So, regular readers of my blog will be aware of my normal policy of reviewing a restaurant is to visit at least three times to gain a more rounded and objective view. Upon reflection I’ve decided to forgo this for places out of Sheffield, where I am based. The are two principle reasons, often I wont be able to visit as regularly as I would somewhere in Sheffield and often the places are rather pricey. As I hope to write up my forthcoming culinary visits to London I have planned (I’m not a name drop wanker!) this march and can tell you now I probably wont be going back to each place twice this year!
With this in mind here is my review of the Samuel Fox, Derbyshire.
My bird absolutely pulled one out of the bag this year and rather secretively booked us into The Samuel Fox for the night. Nestled into the fantastic, snow covered hills of the Derbyshire peak district, (it’s only a short drive, 20 odd miles), from the socialist republic of Sheffield!
Full of birthday cheer, we laughed, metaphorically of course, in the face of the bitter cold that greeted us as we arrived at the very welcoming, warm entrance. A great mixture of modern country chintz and playful art adorning its walls I was pleasantly surprised.
I knew via social media that The Fox had new owners, having previously been masterfully stewarded by the fantastic team of Kelly Ware and Charlie Curran, and was a bit unsure as to what to expect, after all it wasn’t my choice was it and hadn’t even looked at the menu.
The chap who welcomed and checked us in showed us to our room on the first floor. It was superb. Warm and comforting with a cheeky bottle of bubbles organised by my bird. Perfect start. What is also a nice touch is the freshly ground coffee waiting for you in your cafeteria and the rather handy, if inclined, complimentary decanted brandy next to the mirror on the dressing table. Perfect if any gent has any ‘last minute nerves’! Upon further reflection, this geezer sums up the Samuel Fox perfectly, smartly dressed, welcoming, and rather under-stated as you will read.
All of these touches show a very real warm attention to detail so often missing in many places in the UK. Sure its probably standard in most Michelin classed and 5 star hotels but it shows a real level of professionalism and love of hospitality to make it standard practice when no guest, me included, might not expect it.
After a lovely late afternoon, relaxing and drinking it was time for dinner. At first glance the menu is disarmingly simple. What I did like was the opening gambit from the new proprietor James Duckett: he helpfully informs us guests that any and all tip(s) or service charge is directly portioned out to those who earn it and work for it and it is by no way used to top up any ones wage. This may seem a trivial thing, its not. It shows 100% that this guy gives a fuck about his staff and ultimately, if you do show appreciation, for you to do so in the correct manner. Both of us being passionate about Hospitality we really appreciated this, geeky I know but we all have our quirks.
On to the food. I wont go into great speculation and detail as to what we didn’t have but I will talk about what we did. Comfortably settled by the warming fire we supped on 2 halves of Bradfield Brewery ’Farmers Blonde’ (Golden Pale Ale), an inoffensive yet light, crisp and thirst quenching session ale. Too accompany the food we would have normally of chosen two half bottles, but none being available we decided upon a very decently 2011 Fleurie from George Deboeuf. Fleurie’s are well known for there surprising depth of flavour and floral notes and this certainly didn’t disappoint,.
Making our choices we ordered and were shown to our table in a very non-rushed manner, keeping up the relaxed theme we had experienced throughout
To start we had two very uncomplicated yet tasty starters. I don’t mean that insultingly, it’s a running theme through the chef’s repertoire.
perfectly portioned with two ‘soldiers’ of neatly girdled brioche and a lightly dressed endive salad, my only critique would be it could of add a touch more seasoning for my palette. What I did try of the Goats cheese I enjoyed but I only had a mouthful so further comment wouldn’t be prudent.
All I can say is my bird enjoyed it thoroughly and both plates where empty! It was the kind of dish you could nibble on and leave and come back to if you were sat in a summertime café watching the world go by in a wonderful southern French city such as Toulouse. To much, I don’t think so. It was more of a nibbling dish than a stand alone starter if you get my drift.
I had ordered the bream, with polenta, leeks and truffle. The fish was fresh, superbly cooked and perfectly seasoned. Perfectly crisp skin holding beneath it the wonderful flesh of what is a very under-rated fish sat atop some lightly cooked buttered leeks. Alongside it sat a perfect rectangle of crisp polenta, perfectly smooth inside, again beautifully seasoned. On top of this savoury cake sat a halved, braised leek adorned with a few slices of black truffle and lightly napied with a not so over-powering truffle butter sauce. It sounds very rich; but the dish was well balanced and was one of those where with each mouthful I was already placing the next piece of food upon my fork. I physically had to force myself to slow down and savour it! Reading this paragraph doesn’t really give visual justice to how it looked so I’ve had to add, what I consider, to be a very apt photo! Just looking at it again makes my mouth water and want to go back and eat more!
The other main course was a very seasonal Haunch of venison this was cooked to perfection and served two ways, the haunch is broken down with the bigger muscles portions and the remainder being braised on the bone. This meat is then flaked and mixed and made into a croquette with the larger muscle being caramelised slightly and served perfectly pink and medium rare. This cooking is simplicity at its finest and the execution and understanding of the produce shows real skill and love of cooking. The latter description sounds rather poncey but not even AA Gill’s repertoire of random words will do the flavour of each of the mains sufficient justice. The celeriac puree and red wine jus were also executed decently. As with any roasted shallot on a plate I’m not really a fan, they rarely offer anything to a dish, for me anyway. This isn’t a criticism, not at all, just my opinion.
For dessert we opted not to have any sweet wine or port as we were both struggling with the birthday intake of alcohol, so opted to stay with the wine. We ordered the cheese which was a decent selection of standard farmhouse cheeses; A creamy, soft Brie de meux, a quintessential English cheddar from wookey hole, Somerset and a tangy black sticks blue. While the dish offered nothing innovative, what I will say is the cheese was served 100% correctly. By this I mean it was warm, blood temperature warm, so the cheese was at it’s premium taste wise. So many restaurants, even in such foodie/blogger/everyone’s a critic/tweeter times fuck this up and serve it fridge cold, not here they don’t, again little details which are oft forgotten make a gaff standout.
The other dessert was a burnt vanilla cream, simple yet tasty served with blueberries which had been heated slowly in cold sorbet syrup which cut delicately through the rich custard and served with some fantastic, still warm brioche doughnuts. I am a doughnut aficionado and can confirm, these were superb.
After a comfortable nights sleep, during which I had a very bizarre dream about sharing a joint birthday party with Ricky Gervais’s latest tragic-comic creation ‘Derek’ we had a very filling, warming full English breakfast with some strong black coffee!
I hate waffle so I wont carry on much longer other than to say I highly recommend this great, almost hidden, gem of a pub.
It’s not to pricey, in a beautiful setting, and well worth every penny. I cannot wait to return, probably in the spring though to catch some rays and walk all of the indulgence I will have likely feasted on off in the peaks. Get yourselves down there and see for yourselves!