Life is posh in the Hope Valley. When locals pop down to the Hathersage Social Club they like to order a guacamole bruschetta or a plate of pastrami with their flinty Gaillac wine.
Others, for whom the phrase social club conjures up images of darts, pigeons, bingo and Federation bitter, put their heads inquiringly round the door and ask: “How do we get an invite?”
It’s easy. Just go in.
When Simon Couth, a chef turned journalist turned back to chef again, and his journalist wife Lucy Wurstlin opened up last summer they reckoned that with at least a dozen eat and drink places, from the George Hotel to the swimming pool café, the last thing Hathersage needed was another coffee, cake and sandwich place.
But how about a venue which put on speciality evenings, invited in guest chefs, showed films, could be hired out for private parties, sold Sunday breakfasts, ran a bar, offered languorous brunches and perky lunches with possibly the only waffle menu east of the Pennines?
Such a place is hard to categorise which is why they, being particularly social after living for eight years in the village while commuting to London and Salford, called it a social club.
“For younger people it doesn’t have quite the same connotations as it does for the older generation,” says Lucy as she serves me with a homemade bratwurst.
Most of what they serve has a family connection. This runs directly back to her father Fritz. “Imagine a sort of Bavarian Brian Blessed,” she smiles.
Elsewhere on the menu is a rattlingly good kedgeree, a smoked haddock homage to Simon’s great grandfather who once wrote a eulogy to the dish while sitting in his houseboat in Kashmir.
Hathersage Social Club is in a former flower shop and garden centre, just in front of the Little John pub, on Station Road in the middle of the village.
There’s a dining area downstairs with seating for 26 plus more outside with decking and a view of the Hood Brook as it tumbles past on its way to join the Derwent.
It’s too chilly outside so we take a table near the kitchen. Simon and Lucy have modelled their business on their favourite restaurant in Paris, the postage stamp-size Le Timbre, run by an English chef who sources all his own ingredients and cooks near enough to his customers to be able to hand them the plates from the kitchen.
Simon is doing likewise. A lobster evening coming up will involve him catching them with a fisherman pal at Robin Hood’s Bay.
There are a variety of menus – brunch, lunch (two courses for £12), waffles as well as platters of meats and cheeses.
They opened last August and launched phases of the business one at a time. Opening the café was a few weeks ago and then only from Thursdays to Sundays.
You might call this place quirky. The menus are housed in old LP covers: Ours is in Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Jesus Was a Capricorn.’ The wine list is inside the BeeGees’ ‘Saturday Night Fever.’
I start with the guacamole bruschetta, more properly sourdough toast with mashed avocado (there’s a box of them ripening outside in the sun) topped with roast cherry tomatoes. It’s very simple but very good with full-on punchy flavours.
My wife is eating grilled asparagus spears with Parmesan and “just taste this sherry cream, it’s lovely.” It is.
The bratwurst is from a sausage of the week rota (there’s also a Toulouse) made with assistance from village butcher Paul Bowyer’s sausage machine next door.
There are two, British banger -sized rather than the full Teutonic length, made from minced veal and pork with milk and mace. They taste meaty and juicy and if the texture isn’t quite as fine as the German original they wouldn’t be disgraced besides a stein of lager.
Actually I’m drinking a glass of Gaillac sauvignon blanc. The couple have connections in South West France and all their wines come from there. We drank gallons while walking through the Tarn and are delighted to be reacquainted with it.
The kedgeree, served with side dishes of mango chutney and chilli jam, is quite elegant: the grains of the rice are separate, the spicing subtle so as not to overpower the fish.
Simon, 49, started cooking in Sidmouth, Devon, in the early Eighties “when being a chef wasn’t sexy as it is now.”
He found himself cooking “food without a soul” at the glitzy Montreux Palace Hotel on Lake Geneva before switching to journalism.
If soul food is cooking what you are then the couple have put themselves and their family fully into the menu. Up pops old Fritz again with the Liege waffles, a chewier version than some with little bursts of caramelisation from beads of pearl sugar.
I’ve got the Montreux (£4.20), topped with dark chocolate and salted caramel (so Switzerland wasn’t all bad). Lucy insists I have also a spoonful of Black Forest fruits and Kirsch compote, which is autumn in a mouthful, and we don’t need to guess its origins. My wife has a jolly decent brownie (£4.20). Our bill for food was £32.20.
Over coffees (did I mention orange juice is free with two courses?) Simon says he’s cooking “all the bits I like. The worst thing is to be successful turning out things you don’t really like.”
You’ll like this.
Hathersage Social Club, Station Road, Hathersage, Hope Valley, S32 1DL. Phone 01433 650203. pen Thurs-Sat 10.30am-11pm, Sun 10am-4pm. Booking advisable. Music. Vegetarian dishes. Credit cards. Parking in village. Web: www.hathersagesocialclub.co.uk