Restaurant Review: The Charles Cotton Hotel

Our reviewer tries a taste of what Hartington has to offer ...

Visitors to the picturesque tourist honey-pot of Hartington can’t fail to be impressed by the beautiful Charles Cotton Hotel which dominates the village centre. This hotel has been providing delicious food and excellent accommodation to travellers and guests for the last 275 years – becoming renowned as a world-class Mecca for walkers and fishermen from around the globe. Charles Cotton, a 17th century English writer and angler, was born just a mile from the hotel in the beauty spot of Beresford Dale and is perhaps best known as the co-author, with his great friend Isaak Walton, of The Compleat Angler. Alan Shanks and Judy Dyer bought into this thriving business and together with partners Ray and Carolyn Cork, set about renovating this historic hotel. Much of Charles Cotton’s memorabilia has since been carefully restored and is now on display in the two dining rooms and smaller residents’ ‘snug’ – decorated to reflect Cotton’s love of gambling with cosiness and charm.

I was invited to sample the food served at the hotel with a good friend of mine and as soon as we arrived it was clear to see why there has recently been only one week in the past four months when the restaurant wasn’t fully booked. The entrance hall is imposing yet homely and welcoming, and the staff greeted us with a cheerful smile. After being seated at a pretty table near the window in the small cosy bar bistro ? the other more formal dining room is reserved for large parties, events and fine dining when the restaurant is full – I looked around and appreciated the hotel’s fantastic setting. The evening light through the bay window gave the room a certain ambience, added to by a flickering candle placed on each table.

As well as a splendid location, an air of history and comfortable rooms in its favour, the hotel boasts a brilliant Head Chef in Dave Thompson. The menu is clear, classic and unfussy, displaying the use of locally-sourced and, where possible, organic food clearly. A specials board above the bar changes each evening and the starters are well priced and served quickly in generous portions. The smoked chicken salad I chose for a starter had an interesting blend of textures, combining tender smoked chicken with fresh crunchy asparagus and light yet crispy croutons, a kick of balsamic dressing provided the perfect twist. The presentation was extremely impressive, with an attention to fine detail and a dusting of tangy pepper. My friend’s choice, a tiger prawn and crab cocktail, was an excellent blend of sea-food favourites. Besides being fresh and wonderfully tasty, both the prawns and crab were succulent and juicy. The cocktail was surrounded by a zestful avocado pur�e that exuded flavour and aroma and was accompanied with a serving of warm, multi-grain bread – ideal for mopping up every last bit of the deliciously creamy Marie-Rose sauce. The lightness of this dish made it the perfect starter for those saving themselves for the main course.

When it comes to the mains, it is incredibly easily to be spoiled for choice by the tempting meats on offer – ranging from spring chicken, lamb, char-grilled salmon nicoise and the tempting 28-day-hung sirloin steak, all garnished with complementary side dishes, ranging from chunky hand-cut chips to smoked bacon or wild mushroom fricass�e, starting from �13.50 per meal.

My dining companion was swayed by the succulent shank of braised new season lamb shoulder priced at �14.95. Cooked to the point of perfection, the meat fell easily off the bone and melted in the mouth. The lamb was served alongside delicious traditional creamy mash with a sprinkling of parsley leaves and beautifully cooked fresh and crunchy seasonal vegetables that had been delicately charred. The accompanying mint jelly also added a flavoursome twist that ensured the dish wasn’t too heavy on the palate.

I fancied something a little different and opted for the Mediterranean vegetable terrine for �12.95. This provided a surprising yet interesting alternative to a traditional main course, with the chilled, layered terrine bursting with flavour and presented exquisitely. It was sprinkled with jalape�os and lashings of herbs and accompanied by steaming hot vegetables and a fresh and tasty pesto sauce. The full range of tangy flavours, accompanied with the interesting texture of a slightly bitter yet wonderfully creamy goats cheese, were a credit to the experience and knowledge of the head chef.

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The portions were well judged and when it came to pudding time, left just enough room for a dessert – of which there was plenty of choice. Besides an impressive selection of after-dinner coffees, a varied cheese board, including Normande Camembert, Irish Porter and Nantwich Blue (�5.75) and a range of excellent ports at �3.85 a glass, the traditional homemade desserts provided something for everyone.

Although tempted by sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice-cream and butterscotch sauce (�4.95), and brioche bread and butter pudding (�5.50), we were both unable to resist the raspberry and strawberry Eton mess – a fittingly summery and fruity pud for �5.25. This consisted of pieces of sweet yet light meringue, beautifully blended with fruit sauce and freshly whipped cream, topped with juicy strawberries. It was presented in a tall cocktail glass – perfect for sharing, surrounded by swirls of coulis and succulent chunks of strawberries. The perfect end to a delightful meal.

It is no wonder that both locals and tourists flock here, incredibly proud of this fabulous hotel which has been restored to its former greatness. As Alan proudly told me ‘We have put the passion back in, the locals are so proud’. As we left the Charles Cotton, it was easy to see why.

Sandwiches and bar meals are served 12 noon to 3pm, the evening menu from 6.30pm. Food is served all day during school holidays and at weekends. The Charles Cotton Hotel, Market Place, Hartington SK17 0AL. Tel: 01298 84229 or

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