Horsley Lodge Hotel, Horsley, Derbyshire Life Luncheon

Quality and a passion for fine food are highlights of the latest Derbyshire Life luncheon at the Horsley Lodge Hotel

The late, great and much-lamented Dame Barbara Cartland once gave an interview about her views on life which included an assertion that ‘the one thing you cannot teach, darling, is good taste ...’

Echoes of that occasion came back this week during a visit to Horsley Lodge, the country house hotel, golf club, restaurant, wedding and conference venue set in 180 acres of rolling countryside on the northern outskirts of Derby, when Head Chef John Halton touched on the very same subject.

With unashamed pride, he maintained that the team at Horsley Lodge ‘teach the younger chefs to cook with passion as they learn’.

Judging by the lunch to which we were treated on a day when responsibility for our meal rested in the hands of second chef Richard Spencer, third chef Simon Redfern and commis chef Steven Hadfield, it’s clear you can teach young people to design and produce dishes for even the most discerning diner.

I don’t imagine for one moment that the grande dame ever ventured to Horsley Lodge but I’ve a sneaking suspicion she would have approved of what has been achieved there.

In the past 21 years, proprietor brothers Richard and Malcolm Salt have transformed Horsley Lodge from an old farmhouse into one of the region’s leading family-owned hotels. The 18-hole championship golf course ranks as one of the best in the Midlands and, thanks to substantial recent investment, the hotel now offers eleven beautifully-restored bedroom suites, each individually-styled to capture something of the rich history of the region.

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Passion has clearly played a part here, too, and more than one guest has said that the management team has succeeded in its declared aim to make visitors feel as if they were the personal guests of the Earl of Stainsby who built the country house back in 1850. There’s also a superb barn conversion cottage for long or short-stay guests.

But, if these were not enough, the restaurant must be applauded for its approach to dining. The emphasis here is on simplicity – from the beautifully- presented dishes using products from locally-sourced partner-suppliers to the menus which describe exactly what is on offer. The lamb and beef come from stock reared on hormone-free grass, vegetables are fresh from Lincolnshire and the fish really was, I’m assured, ‘in the sea last night’. Sweets and puddings are made on the premises and often supplemented with ice-cream from the Chatsworth estate. Little surprise, therefore, that food quality consistently gets a 100 per cent rating from mystery customers.

Our lunch featured a delightful parsnip and ginger soup, cutlets of Derbyshire lamb supplied by Owen Taylor and served with celeriac mash and fresh vegetables (a vegetarian option was a chicory, pear and blue cheese tart with walnut dressing) and the most delicious assiette of sweets: rhubarb and white chocolate cr�me brul�e, dark chocolate brownie and lavender ice cream.

Wines provided by Weavers of Nottingham were a Prosecco Vetriano, Pouilly Fum� Domaine des Filles Caillottes 2009, and a particularly pleasant full-bodied Crozes Hermitage Domaine Pradelle 2007.

Mention must be made, too, of the staff who are attentive without being overtly intrusive (no doubt the product of an in-house skills-development programme introduced by Food and Beverage Manager Paul Trowell).

Plans are now well in hand to build on the restaurant’s reputation with the opening of a new brasserie (scheduled for the end of March) which promises ‘to remain English but with a French twist here and there.’

For anyone inclined to view change with suspicion, be assured that visitors will still be able to enjoy a traditional Sunday lunch or host a private party for up to 36 people.

One final observation: it seems to be more and more of a challenge these days to discover an establishment where ambience, service and cuisine combine to provide a relaxing and memorable dining experience. Horsley Lodge ticks all those boxes.

Contact details: Horsley Lodge Hotel, Smalley Mill Road, Horsley, Derbys, DE21 5BL. Tel: 01332 780838 or visit the hotel website on www.horsleylodge.co.uk

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