When Martin Clayton took over the Robin Hood at Baslow, he inherited a picturesque country pub with a garden room, a first-floor apartment… and three freezers full of Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes.
“The previous chef reckoned that was the only way to cope with demand on Sunday lunchtimes!” he says.
Needless to say, things have changed in the last year and the freezers now stand empty – though demand for Sunday roast, and just about every other meal, is stronger than ever.
Martin is an award-winning chef and makes everything apart from bread and ice cream in the pub kitchen – spreading into his own domestic quarters upstairs when he runs out of space.
He also knows what his customers want and does his best to provide it, right down to the bespoke leaflet of local walks.
The inn’s location, right where climbing edge and footpath meet main road, make it a favourite with Peak District visitors of all ages, including climbers, walkers, cyclists and day trippers. And the presence of a respected chef adds another attraction.
Martin grew up in Gainsborough, a mining area, but started cooking at home as a teenager.
“When I was at school, the careers advice was: do you want to go underground or overground? I said I wanted to be a chef,” he recalls.
He trained at colleges in Doncaster and Sheffield, gaining experience at a whole range of respected hotels and restaurants: “I was at the Grosvenor House in Sheffield when it was a flagship with 26 chefs in the kitchen.”
He did a time in London at the prestigious Langham and Le Gavroche, working with Brian Turner. Then he returned north, running kitchens in the Derby area before looking for a new challenge.
As a development chef he researched Italian food, sourcing a new range for Asda and working with Waitrose and M&S too. But his dream was to run the kitchen at a country house hotel, so when he was asked to do just that, at the Cavendish in Baslow, it seemed the perfect job.
However, the hours proved a big drawback and within a couple of years Martin was on the move again, this time to Calabria in Chesterfield.
He was there for two years, earning a ‘best restaurant’ award to add to his collection – which also includes the coveted Matrise Escoffier award from the Association Culinaire Francaise, East Midland Chef of the Year and numerous gold medals at national competition level.
His next move came when the nearby Old Post came on the market and Martin decided the time had come to launch his own restaurant.
Within a year he had won an award for that too – then came news that the Robin Hood was up for sale.
Martin had lived in Baslow during his time at the Cavendish, meeting partner Delia and making friends in the village.
“We heard this was on the market and we knew it’d had a lot of money spent on it, so it seemed too good a chance to miss,” he says.
The couple moved in last year and have made the country inn their home: “I love it – even doing the boring jobs. We’re here for good!”says Martin.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing. He quickly found that the kitchen was different from any other he had run: “I assumed that people who come to a pub really want pub food… but we’ve found that diners like something a bit different.”
So there’s a regular pub menu, with all the usual favourites, but also a specials board of more exotic fare that changes every day. And it’s all home made, using locally sourced produce where possible.
Similarly, there’s a choice of seven house wines (all at £14.70 per bottle; £3.70 a glass), but also amore seslect range.
I start with thick tomato soup – perfect comfort food on a wintry night – made of roasted plum tomatoes with a hint of basil and sweet pepper. It comes in an earthenware bowl with a herb garnish, slices of toasted ciabatta and butter.
My companion goes for the mezze: a slate laden with pieces of crispbread, black olives, garlicky roasted tomatoes and a little china dish of dips: tzatziki, the sharp yogurt and cucumber a perfect foil for oily mutabbal of puréed aubergine, and musky chickpea hummus.
The pub is quiet thanks to the weather, so we don’t feel guilty hogging the coal-fired stove as we tuck into our meal and watch the snow falling outside.
My main course is salmon wellington: a beautifully moist fillet of fish let down only by its pastry case, which is disappointingly soggy beneath the crisp exterior.
It’s nicely presented with a moulded ring of layered crushed new potatoes and creamed leeks. The creamy smoked salmon sauce has all the promised flavour despite being white (which suggests a lack of the advertised red wine element).
My companion’s rump of lamb is roasted to succulent perfection, with a subtle mustard sauce, tangy braised red cabbage and a moulded ring of crushed potatoes and leeks.
He makes room for traditional apple and mincemeat crumble – “one of the best” – with vanilla ice cream.
I finish with a decent americano and a home made shortbread biscuit.
Our meal, excluding drinks, is £42.
* Robin Hood Inn, Chesterfield Road, Baslow DE45 1PQ (01246) 583186 Robin Hood Inn