Lesley Draper checks out Rowley’s gastro-pub in Baslow, to sample the menu of their highly acclaimed roving maestro
RESTAURANT-goers in the Sheffield area are more fortunate than most, with a choice of two Michelin-starred establishments within 30 minutes’ drive. Right?
Wrong! The Old Vicarage at Ridgeway and Fischer’s Baslow Hall may be the ones with the prestigious star outside the front door, but those in the know can enjoy Michelin-standard food without all the pomp and ceremony – and for a fraction of the price.
Word is that Max Fischer, the master chef who gave his name to Baslow’s most illustrious eaterie, is moonlighting at the pub down the road.
For the last few weeks, he has left well-established Baslow Hall in the capable hands of executive chef Rupert Rowley and spent his days at gastro-pub Rowley’s, which the pair set up on the premises of the old Prince of Wales back in 2006.
A series of head chefs earned the place two AA rosettes, a recommendation in the Good Food Guide and a Michelin listing. But neither the pub’s eponymous director nor his boss has had much to do with it… until now.
Departure of the last incumbent, just before Christmas, left Rowley’s with a bulging reservation book but no head chef.
Jason ‘JK’ Kendra, who was helping out at the time, rose to the challenge. With experience ranging from Harvey Nicks in York to Hassop Hall, he abandoned plans to jet off to a post in Australia and took over the top job – pulling it off with aplomb.
Now things have settled down, he’s taking time to develop his young team and tweak the menu – with the help of Max, now 62.
“Max has given us that extra oomph,” says sous chef Iain Woodhead, who is in charge on the evening of our visit.
“Last weekend we had rack of lamb on the specials and Max was carving it at the table. People love it.”
Assistant manager Abbey Kallend is equally enthusiastic: “With Max coming down it’s like a new lease of life. Everyone’s so enthusiastic,” she says.
It’s a two-way thing. In recent years Max has spent less time in the kitchen and more in the garden, producing herbs and vegetables for the table.
But he’s clearly enjoying the hands-on approach to training up a new team.
“The other week he was in on Fish Friday and we discovered he’d never done a fish and chip supper, so we taught him a thing or two!” says Iain.
The next menu is due to be introduced on Mothering Sunday and is more classic than diners have come to expect from Rowley’s in recent times.
“There’s a lot more flavours going on. Before, it was quite simple, but Max wants to get the group solid and confident then bring the standard up.”
Set menus (two courses for £16 or three for £20) are available most lunchtimes, and before 7pm Tuesday to Thursday; Sunday lunch is £20/£24.
The à la carte offers a good, eclectic choice. Starters range from the inevitable soup and a retro prawn cocktail, to chicken liver parfait and honey-and-whisky smoked salmon.
Mains include Spanish omelette (£12), confit duck leg (£13.50) and dry aged rib-eye steak (£19.95).
The wine list is impressive: a choice of more than 40 bottles, from £16.95, half of them available by the glass (£2.95). Real ale and bottled beers are also on offer.
The restaurant closed for a three-day refurb in January, though it still looks pretty much the same, with slab-painted walls of aubergine and lime and an array of foodie pictures. Tables are bare with cutlery laid bistro style.
We take a table at the back of the ground floor: prime position for anyone who enjoys cooking because it offers a ringside view of the pristine open kitchen. Iain and his team are hard at work and there’s an air of concentrated calm.
Our waiter brings fresh-baked bread and butter. Service is good here: friendly and efficient, but not over-zealous.
I start with ocean salad: crisp leaves, a vinaigrette dressing and four pan-fried fillets of fish – salmon and maybe hake. Simple but effective.
Soup of the day is French onion, and this beats any other we’ve tried. Forget thin gruel, this is heavy with onion and thick with stringy melted cheese. A tasty treat. Portions are generous for a starter, elegantly presented.
Pot roast hogget of lamb is another rustic classic. The kitchen rolls the meat, then cuts off portions as required.
It’s a hearty dish with plenty of flavour in the meat, jus and a minty salsa verde. Crisp hispi cabbage is the perfect complement with creamy mash to round it off.
Oxtail is another traditional winter favourite. This is braised for hours until it literally falls off the bone, then individual portions are scooped into a caul and served to order.
It’s beautifully tender, if slightly disappointing in intensity, served with roast chanteray carrots, swede, celeriac and creamed potato.
We share a slice of lemon tart: deep filled and beautifully sharp, with vanilla ice cream and raspberry coulis instead of the advertised raspberry ripple.
We finish our meal with decent americanos. Dinner for two, excluding wine and service, is £53.15.
*Verdict: Star quality cooking in a stylish, informal setting.
*Open: Tues – Sat 10am-9pm; Sun until 6pm; closed Mon
*Rowley’s, Church Lane, Baslow (01246) 583880 Rowleys Restaurant