fine dishes are worth the walk

The Stables Bar at the Monsal Head Hotel, head chef Rob Cochran

The Stables Bar at the Monsal Head Hotel, head chef Rob Cochran

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They say there is a first time for everything, but I never expected to eat a gourmet meal while wearing muddy trainers.

Dining dressed as a hiker is de rigour in the Peak District, but usually when tucking into a hearty pie and a pint after an arduous trek.

To be honest when we arrived at the Monsal Head Hotel after a two hour trek, that is exactly what was expected. 
A roast chicken, perhaps, or a pork chop.

But when we headed into the Longstone restaurant after a few pints in The Stables bar - think roaring fire and local beer - we were as blown away by the menu as we were by the stunning view over Monsal Head.

It promised confit leg of duck and Norwegian cod - one of the very few items on the menu that is not sourced nearby.

Deciding what to have was an absolute nightmare.

Manager Keith Robson, who took over the hotel with his wife Hannah five months ago, took pity on us and stepped in to help.

He managed to convince my companion to swap the steak - ‘it’s a great steak’, he said, ‘but you can have one anywhere’ for the rump of lamb and talked us into a bottle of Rioja.

Keith has a lot of experience in dining and hospitality - some readers may remember him from Ye Olde Nags Head in Castleton - and he was absolutely right.

The lamb was cooked with tagine spices which elevated the meat to another level of moreish, as well as roasted root vegetables and apricot puree.

That meat was so tender it fell apart in the mouth.

I’d picked the Cheshire cheese souffle to begin - mainly because it’s a dish I can never perfect at home and it’s good to learn from the experts.

The secret to this one was that it was baked twice, we later learned, mainly for ease of ordering.

There was an added bonus in that it made the texture an extremely silky background to the fennel ceviche, dill souses cucumber and orange gel.

Butter-flied seabass had been cooked in the oven rather than pan, which made it slightly less juicy, against my personal preference but probably better for the waistline.

It was served with a touch of genius, a shallot bhaji, retaining all the naughty appeal of its onion counterpart and adding crunch to the soft fish. Mildly curried parsnip puree boosted the Indian twist.

There was barely room for dessert, but after a brief rest, a sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream magically appeared alongside a three counties cheeseboard.

The pudding was worth fighting over, rich, decadent and treacle to a T, while an unusual touch to the cheeseboard was home-made pickled celery. Sadly, it was still celery – there’s not much you can do to improve it.

After a meal here though, you might need to stick to celery for a while.

Or at least walk it back off again.

Keith and Hannah are hoping their menu will turn the Longstone into a ‘destination restaurant’, with many events planned.

Go now before you can’t get a booking.