Eating Out: Premium pub food in the Peaks
Underrated cauliflower is finally having its moment in the sun.
The endlessly variable vegetable is cropping up everywhere - as a replacement for rice or mash or roasted whole with spices - but one place you might not particularly expect to find it is as a starter on a country pub menu.
The Devonshire Arms at Pilsley, on the picturesque Chatsworth estate, maintains the traditional approach that has worked for so many Peak District pubs but is mixing it up a little to move with the times.
And their cauliflower fritters - all light batter containing al dente cauliflower - are just one example of that.
General manager Emma Fletcher said: “The biggest thing that we want to do is, if we do pie and chips there is nothing particularly modern about that but it will be a really good quality pie, then we can go to another extreme with pork belly and black pudding mash which is more modern.
“It can go from one extreme to the other so we want to give people a fair choice.
“We are starting to get a lot more gluten free and vegetarian options in to keep up with the market.
“The other day the chef made a chocolate torte which was completely gluten-free.”
The Telegraph was invited to dine at the pub - and the sun was out when we called in after a stroll around Chatsworth.
There was only one other table dining on the pre-Easter Friday lunchtime, which meant there was less of an atmosphere than you could expect at busy periods, and those are intrinsically linked to the Chatsworth estate.
Emma added: “When the house opens again we pick up a lot of business from that because it is a tourist area but we also get a lot of business when the house is closed.
“We’re in the heart of the Peak District so we get a lot of walk-ins - literally!”
And there are plans afoot to make even more of the menu seasonal, and sourced locally; already much of it comes from the foodies’ paradise that is the Chatsworth farm shop.
“A lot of our food does come from Chatsworth and I have just had a meeting with the head farmer, we’re going to start buying the beef and lamb straight from the Chatsworth estate.
“It’s not always been possible but it is getting to the point where it is now.”
We settled down in the cosy village pub - all wooden tables, beams and country charm - to examine the compact menu.
Our starters included the aforementioned fritters, with a tangy, almost thousand island style, dressing.
Inside the nutty cauliflower was anything but bland, and made for a healthy-ish beginning.
The starters are all easy to share, and so we both also dug in to a light crab cake.
It could have used a little more shellfish, but was moist inside with a crisp outer shell, and pleasant nonetheless.
Service was straightforward, but very swift, our mains came almost immediately after we lay down our forks, and Rachel had to request a break before desserts.
Her salmon en croute was pretty as a picture, and she was pleased that the fish wasn’t suffocated in too much pastry.
It meant the dish remained light, despite the extra buttery mash and red pesto sauce.
The same can’t be said of my beef bourguignon.
The mighty portion included the same silky mash and good chunks of beef in a peppery, thick sauce, all absolutely piping hot.
I liked the scattered herbs on top and the carrots and beans were nicely al dente too, although our waiter took away a bowl still covered in the sauce.
Some might call it sacrilege to offer Bakewell Tart at a restaurant so close to where Bakewell pudding was invented, but Rachel could not resist.
It was a good choice with just enough frangipane, slender, fine pastry half soaked in raspberry and vanilla pod ice cream.
My creme brulee was much larger than the norm, with a runny, almost lemony, base and a caramelised top that made the most satisfying ‘crack’ when forcing entry.
The accompanying shortbreads were delicate instead of stodgy.
The Devonshire Arms isn’t breaking any moulds, that’s clear, but it is making a great fist out of premium pub food.
The Devonshire Arms, on the Chatsworth Estate, Pilsley
Tel: 01246 583258