SOMETHING fell through so we are early for lunch at Rowley’s in Baslow, the sprog of Michelin-starred Fischers up the road. Just as well: it has a dinky little car park and customers have vehicles as hefty as their wallets.
Nor do they care for space markings so we play musical cars for five minutes before a stratocruiser purrs out of the park to leave a couple of spaces free for our modest Astra.
It is ages since we have been and we are tempted by a sample menu called ‘Lunch for Less’ on the website which is a lot more interesting than what is obviously Lunch for More, two fish and a burger on the mains.
Two courses cost £16.50 and less is more for us when starters include slow-cooked pork belly or teriyaki salmon and mains like hazelnut crusted hake or French-style roast chicken.
Once inside in the white tile-floored bar (this was previously a pub) I notice, over a half of well-kept Bakewell Bitter, that the Lunch for Less menu has been rebranded Weekday Lunch for the same price: More prosaic but not as chirpy.
More or less on time, we are ferried through to the dining room which has a good view of the buzzing kitchen through a ‘letterbox’ opening.
I laugh at my starter’s presentation. It’s a big plate with acres of white porcelain, the food huddled up against the edge as if it has taken umbrage by a remark from head chef Adam Harper on the pass.
It doesn’t look more than a mouthful (well, three) and the big relatively empty plate hammers that point home but is tasty enough. Initial disappointment that the pork has no crackling (although this is not promised) is tempered by its succulence and the char-grilled hispi cabbage which has become crispy hispi. There are artistic but lonely looking little splodges of butternut squash.
Adam says later that big plates are now the fashion but he draws the line at slates. He has worked his way up through the Fischer’s and Rowley’s kitchens (with spells with Heston Blumenthal and Simon Rogan) although he last encountered us as diners at the Plough, Hathersage.
My wife has the heritage tomato tartare with tomato granita, goats cheese puree and balsamic. Tomato tartare is a posh way of saying concasse which is itself cheffy posh for skinned, chopped and seeded tomato. She is not impressed by the granita. The flavour eludes both of us. “Take the picture because it’s melting!” she cries. But she likes the goats cheese puree.
With both starters on the small side we are expecting Lunch for Less is code for Cuisine Miniscule so are gobsmacked by the size of the mains, as hefty as they come.
My chicken, two generous pieces of roast breast in a mustardy sauce with new potatoes and peas with lettuce, flavoured with lardons, is as French as a baguette. I had something very like this once at a ferme auberge (like an Italian agriturismo), one with a veal calf imprisoned in a tiny crate by the back door.
My wife always has hake at Rowley’s. Last time it had a parmesan crust. This time the two strongly flavoured pieces had a crunchy hazelnut topping in a red wine and brown butter sauce.
So nothing too complicated but ‘hearty,’ as Michelin puts it, with strong flavours.
You’d look in vain for any pastrywork on this menu so we shared a medley of ultra-rich chocolate mousse and pistachio ice cream with a zingy little lime jelly. The extra course is £4.50 more.
On the subject of baking, the brown, treacly, salty bread at the start of the meal is worth savouring.
Despite having pre-lunch drinks, two small glasses of wine and coffees the bill came to less than we feared: £59.05. And, yes, we paid our own whack.