Every once in a very long while, one has a meal so truly memorable that you don’t think it can ever be surpassed. This grand family dinner was enjoyed at The Old Vicarage restaurant in the bucolic Derbyshire village of Ridgeway.
Tessa Bramley is Executive Chef and owner of The Old Vicarage and was the first woman chef in Britain to win a Michelin star. But she hasn’t coasted on her reputation in the three decades she’s run the restaurant and keeps up with a thoroughly modern menu. She’s also a dear friend of my beloved and on a recent trip to the UK, welcomed us with open arms and a glass of bubbly. We were thrilled to discover the business had survived the pandemic, although for the moment they are only open for dinners four days a week. Her son Andrew is the knowledgeable sommelier, who makes a full-on performance of presenting the nine wines we enjoy throughout a long, lazy and luxurious evening. Andrew’s wife Carol runs the dining room and the well drilled staff of young men and women include a white gloved waiter, whose sole responsibility is to refresh the cutlery for each of the seven courses.
Without further ado, I present the entire menu with photos. There are no recipes at the end: if you want to enjoy British food at its best, you’ll just have to go there in person.
“Representing our repertoire of signature dishes, the menu is designed as a balanced and harmonious gastronomic experience to be shared by the whole table,” reads the blurb. “Each complementary course is grounded in nature and evocative of the season. This journey of flavours, scents and textures may be further enriched with our specially selected matching flight of wines,” it concludes. “Count us in,” our party declares enthusiastically.
After our glass of vintage Champagne in a snug lounge, we are escorted into the dining room for savoury snacks and home-made herbal buns and warm breads. The sharing plate includes delicious tidbits: pepper marmalade with sage, feta and spring onion frittata and mushroom and candied chilli tuile.
An amuse-bouche of beetroot and horseradish mousse, with macerated grapes, Solera moscatel, beetroot crisp and a Bramley apple gel follows. The flavour of the gel leaps off the plate. The wine is a Roussanne Marsanne Sauvignon 2020 Jean-Benoit Cavalier, Val de Monteferrand, a perfect pairing.
The fish entr’acte is roast fillet of Peterhead cod, flaky and flavourful with sweet potato, nutmeg, saffron, vanilla and olive alongside for company. The St Véran les Terres Noir 2019 Collovray et Terrier is brilliant.
English asparagus is presented with wild garlic, caramelised pumpkin seeds and a confit egg yolk on herb oil accompaniment. The Château Aspras Rosé 2020 Correns Côte de Provence pressed from Cinsault and Grenache grapes is barely pink but simply lovely.
Now for the main event: a dry aged Derbyshire beef which has travelled a mere 15 miles from the farm at Ashover. The roast fillet is presented with bone marrow, braised fennel, a fennel and mint cream and spring cabbage with caraway. It just might be the best piece of beef I’ve ever tasted. As red wine doesn’t agree with me, I continue with another glass of the rosé, but the table enjoys a dark red Garnacha viñas viejas 2015 El Terroir, Domaines Lupier Enrique Basarte with top notes of thyme, violets and juniper.
Dessert comes in two courses. First, a savoury sweet aromatic lemon thyme ice cream with bittersweet burnt orange curd, orange gel and salted praline. It is deliciously matched with a Gewürztraminer Rolly-Gassmann 2016 Rohrschwihr from Alsace
Then, almost replete, we are presented with a bitter chocolate and hazelnut shortbread, a lemon and sweet cicely sorbet, a hazelnut mousse and lemon gel accompanied by a late harvest Furmint-Muscat 2017 Tokaji Aszu, one of Hungary’s famous dessert wines, with floral and fruity aromas and honeyed apricot flavours.
Is there room for a wafer-thin mint, Mr Creosote? No, but there is room for a medley of chocolate petits fours, a pot of special house coffee and a round of Late Bottled Vintage Port. I demur and settle for a gentleman’s portion of well aged Balvenie with Derbyshire stream water on the side, adding just a drop to open up the flavours.
We are invited back to the enveloping softness of the leather armchairs and couch in the wood panelled anteroom for coffee. Sadly, the logs in the fire grate can no longer be lit or we would enjoy a warming hearth with crackling woody aromas. Ready to Burn legislation came into force in England on 1 May 2021 and logs must be certified as having a water content of less than 20 per cent..
Carriages at 11pm, as the invitation states, and we ride home in a pleasant haze, barely able to hold a conversation, the top notes of creamy toffee and vanilla from my single malt lingering.
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