You need great talent and imagination to bring out the strength of tradition through modern twists.
That is what you find at The Peacock in Rowsley, where nobody leaves without having witnessed a new standard in county cooking.
The pride in the expertise and willingness to push culinary boundaries is matched only by the history which shines from every corner of the building and every piece of furniture.
You have probably driven past the Peacock many times. It isn't far from Chatsworth but slightly set back from the road so it isn't quite as imposing from the outside as you might imagine.
A glance at the menu, more specifically its prices, might be enough to send the average diner scarpering but this is no usual restaurant.
This was the third time I had visited the Peacock. The previous two were for to celebrate the birthdays of family members ... ending in zero. This is an exquisite dining experience but prices are reflective of that, hence reserving it for very special occasions.
The presentation of both amuse bouche (venison, of course, being so close to Chatsworth) and pre dessert sets the standard for a riot of taste and a dining experience at the very top end of the scale.
They are very strict on ensuring the main menu is only served in the dining room. Chef believes it is the only way to enjoy the full experience, we were told. So we were escorted from the charmingly historical bar into the equally delightful dining room.
Every portrait on the wall has a story and every piece of wooden furniture its own mouse. This might not be what you'd expect when at an eatery of this standard but they are all carved in wood, of course, and the signature of mouseman carver Robert Thompson.
That is just one of the tiny, but brilliant, touches which make the Peacock so special. It fuses the past so creatively with the present in a way that is unique to Derbyshire. A virtual history lesson is available for those interested. Even if you stay in the bar you are surrounded by glorious pieces from the past with detailed explanations from a team who really care about the heritage of the building.
The staff are attentive, as you would imagine, and very well informed on not only every dish, but how it is made and where the ingredients are sourced. Their knowledge is an education in itself
This is a restaurant where a tomato is not merely a tomato, rather a heritage tomato which has that delicious tastiness which is sadly so rare in much mass produced vegetables. Indeed tomatoes at the Peacock also come served as iced tomato tea, in their own tiny teapot and with a delicate flavour bursting with all the joys of summer. Unusually delightful.
The soup here is no ordinary dish added to extend the choice of starters. It was leek and potato (£7.45) and quite divine. What truly set it apart of the crispy quail egg nestled in garden lovage at the centre of the bowl. Crunchy, soft and runny all at the same time, the textures quite different to anything I'd experienced in soup before.
Our other starter was the fish choice. It was organic salmon partnered with nasturium, radish, puffed rice, shimeji mushrooms and salmon dashi (£12.95)
The Derbyshire beef fillet was as so tender it is hard to describe. It hadn’t had far to come, which again is part of the attraction and philosophy.
At £38 it was accompanied by onion, oxtail, herb creme fraiche, kohlrabi, beef fat potatoes and red wine sauce. Some might lower the tone by describing it as something of a variation on the traditional Sunday dinner. While the combination of ingredients was somewhat more usual than many of the other items of the menu, the wow-factor remained.
The Goosnargh chicken (£30) was beautifully cooked and presented alongside spinach, duxelle, leeks, summer truffle , leg and bacon pie. I would have settled for the pie alone which was extraordinarily good. Having it as an accompaniment creates an extraordinary dish. If you are going all out, it is worth noting that the lowest priced dish on the dinner menu is £24, but then you get what you pay for.
The dessert of roasted almonds, wild flower honey parfait, almond sponge and honeycomb topped the meal off delightfully. It cost £7.80 and was a work of art to both eyes and tastebuds. There are a selection of homemade ice creams to pick from. Each scoop is served in its own individual bowl and all were delicious, although the vanilla was declared the winner.
Presentation is absolutely key for food this good, but by pudding we were far too full to contemplate coffee. I left a little sad that I hadn’t given the petit fours a go, but I couldn’t have eaten another crumb.
You will be blown away by the combinations of ingredients and exciting melee of flavours. You can tell that chef Dan Smith is not only passionate about the final dish but thrilled by the journey from concept to creation. The word luxurious is overused. In the case of the Peacock, it is spot on.
n The Peacock, Bakewell Road, Rowsley. Tel: 01629 733518