THE soup sounded good, crab and fish. Possibly, I guessed, including coley, the cheapest fish as a special dish of the day in one of North Derbyshire’s priciest restaurants. One of my dining companions ordered the same.
“Two soups and please don’t spill it,” I joked. Our waitress at the Peacock Hotel, Rowsley, looked blank.
“It’s a very funny comedy sketch by Julie Walters as a doddery old waitress.” She was English but we could see her asking herself : “Julie who?” Sometimes one feels very old. “Catch it on YouTube,” said my companion.
The soup, with no little fishy bits so more a bisque really, was superb, tasting overwhelmingly of crab and expertly seasoned. If you licked a freshly boiled crab shell this would be it – briny, tangy, crabby. The waitress didn’t spill a drop.
And it came with stuff to play with – tiny crisp croutons, a bowl of grated Patmesan and another of rouille. Lovely.
But then it ought to be. The head chef Dan Smith has been here since 2007, the kitchen has three AA rosettes and a three course ‘lighter lunch’ is heavy on the wallet at £24.25. If you want coffee it’s a hefty £5.15 more (with tiny chocolate) so it’s wiser to go for filter rather than espresso.
We are no strangers to the Peacock. When I reviewed for the Sheffield Star, mindful it would be out of most of my readers’ price bracket, I reserved it as an extra-special Sunday lunch: cheaper, not French or Modern British but bigger portions (the then hotel manager used to give the head chef a day off and do it himself).
I used the Peacock as a place to cheer myself up, choosing a wintry Sunday for a slap-up lunch and afternoon with the papers by a roaring fire, basking in the contentment that I would be fully refunded. I could manage that every four years or so. I last wrote about it here in 2015.
The Peacock, owned by Lord and Lady Manners, is part of the Haddon Hall estate, where they live. It’s a lovely old building, originally an 17th century manor house and a hotel since 1830.
In the dining room it is always fun to hunt the mice, tiny little creatures carved into table legs and chairs from the studio of ‘Mousey’ Thompson.
It’s a lighter lunch at a discount on a la carte prices because main course portions (but not starters or desserts) are half-sized. This does leave a lot of bare naked porcelain on view and lonely looking food. I know chefs these days like big half empty plates but as a diner I can never see the attraction. It’s rubbing it in: “Hey, ho, you’re not getting a lot!”
I had the slow-cooked lamb shoulder and if there was not muchof it, it was exceedingly good. The roundel of meat, no more than two or three mouthfuls and dwarfed by the potato, was soft and melting, the flavour deep and lustrous.
It occurred to me that one does not eat with relish in places like this because that implies eating heartily. I don’t think the Peacock does gutsy. Instead, one takes tiny mouthfuls and eats slowly, savouring the moment even more than usual.
The lamb came with a quenelle of olive oil mash, not seasoned enough for my liking, two skinned and roasted cherry tomatoes, a knob of goats curd inside a sheath of courgette and a lively slick of basil puree, acting as the sauce. Hoping no one was looking, I wiped my plate clean with some good bread. At least you get generous supplies of that.
Two of us had Manchester tart. An old classic, it has somehow passed me by down the years and I don’t recall having it before. Think Bakewell Tart (not the Pudding) with coconut on top. I loved it.
Normally I would recount what my wife ate and give my opinion because I would have had a forkful or two (unlike some reviewers who merely ask for a verdict). Given the size of the mains it seemed invidious to do so. But she thoroughly enjoyed her chicken liver parfait and summer vegetable risotto. Like me, she had the tart. One of our guests ducked that “because it’s from the wrong side of the Pennines.”
This is fine, considered cooking with some well-judged flavours and a delight to eat.
They don’t rush you here. In fact, I was almost at the kitchen door before I found someone to give me the bill.
Those winter Sunday lunches always used to put me in a good mood and so did this summer Tuesday lunch. And, I wonder, did our waitress ever look up Two Soups on YouTube?
*The Peacock is in the middle of the village. Tel 01629 733 518. Web: http://www.thepeacockatrowsley.com