Lesley Draper paid a return visit to the reborn Devonshire Arms and found that things had changed a lot recently
BASLOW richly deserves its reputation as the foodie capital of the Peak District.
With Michelin-starred Fischer’s, its gastro-pub sibling Rowley’s and the Duke of Devonshire’s Cavendish Hotel, the village boasts more high-end restaurants than most places ten times its size.
But the one thing it has lacked in recent years is a decent local pub – the kind of place that serves good home-cooked food at reasonable prices, and where grannies out for tea feel just as comfortable as businessmen, courting couples and families on a Sunday outing.
The reborn Devonshire Arms has filled that gap nicely, though teenagers who flocked to the place 30 years ago, when it was the Cat’s Whiskers disco, may find that hard to believe.
In fact it’s a pretty astonishing make-over even to those of us who visited only six weeks ago…
Dropping in en route home one evening just after the new team took over, we were disappointed to find it looking pretty much as it had for two decades. So the transformation that greeted us last week was utterly jaw-dropping.
The damp, dowdy pub closed for ten days and has now reopened as an ‘inn and kitchen’, with a bright new look and a fresh appeal to match. But maybe it’s not so surprising considering the credentials of the new team.
Landlord Gary Hodgkisson started out as a chef and went on to run food operations for a number of national brands and to shape the training of kitchen teams across the country. His business partner David McHattie was born at Froggatt, but has a pedigree that includes operations director and CEO of several major national players.
Add Tom Samworth – who was head chef at Rowley’s, just up the road, until last year – and you have a sure-fire formula for success.
“PLCs are a great planning ground, but they become very frustrating. I view it as a training for having your own place,” says Gary, who is clearly revelling in his new role.
He and David scoured the country for the right pub before stumbling upon the Devonshire Arms and making their long-planned venture a reality.
Gary has thrown himself into the new life, living ‘in’ and overseeing the transformation, and he’s proud as Punch Taverns… which has leased them the premises.
The change is obvious from the time we enter the car park: for a start, it’s full.
Inside, the old disco and function room has been turned into the Round House, a surprisingly urbane space, divided into an eclectic choice of dining and seating areas.
The bar has been given a contemporary facelift while still retaining an element of rustic charm: a newly-installed real fire adds to the cosy feel and a mural map embeds it firmly in the Peak District landscape.
And for those grannies – and anyone else in search of home-made cakes and vintage china – there’s Hatties, a smart new tea shop and daytime bistro in place of the old cocktail lounge.
This is run by McHattie’s neice Karen Grahame, a coffee master, and supplied by a local cake-maker.
There’s a choice of ten loose-leaf teas as well as a good range of coffees to go with the sweet stuff.
A single menu operates throughout the premises and that’s in the capable hands of Tom, who also rustles up his own range of deli goods for sale over the bar.
“Simple food, well cooked: that’s what we do,” he says. “The menu is still evolving, but there’s nothing pretentious. I used to be into foams and things, but you can get carried away with style over substance.”
He too is caught up in the enthusiasm of the new operation: “I’ve never really felt as positive about a place before.”
Everything except bread is made on site and it’s no fast food operation. The gravy takes two days: “Not because we’re slow but because excellent gravy starts with roasting the bones and needs skill and time.”
The drinks offer meets every taste too, from beers (including Peak Ales’ Bakewell Best) and wines (more than 30, from £15.95 per bottle) to a developing choice of non-alcoholic cocktails.
We start with velvety parsnip soup, served with a hunk of soft granary bread, and potted stilton – not crumbly but beautifully creamy, topped with crushed walnuts to give it some bite and a helping of sweet, tangy pear chutney.
It being Sunday, my companion follows that with roast beef (£9.95): thick, rare, succulent slices dripping with that ambrosial gravy; a big, puffy Yorkshire pud; and a medley of broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and red cabbage to round it off.
I’m lured by grilled fillets of sea bass with herb risotto: a double whammy. The grilling means I miss out on a crisp skin, but the flesh is wonderfully moist, set on a sea of risotto. The consistency is quite loose, but it complements the delicate fish, with peas and green beans to add texture and tomato coulis for a splash of colour.
Portions are generous and I’m full by this time, but can’t resist a taste of my companion’s lemon posset.
Wow! This is the stuff of which legends are made: gum-suckingly sharp, with a scoop of equally intense sorbet, masquerading as a giant raspberry with a mint leaf stalk.
We finish our meal with excellent americanos. Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, is £41.05.
* Verdict: Good, home-cooked food in stylish surroundings – a fresh new asset to the Peak’s foodie capital.
* Open: 12-3pm and 6-9pm Mon-Fri; 12-9pm Sat-Sun; Hatties 8am-6pm daily
* Devonshire Arms Inn & Kitchen, Nether End, Baslow (01246) 582551 Devonshire Arms