There’s a distinctly ‘new’ feel about one of the Peak District’s oldest pubs… and it’s not just the decor.
The Devonshire Arms at Beeley, on the Chatsworth Estate, has long been known for its good food and stylish brasserie – a jazz of psychedelic stripes, dreamed up by the Duchess of Devonshire.
But now it also boasts a beer garden overlooking the brook and a certain military precision about the way it’s run, thanks to the new team at the top.
General manager Gavin Williams arrived a couple of months ago. He’s spent the last decade working for big- brand operations; before that he served in the Royal Corps of Signals.
He works closely with head chef Ian Smith, who joined the team only two weeks ago – and previously spent a large part of his career in the RAF.
“We work well together and the military grounding probably helps,” admits Gavin. Though Ian is quick to point out that his service had more to do with cooking than fighting. He trained at the Savoy then, as a member of the Royal Functions Flight, prepared meals for VIPs from Princess Diana to the Queen.
We work well together and the military grounding probably helpsGavin Williams
After that he worked with Michelin-starred Gary Rhodes before heading north to run a number of acclaimed kitchens.
But on his watch, the Devonshire at Beeley won’t pretend to be anything it’s not: “It’s a gastro pub with rooms. It’s not fine dining, it’s rustic food, done well,” he says.
“We like to be quirky, but you can still come in and have sausage and mash. It’s all about consistency.”
Gavin agrees: “The Devonshire has a good reputation… but it used to have a great reputation. We’re trying to bring that back.
“I don’t think it has represented great value for money and that’s something we’re trying to address.”
Looking around the place, you get a hint of the challenge they face.
We’re sitting in the refurbished brasserie where spots have replaced the stripes, the old bar has given way to more tables and in place of a chandelier is, apparently, an illuminated cluster of multi-coloured fishing floats.
Behind us hangs a painting that looks like four swipes of an orange paint roller: yours for a cool £1,500.
The Devonshire was created from three cottages in the mid-1700s. The Chatsworth Estate took it back into the family fold in 2006, when the Duchess of Devonshire restyled the traditional country pub and chef Alan Hill put it firmly on the foodie map.
His recent departure – to the Cavendish Hotel on the other side of the estate – was the catalyst for the latest changes.
The focus remains on seasonal local produce: “We still have the barter board and I do a bit of foraging for ingredients,” says Ian. “I’m also planning to grow vegetables in the kitchen garden.”
Menus will change monthly. There are pub classics (from £10) or an à la carte offering half-a-dozen dishes for each course (mains £14.50 - £24).
It’s imaginative but not fussy: starters range from soup to seared pigeon breast followed by anything from curried cauliflower to fried monkfish. Gluten-free options also available.
The wine list offers more than 50 bottles, from £19.50 (£3.95) for a Pays d’Oc. And there’s a new focus on local beers: Chatsworth Gold and Bakewell Best, brewed by Peak Ales on the Chatsworth Estate, remain regulars, but there’s also a changing selection from three other local breweries.
We put both menus to the test. It’s a good choice, but if you want bread – or side dishes – that’ll be another £2.95. Really? In a swanky brasserie charging these prices?
My companion starts with chicken liver parfait, light and creamy in texture but with bags of flavour. It’s served in a little jar with sweet, tangy red onion marmalade on the side and toasted treacle bread, made to the Devonshire’s recipe by nearby Bakewell Bakery.
Ian cures his own fish – sounds too good to miss. Thick slices of oak-smoked salmon are beautifully succulent, enhanced by lemon mayonnaise, capers, a little caviar and dill. It’s nicely presented – not too fussy, just a slice of lemon and a chive flower for decoration – and there’s a hot bread roll to go with it.
From the pub menu, beef and ale suet pudding is a winner, though it could do with more of the beer gravy. The beef is ground, not what we’d anticipated but tasty enough, served with sweet onion chutney, crushed peas, broccoli spears and a bowl of skin-on chips.
Grilled plaice fillet is nicely done, though again not precisely as billed. It comes with creamy sauce and broccoli spears, neither mentioned on the menu, and ‘green’ heritage potatoes are white. Love that sweet pickled cucumber garnish, though.
And so to dessert... The pastry case crumbles too easily, but the chocolate filling is good and rich. It’s finished with a swirl of lemon curd, a shard of white chocolate and a contrasting scoop of sharp raspberry sorbet.
We finish our meal with Americanos served in the traditional style with mint chocolates. Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, is £55.
l Devonshire Arms, Beeley DE4 2NR (01629) 733259 Devonshire Arms