Shottle Hall Restaurant, Shottle, Derbyshire Restaurant Review
Shottle Hall, approached across a crunching gravel drive, is just the sort of quintessentially English property we'd all love to own.
Through the heavy front door, a small reception desk was the only hint that we hadn't inadvertently strayed into someone's house, but the swift arrival of Joanne Nicol, the managing director, to usher us into the lounge reassured us that this was a country house hotel. Elegant shuttered windows, which overlook the 14-acre garden and views beyond, punctuate one wall while crackling fires surrounded by cosy groups of sofas feature opposite. A waiter took our drinks order and presented menus and nibbles while we warmed our toes.The menu was fairly concise - the five starters ranged in price from �4.95 to �5.95 and included a pork, sage and apricot terrine with piccalilli, oak smoked salmon and crayfish and avocado salad. There were six mains, from �9.95 for a courgette and yam stew with coconut basmati rice to �15.95 for grilled local sirloin with the classic accompaniments of tomato, mushroom and hand-cut chips - and it was still difficult to choose, especially as the selection included my favourite slow-roast shank of Derbyshire lamb with garlic mash, and duck breast with cherry sauce. But choose we did, immediately sinking back into the cushions with our drinks to enjoy the warmth and the prospect of the meal, and after only a short while we were invited to take our places in the dining room.There's a bit of a surprise in the restaurant. After the plush warmth of the lounge, the dining room with its twinkling black ceiling, smart black rattan chairs and modern artwork, strikes a much crisper note. Perhaps because of the continuing arctic weather, my partner had chosen potato and leek soup and it certainly did the trick, its velvety tang and perfect seasoning enhanced by the fact that it was piping hot. Although you'd think that that was a sine qua non for soup it's not always the case - often because the bowl hasn't been pre-warmed. My caramelised red onion and goat's cheese tart with black pepper mascarpone was creamy and piquantly sweet, the flavours melding together wonderfully in each savoury mouthful.Although tempted by the sea bass, my companion has recently had some bad luck when choosing fish, being presented with tiny portions while everyone else was enjoying hearty platefuls. He wasn't disappointed by his choice of cornfed chicken breast with a wild mascarpone risotto dressed with truffle, which filled the plate with its pile of creamy rice and flavoursome meat. Determined to show him that not all fish is served in doll-sized portions, I chose the sea bass, which arrived a healthy size and spiced with caribbean flavours (unidentifiable, but certainly imparting a delicious flavour), and served on a tidy bed of crushed potatoes and some really buttery ginger cream sauce. Once again, both dishes were really hot, as were the vegetables - mange tout, beans and carrots - that accompanied them. With our meal we'd chosen an Australian semillon chardonnay, endearingly named 'Whistling Duck', crisp and full of tropical and citrus flavours at �19.25.We'd sneaked a peek at the dessert menu when choosing our starter and main course and had already planned what we wanted to finish the meal, so were slightly disappointed to find it had been changed. However, we consoled ourselves with a pear and almond tart, served with fresh raspberries and mascarpone, and a generous cheeseboard. My partner consoled himself even more with a glass of port to go with it.The food and smiling service couldn't be faulted, and perhaps a freezing Friday in January isn't a good benchmark, but I feel Shottle's other incarnation as a wedding or celebration venue is perhaps better suited to the style of the dining room. I felt it needed the buzz of a crowd to show it at its best; with its wonderful views and sun streaming through the huge windows, it would be hard to beat anywhere in Derbyshire.To that end, Shottle Hall is shortly to offer an extended wedding package. The Coach House at Shottle will be sumptuously converted to provide a dedicated arrangement of beautifully styled rooms that includes a luxurious bridal suite, reception room and a spa for pre-ceremony pampering. It will comfortably hold 90 for a civil wedding and up to 250 for the evening party. For a larger event the space can be extended for up to 500 guests, while in the main building, eight individually designed bedrooms provide a luxurious base for the wedding party and family. Shottle's experienced in-house wedding planner is also available to organise every detail of the day.