Bramhalls, Ashbourne, Derbyshire Restaurant Review
Ashley Franklin receives a magical welcome when he visits Ashbourne for a Derbyshire Life luncheon. Photographs by Andrew Eyley.
In the magazine's Ashbourne Life supplement last year I enthused about my first visit to Bramhalls as I snacked on the tastiest home-made burger I had ever eaten, so it was with some relish that I accepted the invitation to a full restaurant lunch.
Using the snappy strapline 'bar brasserie bedrooms', owners Tim and Sharon Cross have restored and revitalised this restaurant-cum-guest house which is just a cobblestone's throw from Ashbourne's market place. As you drive up Buxton Road to leave town, you will surely have spotted Bramhalls' ivy-clad frontage, especially when it glows with autumn colouring. Inside, there has been some tender, loving refurbishment. After taking over at the end of 2006, Tim and Sharon embarked on a full restoration of this mix of Georgian and Edwardian buildings. They've refined the ten bedrooms up to 4-star luxuriousness and the same could be said of the restaurant where they have evidently satisfied their aim of creating a comfortable and relaxed ambience.
Parking is extremely limited but who would quibble about a few minutes' walk through one of our finest market towns? On arrival, I was greeted by a refreshing glass of sparkling wine poured personally by Stewart Ross of H. Smith, which has been providing Ashburnians with food and drink since 1885. Herein lies a further improvement at Bramhalls: sourcing of local produce. Even if Tim and Sharon can't find a local supplier, they try to use a local importer. In Stewart, they found a passionate and knowledgeable wine expert and, through him, have hand-picked the world's finest quality wines without compromising on price. The reception starter, a glass of pale straw Cloudy Bay Pelorus, was crisp and very quaffable. It was no surprise to hear Stewart announce that this New Zealand winery is part-owned by Champagne house Veuve Clicquot as it's one of the wines that tastes sparklingly close to the real thing. The offer of a top-up was a torment of temptation - I had to pace myself - and it was also frustrating steeling myself to single samples of the three tasty reception nibbles: baby tomatoes filled with mozzarella, a cheese and herb pastry and, especially savoured, chicken livers wrapped in pancetta.
We then moved into the restaurant: a classy, compact dining area with smart, comfy high-backed seats, deep red rose and gerbera arrangements on each table and, on the warm red walls, colourful Doug Hyde paintings to make you smile. We waited to see if chef Richard Light's dishes would bring a smile. Richard has been with Bramhalls for two years and we were assured that he and his team - Steve and James - have a passion for creating 'fresh modern cuisine'.
Our starter was a light but delicious Crab Spring Roll with crisp but delicate pastry, subtly complemented by sweetcorn and coriander and a soy and sesame dressing. A fellow diner cleared her plate and then admitted she didn't normally eat crab, though rather than the sweetcorn and coriander masking the meat, I would suggest all three combined to produce a different taste sensation. This was accompanied by an elegant Alsace Riesling chosen by Stewart as a consistently light, smooth complement to the exotic herbs and spices of Asian food.
It was the berry flavours of a Louis Latour Beaune 1er Cru that lingered long in the mouth and smoothly accompanied our main course of Pan-Roasted Breast of Chicken, Bacon and Sun-dried Tomato Mash, Green Beans and Mushroom Jus. We all agreed the chicken was cooked just right and was considerably enhanced by the creamy consistency of the mash with the sun-dried tomato welcomingly spiking the dish with strong flavour and the lovely mushroom jus reduced to 'jus' the desired thickness. I'm not a lover of green beans but I found one in Robert Walker, nurseryman at Meynell Langley Gardens, who declared that the beans were 'cooked to perfection with no sogginess and just enough crunch'.
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'Just smell that strawberry' said an impassioned voice on our table almost as soon as the dessert was set down. The home-made Strawberry Jam Ice Cream was actually the accompaniment to the main pudding of Treacle Tart, which was delectable without being too treacly or sweet. I fancy vanilla ice-cream may have been a more suitable accompaniment yet the strawberry ice-cream was almost heart-stoppingly luscious. Stewart should have been applauded for pronouncing our wine accompaniment of Fischer Trockenbeerenauslese without the merest stutter and applauded again for choosing a dessert wine that wasn't as sickly sweet as they so often can be. Robert Walker's wife Karen deemed this honeyed nectar 'almost medicinal' and contrived a sniffle to encourage a fellow diner to pass her unfinished glass on. It was sweetness to finish, too, as the coffee was followed by an individual gift-wrapped confection of milk, dark and white chocolate.
Right from the reception and between courses, local magician Bernie earned our astonishment and applause with his uncanny sleight-of-hand card trickery. One trick produced a chosen card re-appearing as the only one upside down in a pack tightly bound by an elastic band. The whole table erupted with the concerted cry: 'How DID you do that?' Bernie winked, smiled and slid over to the next table. Bramhalls discovered Bernie via his website - www.magicatyourfingertips.co.uk - and were so impressed with his magic that he is to become their resident magician, entertaining guests every month as part of a forthcoming event schedule. So, a magical feast in more than one sense!
Bramhalls, Buxton Road, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, DE6 1EX Tel: 01335 346158
For more information visit www.bramhalls.co.uk