The Famous Shoulder, Hardstoft, Derbyshire Restaurant Review

The only hint that the Famous Shoulder at Hardstoft was, going to be anything other, than a pretty 300-year-old country pub was the stylish board over the flower bedecked entrance announcing its name.

The only hint that the Famous Shoulder at Hardstoft was, going to be anything other, than a pretty 300-year-old country pub was the stylish board over the flower bedecked entrance announcing its name. Through the somewhat poky entrance there was a bar, the far side of which we could see beer supping regulars enjoying a jolly night out in the snug. A large pretty alcove with an inglenook fireplace was a cosy place to sit, and there was also a large lounge, furnished with comfy looking sofas. Simon, the pleasant young chef owner, bounded up to greet us and explained that the Famous Shoulder was a work in progress that had begun only fairly recently. This was certainly a man with big ideas.

The Restaurant - Simon certainly has plenty of space to play with; beyond the lounge was a bright and airy restaurant, decorated in contemporary and tasteful style, the tables simply but elegantly laid and dressed with fresh flowers.

The Menu - There’s an � la carte menu, a daily selection of fresh fish dishes, grills, and some tasty-sounding bar snacks – including some imaginative sandwiches. My elegant guest and I chose from the � la carte menu which offered five each of starters (priced at between �4 and �6) and mains (�11- �17), and six puds each at around �6. After much deliberating and redeliberating we made our choice, reluctantly rejecting beef fillet carpaccio, lobster and sweetcorn velout� and pressed ham hock terrine with a herb salad. The EG requested the goat’s cheese p�t� with onion chutney and rocket pesto, while I chose from the fish menu, which helpfully offered starter and main sized portions. There were mussels in garlic cream, poached organic salmon, baked whole plaice with lemon and chive cream and parsley mash, and black bream served with minted new potatoes and samphire on offer – any of which I’d have happily made short work of. Prices range from �5 for starter size mussels to �13. Perusing the menu I was reminded of one of my review predecessors. His b�te noir was piped music; mine is the spelling of the menu. The Shoulder passed with flying colours.

The Food - A word first about the waiting staff. A smiling gentleman waiter and a polite and happy waitress gave us some very classy service. They’d obviously been trained by someone who knew what’s what in the best establishments. Homemade bread, with poppy or sunflower seeds was served with segments of butter lightly sprinkled with sea salt, soon followed by EG’s seared goat’s cheese p�t�, with a rocket pesto, onion chutney and charcoal thins. My own starter was a fresh and summery dish of seared scallops that melted in the mouth, their sweetness complemented by slivers of sharp green apple and curly pea shoots. With our meal we’d chosen from a lively and sensibly-priced wine list; the EG had a glass of 2009 Ancora pinot grigio ros� while I enjoyed a crisp and fruity El Cagallo Chilean sauvignon blanc.

Both our main courses were sublime. My guest had decided on pan fried breast of duck, with confit leg, its richness cut with gooseberry and apple pur�e. The duck was served perfectly pink, carved into thick juicy slices. I’d chosen the Shoulder’s signature dish, pressed belly of pork, glazed cheek, with a breadcrumbed egg of black pudding. With it came some minty new potatoes and peppery watercress. The= pork simply fell away under my knife, while the glazed cheek had a hint of the oriental. There was more than a hint of skill involved too.

Thankfully not what used to be delicately referred to as ‘FTB’ (full to bursting) but unable to decide on a particular dessert we opted to share the board of puddings, beautifully presented, with each of the four desserts served in a different style. There was a square of sticky toffee pud; a blueberry egg custard tart with cinnamon custard; a dark chocolate coffee cup served with foamy vanilla marshmallow and a homemade shortbread biscuit; and finally a delicate green pistachio posset, served in a shot glass and topped with a large strawberry. Each was skillfully made – but, both nearly replete, something a little less sweet and fruitier in the mix would have been welcome. A small carp which in no way spoiled a lovely meal. More homemade shortbread, sharing a plate with a little piece of homemade fudge and a smooth and glossy white choc, came with coffee.

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Simon, who has lent his magic touch to the Blenheim Inn at Etwall, the Maynard at Grindleford and Callow Hall near Ashbourne has big plans for the Famous Shoulder. With four smart guest bedrooms and a function suite, as well as a thriving pub and a classy restaurant, his enterprise is only at the beginning of a journey that could end right at the top.

Meet the chef – Simon Johnson

Where was your first job? As what?                                                      A commis chef at the Prospect in Bakewell

What is your favourite style of food?                                                 Modern British – with a flavour twist

Do you have a signature dish?                                                       Confit shoulder of lamb, roasted loin, pressed sweetbreads, pea pur�e, minted broad beans, goats cheese and honeycomb

Is there anything you haven’t attempted yet but would like to?             To be self-sufficient in the kitchen …

Which ingredient would you not be without?                                        Salt – it can change anything

Where did you learn to cook?                                                          The’Chefs of Distinction’ cookbooks at home, then catering school in Ashburton, then from all the chefs I’ve worked with.

What do you like to eat at home?                                                      I’m always trying out new dishes – water baths, different flavours, unusual pastas

Do you have a favourite restaurant?                                            Chapter One in Bromley, Kent

What’s your idea of comfort food?                                                    Sunday roast – there’s nothing better!

Do you or would you consider growing/raising your own produce?       We’ve started growing our own tomatoes, then who knows what next?

Is there a place for any convenience foods in your kitchen?                Frozen peas make the best pea pur�e –they’re a lot fresher

What do you consider the key element of a successful restaurant?Teamwork and not being afraid to push the boundaries a bit to get the  best

3 more rustic pubs with a contempoarary twist

THE BELL                                                                                        Main Rd, Anslow, nr Burton upon Trent DE13 9QD                                 Telephone:01283812101                                                                                            This traditional country pub with a contemporary restaurant serves freshly prepared modern English food. Themed menus and a fine range of real ales. A roaring fire, well-kept beer garden and heated patio. Families and dogs welcome in the bar.

Three course table d’h�te lunch or light meals Tues-Sat 12-2pm, Sun 12- 2.30pm; � la carte dinner Tues-Sat 7-9pm

ROWLEY’S RESTAURANT AND BAR                                                       Church Lane, Baslow DE45 1RY Telephone: 01246 583880                                                                                            Baslow’s ‘Buzzing Brasserie’ (Good Food Guide 2010). Exciting seasonal dishes, local ales and a cracking wine list. Visit www.rowleysrestaurant.co.uk for coming events and more details.

Open Mon-Sat 11am-late; Sun 11am-6pm.                                                 Lunch served Mon-Fri 12 noon-2pm, Sat 12 noon- 2.30pm, Sun 12 noon- 3pm.  Dinner Mon- Thurs 6-8.30pm; Fri, Sat 6-9.30pm, closed Sun evening

THE BLENHEIM INN                                                                              Main Street, Etwall Telephone: 01283 732254                                      The young team behind the converted village inn in Etwall share a passion for real food, seasonal ingredients and the joy of dining. The Blenheim continues to offer an unpretentious menu of high quality rustic food, matched with a serious wine list and knowledgeable service.

Open Mon-Sat lunch 12 noon-4pm, dinner 7-10pm; Sun lunch 12noon-6pm

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