James Duckett wants the Samuel Fox Country Inn to win the hearts of locals and visitors, as Lesley Draper found out.
CHEF James Duckett has a reputation that spans top restaurants across the globe, but he is finally ready to settle down – in a quiet Peak District pub.
And James is not setting out to attract only fine diners to his new restaurant; he is also on a mission to establish the Samuel Fox Country Inn as a welcoming bar for Bradwell locals.
“I want a country pub with a restaurant,” he says. “I want to put roast potatoes and crackling on the bar for the locals on Sundays. I’m aiming for that lovely melting-pot feel where people are just as comfortable sitting down with a pint as sipping a glass of wine.”
To that end, the carpets are coming up on one side of the bar in January and walkers will be welcome once again – along with their dogs.
Meanwhile, the dining room will go up-market, with stylish new furniture. And work has already begun on upgrading the bedrooms and kitchen.
Other plans in the pipeline include turning a beer cellar and laundry into a prep kitchen and workshop area for wine tasting events.
It’s an exciting new start for James, 40, who had never visited the Peak District before taking over the inn in October.
Born in Lancashire, his early career was spent alongside icons of the culinary world in some of the best restaurants in France, Holland, Spain and Australia.
He has worked under Albert Roux, Michel Roux, Marcus Wareing, Gordon Ramsay and helped to secure a second star for Phil Howard’s The Square in Mayfair.
He went on to run successful restaurants in Spain and then Devon until investors pulled out, triggering a search for the perfect niche – which was when he heard about the Samuel Fox.
“I’m a bit of a traveller at heart – I’ve never really settled anywhere,” he admits. “But I’m here now; this is my business and my home and it’s very much a long-term thing.”
James has wasted no time getting to know the locals, throwing a welcome party to meet his new neighbours and brushing up on local history.
Did you know that the Samuel Fox is named after the founder of Stocksbridge steelworks, who is also credited with inventing the steel-ribbed umbrella?
He is taking his new role very seriously. Before buying the inn, he spent two weeks working front-of-house, learning how to pull a decent pint.
“This is my first pub venture and I’m sure it will prove to be an exciting challenge, but I want to get it right,” he says.
“It gives me a chance to get to know the customers too, and get some feedback.”
For now, the place still looks pretty much as it did before, under the management of Charlie Curran and Kelly Ware (who moved to The Beauchief in May).
Wooden panelling and elegant drapes are a backdrop for Colonial-style rattan chairs and polished tables laid with crisp linen napkins.
The menu is seasonal, with main courses from £11.50. There’s also a lunch menu with everything under a tenner.
A range of hand-pulled ales is available (my companion goes for the Farmer’s bitter) and the wine list is extensive. I can recommend the citrussy Chilean sauvignon blanc at £3.85 a glass (£16 per bottle).
Service is good; front-of-house manager Sabrina is friendly but knowledgable – and very accommodating when we accidentally pick a dish from the lunch menu.
She brings a selection of fresh-baked bread while we’re making up our minds: crisp-crusted, doughy and a good indicator of delights to come.
Leek and potato soup is wonderfully savoury, the flavours beautifully balanced, finished with a soft-poached quali’s egg on a Cheddar crouton. It looks elegant and it tastes simply delicious.
Pressed wild rabbit and ham hock terrine is equally good, packing a meaty punch that contrasts nicely with tiny balls of sweet poached pear and a little pile of citrus-dressed leaves.
These are classic dishes, lifted by touches that add to the experience rather than just gussy them up.
My companion has been lured by the illicit lunchtime shepherd’s pie – and excellent it proves. A pot of well-seasoned minced lamb and gravy topped with creamy potato comes with a side dish of carrots, mangetout, peas and cabbage. Pub grub at its best.
I’m tucking into a pan-fried fillet of sea bream: firm flesh and crisp skin once again evidence of James’ deft touch.
Accompaniments include leeks, black cabbage and the most amazing roasted Jerusalem artichokes I’ve ever tasted – meltingly soft and musky in a crisp outer shell. There’s no weak link to this meal; it’s truly accomplished cooking.
We share a dessert of sticky toffee pudding: the real thing, naturally, stuffed with dates and soaked in buttery toffee sauce. Sweet heaven!
We finish our meal with good, strong americanos and home-made fudge.
Dinner for two, excluding wine and service, is £51.45.
* Verdict: Accomplished cooking in a welcoming environment, with the promise of great things to come. A great addition to the Peak District repertoire.
* Open: Winter hours - Wed-Sat 12-2.30pm & 6-9pm; Sun 12-9pm
* Samuel Fox Country Inn, Stretfield Road, Bradwell S33 9JT (01433) 621562 Samuel Fox