Less than two years after arriving in the sleepy village of Bradwell, world class chef James Duckett has made his mark.
Having worked his way around the globe, with top names from Albert Roux to Gordon Ramsay, he is no stranger to stardom.
But being named Best Newcomer in his own right, in the recent Derbyshire Food & Drink Awards, was a career highlight for Duckett. And now he’s out to take the Samuel Fox Country Inn to even greater heights…
A series of improvements has opened out the bar and dining space, creating a new lounge area and expanding the kitchen.
The latest investment has given the place a more contemporary look, replacing dated colonial-style furniture with comfortable new red plush-upholstered chairs, polished wood tables, a stylish striped carpet and new lighting. Neutral shades make the most of the light and space, while rich red and gold drapes frame striking views of the surrounding countryside.
The scheme is the work of a Sheffield-based interior designer: “We wanted something that would look good without being too way out. We want to keep our existing customers happy as well as attracting new ones,” says James.
He hopes, over the next couple of weeks, that will include cycling enthusiasts in the area for this weekend’s L’Eroica Britannia and then the Tour de France.
The second stage of the Tour, from York to Sheffield on Sunday, July 6, takes the peloton within a few miles of the Samuel Fox and James is keen to welcome visitors whether they’re after a weekend break, a bed for the night, or simply a good meal.
“We’re laying on free transport for those who are with us for dinner, bed and breakfast – it will be a chance for them to sample local real ales at the Bradfield Brewery beer festival too,” he says.
The inn – which has four guest bedrooms – has just reopened following a ten-day refurbishment. And it is showcasing the kitchen team’s skills with a new menu and a wine list to match.
“We’re a little more established now and we wanted to move on,” says James. “We’re not a local boozer, we’re more of a dining pub.”
Accordingly, the Wednesday night tapas menu has gone, but the £5-£10-£5 early bird remains (6-7pm).
And diners can get a true flavour of the quality on offer with the seven-course tasting menu at £49. A complementary wine flight (£31) features a selection of old and new world wines including dry white Madeleine Angevine from Derbyshire’s Renishaw Hall vineyard and concluding with a sweet French Muscat de Frontignon.
The tasting menu is so new that the staff forget to mention it until after we’ve ordered. But the dishes we’ve picked include several which feature on the special selection: a good indication that it will be worth a return visit for the full experience.
First up is a masterpiece in magenta: velvety smooth beetroot and cumin soup, thrown into sharp relief by a garnish of bright green basil, peashoots and dollops of creamy yogurt.
It’s an unusual mix of flavours but it works superbly, the overall sweetness given depth by the spice and the yogurt cutting through with a hit of sourness.
There’s complimentary bread too: salty granary rolls and a homemade crispbread to share.
Soft textured chicken liver parfait comes on a slate, in its own little pot, garnished with tiny cubes of pickled rhubarb. The main part of the slate is taken up by a huge slab of brioche, like toasted cake.
We match it with a bottle of house red: a smoky South African Kleinkloof pinotage (£17) that’s a tad harsh on its own, but goes down a treat with the food.
My main course is fillet of gilthead bream, pan-fried to crisp-skinned perfection and served on a tasty casserole of chickpeas, squid and what looks like tiny octopuses – a quirky addition, but a bit on the stringy side in comparison with the softer calamari.
It’s a treatment that adds interest to a familiar dish and makes a pleasant change from the usual potatoes and veg.
He goes for special of the day, cottage pie – a surprisingly ordinary dish for an award-winning restaurant, but part of James’ plan to cater for those who prefer traditional cooking as well as the more adventurous diner.
The pie itself it pretty good: minced beef with plenty of gravy, topped with buttery creamed potato. But it’s presented in a deep individual bowl, which makes it impossible to get at with a knife and fork – and that comes on a slate, which means you can’t tip it out either.
“A case of presentation over practicality,” grumbles my frustrated companion.
We solve the problem by requesting a plate and James later admits this would be a more practical presentation, which he plans to adopt in future. Top marks to a chef who listens to customer feedback!
Desserts cover the full spectrum, from sticky toffee pudding to coconut panna cotta with raspberries.
We share a chocolate brownie – warm and sticky, with chunks of nut and a flaky top – served with sugary spiced breadcrumbs, flowery orange sorbet and fresh raspberries: “Possibly the best brownie I’ve ever had,” he says.
We finish our meal with filter coffee and hot milk. Dinner for two, excluding wine and service, is £54.
* Samuel Fox Country Inn, Stretfield Road, Bradwell (01433) 621 562 Samuel Fox Country Inn