WE drive through the North Derbyshire countryside when my wife spots a sign offering Sunday lunch for £4.95.
“Compared to the price you’re going to pay we could go there for five weeks in a row and still have a pound left over,” she observes.
Our destination, Rowley’s of Baslow, the former Prince of Wales pub owned by Michelin-starred Max Fischer of Baslow Hall just up the road, his wife Susan and chef Rupert Rowley, charges £22 for two courses, £26 for three.
“It’s a snip compared to a Fischers Sunday lunch at £42,” I reply, pulling into the last space in the restaurant’s bijou car park.
Rowley’s is very purple (or is it aubergine?), on the walls, menu and waitresses’ blouses. Even the customers join in: in a space of a few minutes I see a man and woman in purple jumpers and a small girl in purple dress.
Downstairs is an L-shaped room with bar, tables, fireplace and open kitchen, if you like to see the action. There is no dumb waiter: staff ferry plates upstairs to the main dining room.
On the bar is a screen showing foodie Fischer pictures: Max is seen tending the restaurant garden shortly after a still-life of mushrooms.
A girl ushers us upstairs to our table overlooking the Baslow roundabout and the cemetery. “Karen will pour your water for you in a minute,” she says.
On cue, Karen turns up to do just that. “So you’re our Official Water Pourer?” I say. She enters into the spirit immediately. “And your Official Bread Bringer. I am your waitress this afternoon,” she laughs.
Rowley’s used to be rather starchy. When it opened, five years ago this Good Friday, you’d be grilled at the door as to whether you were dining with them, not a good idea when some people were sidling in for a pint and a peek into what the Fischers had done to the pub.
It looks much the same although the welcome is a lot warmer. I’d heard that manager Alistair Myers has been successful in persuading the locals that coming in for a drink didn’t commit them to dinner.
Last year the Good Food Guide knocked two points off the restaurant’s ratings so head chef Thomas Samworth, who had nothing to do with that misfortune, has his work cut out to get them back.
Judging by our Sunday lunch that should be a walkover. Thomas, aged 27, a local lad, comes to Rowley’s from Gary Rhodes’ W1 in London. If you’re a foodie with a long memory you may recall that while a star student at Sheffield College in 2003 he won the Maurice des Ombiaux culinary contest in Belgium, a sort of European Cup for junior chefs.
I begin with a really clever little number, crispy hen’s egg, a poached yolk covered in Japanese breadcrumbs and deep-fried, sitting on a little lozenge of fondant potato, surrounded by crumbled black pudding in a roast onion puree.
As if this isn’t enough cleverness, it is garnished with tiny, salty little onion rings.
My wife has a delicate, well-flavoured cock-a-leekie terrine (chicken and crunchy leeks) with a little slick of rich prune puree. Both dishes are gorgeous. It’s clear we are in for some serious stuff.
It comes first with my wife’s Parmesan crusted hake, precisely cooked to bring out its densely textured meatiness. No wonder the Spaniards love it so much that they illegally overfish much of the catch.
The cheese is repeated with a Parmesan tuille (biscuit) and there are buttered leeks and a light as a feather cauliflower croquette. “Sublime,” says my wife.
I’m not going to eat anything but a roast on Sunday and the dry aged Derbyshire rump is the one unchanging item in this five-five-five menu.
It is handled beautifully, three thick slices, still slightly bloody, so full of flavour you can almost hear it moo. And then you get to the crisp, gloriously sinful fat, rubbed, I think, with mustard.
The trimmings are plentiful: Yorkshire Pudding, cauliflower, kale, spicy red cabbage, broccoli, carrots and slightly disappointing roast potatoes (not fluffy), plus a meat juice gravy.
Elsewhere on the mains there was trout fillet with orange hollandaise, Chinese spiced pork belly and a vegetarian quiche.
The pear tart tatin has gone (groans from several tables here) but a rich chocolate fondant hides a caramel centre while vanilla crème brulee is cooked on top of a rhubarb sorbet which still retains texture in the fruit.
Thomas is cooking. Very often head chefs take Sundays off but not him. This kitchen doesn’t think the Sabbath is a day of rest and a lot of these dishes are more complex than they appear.
We have paid £52 for food, £9.55 for two glasses of house wine, £5.40 for two coffees, totalling £66.95.
That’s Fischer price for you but it does make for a memorable Sunday afternoon.
Church Lane, Baslow, DE45 1RY
Open Mon-Sat 11am-late
Sun 11am-6pm. Credit cards. Vegetarian dishes. Disabled access and toilets. Small car park
My Sunday lunch star rating (out of five): *****