Lesson in good taste

Chris and Julie Horne with chef Darren Goodwin
Chris and Julie Horne with chef Darren Goodwin

A Peak District cookery school has set up a gourmet supper club that’s in a class of its own, Lesley Draper discovers...

ITS prospectus is a Who’s Who of the local food scene – featuring artisan bakers, award-winning chefs and even a TV personality or two…

If you want a job doing properly, call in the experts, they say. And, on that basis, Hartingtons of Bakewell is the place to go if you want to learn about food.

They run courses on everything from bread and cheese making to brewing and charcuterie. But for those who don’t aspire to a place in the next series of Masterchef, it’s all been a bit too much like hard work. Until now.

The latest addition to the list of courses on offer at Hartingtons is a gourmet supper club. And the good news, for anyone who looks on cooking as a chore rather than a pleasure, is that it doesn’t involve so much as peeling a spud.

The cookery school is run by Chris and Julie Horne, who launched their project back in 2010.

“When we got together we were both keen amateur foodies – and we both loved the idea of a cookery school,” says Chris, a former town planner.

They named their company Hartingtons, after the Dukes of Devonshire, and set up their base in an old saw mill, overlooking the River Wye.

The space is light and airy, with a sloping roof, old oak beams, and high-tech stainless steel ovens that add a 21st century flourish.

Courses are run by specialists in their field and on the night of our visit the kitchen has been handed over to Darren Goodwin, head chef at Losehill House Hotel & Spa near Hope. He has a reputation for fine cuisine – tasty food, complete with all the frills – so we should be in for a treat.

On the other hand, he admits: “It’s the first time I’ve cooked outside the kitchen. And I’m not used to induction hobs…”

The gourmet supper evenings have been introduced to promote the school’s work: “We wanted to showcase the most interesting and innovative chefs,” says Chris. “We wanted people coming for one night only and having something completely unique, that they can’t go to a restaurant and order the next day.”

Tonight’s gourmet tasting menu previews spring flavours of the Peak District, “guaranteed to banish those winter blues for good”. (Little did they know!)

Each course is accompanied by an appropriate wine, selected and introduced by Jane Cummings of locally-based John Hattersley Wines.

We’re greeted with a glass of sparkling Lunetta Rose Spumante to accompany hors d’oeuvres: tiny squid ink macaroons, cheesy bite-size gougères and mini cubes of curried goat’s cheese.

As we’re shown to our seats the cookery school is very much in evidence.

Metal-framed chairs and collapsible tables are fair enough, but a few tablecloths and a centrepiece or two would give a less utilitarian feel. And, since it’s a ‘gourmet’ meal, fresh cutlery for each course.

Darren serves up a complimentary appetiser of frozen margarita, and plates laden with three kinds of fresh bread.

Starter is ‘Rabbit in the Garden’, a quirky dish of braised, pressed rabbit, sitting on a bed of soil-like quinoa, with a salad of carrots, radishes, spring onions and pea shoots – Beatrix Potter would have loved it!

The fish course is mackerel, cooked in a water bath then blowtorched to a crisp finish. A sliver of squid ink jelly, blobs of intense citrus, cubes of beetroot mousse, samphire and al dente asparagus spears complete the picture, adding bursts of colour, flavour and texture.

The jury’s still out on sous vide so far as I’m concerned. There’s no question that it cooks foods accurately, but you can’t beat pan-fried fish if you want a crisp, tasty skin. And this wasn’t.

Next the main event – loin and shoulder of kid goat – one of Darren’s specialities that I’ve been wanting to try for ages.

The meat tastes a lot like lamb, but is less greasy. Loin (cooked sous vide) is a bit chewy, but braised shoulder is fall-apart tender and delicious, served with wild garlic potatoes, baby carrots and leeks and inspired crisp-coated cubes of white sauce.

The theatrical highlight of the evening is a pre-dessert of aniseedy sorrel posset, curled into an S, studded with tangy goat’s curd, nutty granola and intense lemon jelly – and served with a bowl of dry ice that’s ignited into a swirling, lemon-scented mist. Bravo!

Finally rhubarb and custard. Not as we know it, but a beautifully balanced combination of meringue, rhubarb ice cream, steamed fruit and vanilla sauce.

We finish our meal with coffee and a first taste of the new Hartington Peakland Blue cheese: every bit as good as any stilton I’ve tasted.

Supper club seats, including all food and wines, are £40.

Verdict: Great venue for cookery classes or dinner with a difference.

Open: Next gourmet supper club is A Cossack Feast on May 4

Hartingtons, Rutland Mill, Coombs Road, Bakewell (01629) 888 586