Farm to fork: the life of Riley’s

Ed Armstrong and Carl Riley in Riley's Restaurant on Bridge Street, Bakewell.
Ed Armstrong and Carl Riley in Riley's Restaurant on Bridge Street, Bakewell.

Farm to fork and local provenance are the buzzwords of the restaurant trade these days. But not many can boast the credentials of Bakewell’s latest arrival…

Riley’s is a partnership between New Close Farm Shop and accomplished local chef Carl Riley. The result is a restaurant that not only grows its own meat but also transforms it into the kind of dishes that could easily grace a top London menu.

Riley's Restaurant, Bridge Street, Bakewell.'Carl Riley, left, head chef/co-owner and his sous chef Ryan Lee.

Riley's Restaurant, Bridge Street, Bakewell.'Carl Riley, left, head chef/co-owner and his sous chef Ryan Lee.

It’s something that has been missing in the town up to now; an eatery that successfully combines coffee bar, bistro and fine dining restaurant – though Carl is anxious to stress that doesn’t mean starched white cloths and silver service.

“I never wanted a formal, stuffy dining experience,” he says. “I want it to be ‘smart casual’.”

Riley’s is slap bang in the centre of Bakewell, in what was formerly Le Mistral.

A contemporary coffee and wine bar leads to an airy eating area and then into the restaurant – an atmospheric room lined with rich wood panelling that once graced Haddon Hall.

“I want to give people an experience enjoy, not just a meal”

Chef patron Carl Riley

Here, Carl believes in doing things properly: napkins are of cloth, plates are pottery; cutlery and crystal sparkle in the candlelight.

“We’re so proud of this place,” he says. “The people of Bakewell are loving it and supporting it. It’s brilliant!”

Carl got his first job, aged 14, as a waiter at Hassop Hall. It wasn’t long before he discovered his vocation: “I used to go in early and help the chefs – they were the real rock stars.”

He went on to train at High Peak College, then honed his skills at Chatsworth and respected restaurants including the Plough at Hathersage and Moran’s in Sheffield until landing his first head chefship aged just 24 at Richard Smith’s Catch in Crosspool.

Smoked mackerel starter with a theatrical flourish of dry ice

Smoked mackerel starter with a theatrical flourish of dry ice

More recently Carl earned recognition for the Peak Edge Hotel at Stanedge and the Chequers in Froggatt before seizing the chance to have his own restaurant.

The Armstrong family – third-generation farmer Jim and sons, Tom and Ed – are his ideal partners. They raise cattle, sheep and pigs on the farm at nearby Over Haddon and sell the award-winning meat at their shop in Bakewell and at farmers’ markets around the area. Now they also supply the restaurant.

But there’s a lot more to this place than just steak and sausages: “I want to give people an experience… a night to enjoy, not just a meal,” says Carl.

Riley’s opened on April 1 and has been fully booked almost every night since, as we discover when we have to wait for a table, despite having booked.

Riley's Restaurant, Bridge Street, Bakewell.

Riley's Restaurant, Bridge Street, Bakewell.

But it’s a pleasant wait, with time to soak up the buzz, and a complimentary glass of fizz by way of apology.

A delay is hardly surprising: the place has only been open a week, staff are still being trained and this is Carl’s night off. At least, he’s handed over the kitchen to sous chef Ryan Lee (a former Chesterfield Young Chef of the Year) and is getting to know his customers front of house instead.

The seasonal menu features a classic brunch menu, with everything from home-smoked haddock to eggs Benedict. There are sandwiches during the day and an à la carte from noon onwards.

It’s a well-considered selection, with everything from nibbles (proper pork scratchings) and a ‘butcher’s picnic’ (pork pie, scotch egg, potted meat and more) to a full three-course meal.

This being a bar too, there’s an extensive wine list as well as beers, spirits and cocktails.

Eight house wines are available by the glass (from £2.75, or £14.95 a bottle). We can vouch for the fruity Italian sangiovese and a citrussy sauvignon blanc.

Riley's Restaurant, Bridge Street, Bakewell.

Riley's Restaurant, Bridge Street, Bakewell.

We tuck into freshly-baked rolls as our starters arrive.

My kilner jar of potted mackerel is smoked in more ways than one – a cloud of dry ice escapes with a theatrical flourish as the lid is released.

It comes with horseradish butter, slivers of granary toast stacked Jenga style, and a salad of watercress, orange segments and edible flowers. Presentation is a true art form.

Pressed pork and apricot terrine is good and meaty, with apple chutney, focaccia wafers, exquisite little miniature toffee apples and some fancy powder (clever, no doubt, but pretty tasteless to be honest). A gourmet pork scratching provides the lightest, crispest, most pungently porcine finishing touch.

This being a fine dining restaurant, next up is a complimentary intermediate course of pear sorbet: sweet and crisp, the perfect palate cleanser served in a shot glass.

On to mains and my beetroot salmon is a riot of colour, with texture and flavour to match. Vivid magenta fish is accompanied by bright green asparagus spears, crisp golden smoked haddock fishcake, cream, mussels, tangy ribbons of pickled vegetable, and a sunshine yellow pansy.

Meat may be produced on the doorstep, but that’s no guarantee it will be available, we discover… My companion’s dream of lamb rump is dashed by an influx of orders, so he settles for beef instead.

Succulent 35-day-aged sirloin steak comes with a juicy portobello mushroom, slow roast tomato and peppercorn sauce, with crunchy twice-cooked chips and onion rings.

We share a dessert of martini lemon posset: silky smooth and gum-suckingly sharp, with amaretti biscuits.

We finish our meal with americanos and hot milk. Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, is £53.

* Riley’s, Bridge Street, Bakewell (01629) 815613 Riley’s