The Bridge, Ashbourne, Derbyshire Restaurant Review
Every time I climb into the car to visit this restaurant or that for Derbyshire Life, the heavens seem to open, and we arrive bedraggled, wet and lumbered with macs and umbrellas.
On this damp September evening the bar area to the front of the restaurant was almost full of a widely ranging clientele, from groups of gossiping friends to quiet tables deux - all having a whale of a time. Apart from a few at the bar, most were sitting comfortably on sofas, commodious armchairs or on stools at high tables. A huge window fronting Dig Street gave a great view of Somerfield, but within, interesting monochrome photographs of Italy, shiny wooden floorboards and some stylish wallpaper gave a contemporary vibe, while young, black-garbed waiters moved purposefully with drinks and food.
We were shown to one of the high tables by our waiter for the evening, Phil, who took our drinks order and explained the intricacies of the menu. The star of the show that night was a whole lobster, but with only one left, we decided not to fall out over it. While we deliberated we sipped a nicely chilled house Pinot Grigio and grazed on olives, bread and oil and balsamic vinegar dip; simple, not new, but nevertheless delicious and prettily presented in small square dishes on a larger square plate. The menu includes some Italian favourites: antipasto, a platter of cured meats with sundried tomatoes with artichokes and rustic breads (available as a starter or main at �7.50 for the starter size); bruschette, which combined mushrooms, creamy Taleggio cheese and roasted peppers with the tomato (�5); and tomato and basil soup at �4 - tempting with the rain lashing down outside. We rejected all of these in favour of crab cakes with a sweet chilli sauce at �6.20 and mini lamb burgers served with Taleggio and a mint and cumin dip (�5.50). By the time we'd given our order we were warm and well settled at our table. When the time came for us to be shown to our table in the restaurant we were almost reluctant to leave, but a place had been prepared for us and we were keen to see the dining room. In contrast to the bar area, it was beautifully decorated with a beamed cathedral ceiling and a striking wooden staircase leading down to what would have been an al fresco riverside eating area. Manager Anthony Di Sora had promised a quick peep at this, but the weather was so atrocious it seemed preferable to stay in the warm. Starters were served with a flourish by Phil, my daughter's crab cakes moist, full of big crabby chunks and complemented well by their sweet chilli sauce. My own lamb burgers were crispy outside and pink and flavoursome within, all wrapped in a little coat of sliced Taleggio and beautifully complemented by the cumin and mint dip. There were some good steaks on offer (all 9oz) for the main course - grilled fillet at �18.50, Derbyshire sirloin at �15.50 and a rich fillet Dolce Vita, which paired the grilled meat with a rich and creamy Dolcelatte cheese sauce, also �18.50. My daughter decided on the slow roast Black Spot belly pork (�14.95) - a childhood favourite - on a bed of red lentils flavoured with onion, garlic and parsley. Its crackling, the 'USP' of roast pork, was a triumph, delicate and crunchy with well-judged seasoning. I'd chosen butternut squash risotto (�9.50), with pea and mint, which, on this dark and stormy night, was just the sort of comfort food I craved. It arrived stabbed with a couple of giant cheesy crisps, their salty tang just right with the creamy and perfectly cooked rice dish. A modest green salad, nicely dressed, accompanied it. As well as some interesting fishy pastas at �9.50 and a selection of very Italian pizzas (surprisingly, not always the case), there was poached salmon with potato salad and Chianti shallots; seared lamb's liver with chargrilled bacon, creamed potato and caramelised onions; and sausage with parmesan mash, caramelised onions and a port jus - classic dishes with an Italian twist. There was one true-Brit dish on the menu, should you be feeling homesick - Pedigree beer battered fish and chips with crushed peas and tartar sauce. For a lighter bite, some tasty salads included: chicken Caesar; Hartington with warm black pudding, bacon and Stilton; tuna skewers with watercress and beetroot; or goat's cheese with roast peppers. Comfortably replete, with just a small corner for dessert left, we had another look at the menu. No, I didn't have panna cotta again, although it was on the menu, this time served with fruits of the forest. I chose a luscious-looking deeply purple pear, glistening and juicy in its red wine sauce and served with vanilla ice cream. My daughter couldn't resist an exotic concoction of three small scoops of ice cream, each prettily served in one of those china spoons you get with Chinese food, all presented on a long dish. It came with two tiny jugs, one of hot espresso, the other of sambuca, complete with its coffee bean, to pour over or to knock back on their own. I was a little disappointed the liqueur wasn't ignited, but the resulting icy gloop - affrogato - was judged pudding perfection, sweet, creamy, tangy and alcoholic. An ice cream selection, strawberries and cream and a cheese platter completed the dessert line-up, all priced at around �3.50. We returned to the still-buzzing bar to take our coffees on a squashy sofa and met talented chef Carl Riley. Fittingly with a young and lively staff - yet amazingly - Carl is only 22 and came to the Bridge with a cv full of prestigious restaurant experience. Ashbourne has long had a lot going for it, with fabulous shops of all kinds, a good selection of fine eateries and a lovely setting at the 'gateway to the Peak District'. The opening of the Bridge has provided it with an extra bit of fizz, with some great food and the promise of a lively evening.
The Bridge, Dig Street, Ashbourne DE6 1GFTel: 01335 22188; www.thebridgeashbourne.com