatory.
The sun shone brightly through, defying the Met Office prediction, although I thought the cascades of plastic ivy struck the wrong note.
The chef here is Simon Bradley, aged 45, who started his career at the Paris Ritz and has seen service at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir, London’s Atlantic Bar and Grill and was at Odette’s for a decade.
It’s busy. There’s a party in a private room and two dining rooms. Ours, painted primrose yellow with gilt mirrors, looked like it had one table too many squeezed in, an island table in the middle of room. Unfortunately it was ours.
With only inches to spare on either side it meant that I was on rather too intimate terms with the bums and crotches of most of the waiting staff and some of the customers. I think these prices entitle you to a little personal space.
Your money does bring Hiram Wild Sheffield cutlery and staff with white gloves: it’s a long time since we have seen that.
Chefs always face a dilemma with Sunday lunch, when even the most sophisticated diners feel the Call of the Roast. Chefs, however, want to show off their ritzier side. Simon reserves his fol-de-rols for the starters and desserts.
There was too much salmon on the menu. My wife is having the salmon main so she doesn’t want the smoked salmon or fishcake (with salmon) and opts for terrine of ham hock and chicken. It is a small rectangle of pressed meats surrounded by lightly pickled vegetables.
I enjoyed the flavours but she thought it under seasoned, despite the green peppercorns.
“Well, I only had a little bit.” I said. “You had a third,” she protested.
Don’t let your concentration slip while eating. It’s over in a couple of mouthfuls. My splendidly smooth duck liver parfait, served like the terrine on a slate, was perched on a lozenge of “smoked grouse and orange condiment,” a meaty confection which tasted as if the game bird had been shot by Nell Gwynn.
It didn’t occupy much of the slate. To fill in there’s a trickle of pistachio then a nest of wafer thin toasts which break to the touch.
Portions are on the small side here. Even the bread rolls are dinky.
I’d asked for a Yorkshire pud with my roast loin of pork which was lucky, because it was huge (if over baked) and made the plate look fuller.
The two slices of pork loin (the other roasts were sirloin and turkey) were supremely porky and I enjoyed the saged-up onion compote with it. But why was it so cool? The meat came with an apple sauce, three crispy roast potatoes and a rich gravy.
Steamed herbed salmon was cooked a little unevenly, surprising because it was so small. It was partnered with broad beans, wilted spinach, new potatoes and crab butter emulsion as the sauce.
They do you proud with vegetables: cauliflower cheese, beetroot, carrots, creamed celeriac and broccoli.
“If I ate here regularly I’d be as thin as a wand,” said my wife as she consulted the menu which minutes before had been knocked off the table by a waitress squeezing by.
She ordered sticky toffee pudding, pleasant but unremarkable, while I had Simon’s deconstructed Bakewell pudding. It was left to a waiter to explain, saying that having deconstructed it the chef had now decided to put it back together. There was a disc of strawberry jelly on almond and vanilla sponges, topped with an almond milk sorbet (a clever idea) and toffeed hazelnut, with custard and two little buns on the side. Apparently, you put all the elements in your mouth at once and your tastebuds say “Bakewell pud!”
That can’t be done with any elegance, and I’m not sure it does. But it’s certainly clever.
Back in the conservatory for coffee and chocolate mints – no petit fours even though Sunday lunch is only £3 cheaper than the weekday carte – we decided that while the cooking was notches higher than on our previous visit we needed more bang (or food) for our bucks. This is cuisine petite.
One thing that doesn’t come small at East Lodge is the bill: we paid £83.70. That’s £64 for food, £5.95 for a G&T, £2.25 for orange juice, £6.75 for a large glass of merlot and £4.75 for a small sauvignon blanc.
The Dawes Verdict
Rowsley, Matlock DE4 2EF.
Tel: 01629 734 474.
Open daily for breakfast, lunch, afternoon teas and dinner. Wine from £19.50.
Credit cards. Disabled access and toilets. Ample parking.
Sunday lunch 3