I’VE always thought that Baslow, the posh capital of the Hope Valley, is Derbyshire’s gastronomic answer to the Thames-side village of Bray in Berkshire. Well, just a little bit.
There the twin giants of Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck and Alain Roux’s Waterside slug it out for Michelin and foodie guide book supremacy.
Up here, where the Derwent flows under the quaint 17th century humpbacked bridge, we have Michelin-starred Fischer’s along with Rowley’s and, until it slid out of the Good Food Guide this year, the Cavendish Hotel.
But none of the guides gets around to mentioning Charlie’s.
So I will.
We first visited when it was opened in 2005 by Charlie and Becky Cartledge, turning a former café into a posher one and a bistro at weekends. We admired simple but very adroit and tasty cooking and then, as is the way of the world, more or less forgot about it.
But when several people mentioned the place to me recently we thought we’d check it out again. Besides, the reviews on Trip Advisor were seldom less than ecstatic.
Charlie and Becky take Monday and Tuesday off but the place re-opens on Wednesday for breakfast and at lunch it’s almost full. And not just for sandwiches and cakes. Most people are tackling two or three course lunches, even though dishes carry what I call the Hope Valley Supplement, a quid or so more because it’s posh.
“We can do nearly 100 covers in a day at weekends,” says Charlie after our meal. He trained at the Cavendish and shares kitchen duties with Becky.
There are two rooms, upmarket wallpaper, a stove and a blackboard plus a lot of ladies who lunch. We find a table at a bay window overlooking the bridge and the church, which dates from around 1200 but the Victorians fannied around with too much restoration.
There is not much fannying around at Charlie’s. Service is pleasant and direct. And the menu is much more than you’d expect from a café.
There is a good slate of sandwiches, interesting salads and a good range of starters and mains.
Starters include fried tomatoes with pesto and feta and wild mushrooms on brioche but we go for the chicken liver pate (£5.95) and lobster ravioli (£6.95).
The ravioli are like five golden yellow suns. They are just rustic looking enough to persuade you that they are home made (they are) with a good, taut pasta, and a lobster filling which retains texture as well as taste. Their sauce is white wine with chives.
“This would be a lunch in itself,” says my wife, taking care to demolish the last morsel.
My pate is full of flavour. OK, this is the simplest pate to make if you have a blender but it has been done well, topped with a home made red onion chutney and a mustard-dressed salad. And pesto for extra interest.
If the missus thought she was getting away with a light lunch, her main course cod rarebit salad (£9.50) convinces her otherwise.
Generous pieces of grilled cod loin have been smothered with a cheesy rarebit topping and arrive in a large bowl of salad, with a runny poached egg on top. Cheese, fish and egg is one of those combinations which win every time and there’s no chance this version is going to fail.
Mains also offer beer battered cod, a burger, sirloin steak, fishcakes, gammon with egg and chips, a veggie bean and brie wellington and that magic three-lettered word, pie. Today it’s steak and ale (£11).
When we see the word pie on a menu we pie-meisters have first to establish that it is a proper one, not a stew with a lid. “It’s got pastry all round. The chef likes me to say it will take 30 minutes because he makes it from scratch,” says our waitress.
Now half an hour is not too long if the pie delivers and let me tell you this pie is all but perfect. It may not look it, it’s got a slightly lop-sided shape, like a square pasty. But I have seldom had a shorter, crisper, lighter pastry.
It is full of tender, well flavoured steak bathed in a delicious gravy made with Black Sheep bitter which gives a most delightful tang. I have mine with mashed potatoes and mushy peas.
This perfection comes because this is no pre-cooked pie blasted in the oven to reheat (or pinged in a microwave) so the pastry has not hardened and tensed or the meat begun to dry out.
It certainly has eye appeal. The couple at the next table see the pie and hear my rapturous approval so order it themselves.
“It’s one of our most popular dishes, that and the lobster ravioli. I can’t take it off the menu,” says Charlie afterwards, with the manner of a man who wouldn’t dream of it.
My choice of baked lemon tart is not available so we share the sticky toffee pudding (£5.50), to give it a really close examination.
It has a pleasing combination of stodge, gooiness and sweetness. As my wife says: “It’s not the lightest of sponges but it’s lovely and springy with just enough sauce to moisten, not drown.”
We pay £38.90 for food, not cheap but then it’s restaurant quality and you’re not really going to want any tea. A couple of small glasses of wine (£3.75 each) and coffees at £1.95 added another £11.40.
Go on, try it. You’d be a proper Charlie to miss the pie.
The Dawes Verdict
Church Street, Baslow, DE45 1RY.
Tel 01246 582 619.
Closed Monday and Tuesday. Open Wednesday to Friday 10am-4pm, Saturday 9am-5pm, Sunday 9am-4pm.
Credit cards. Licensed. Street parking.