An embarrassingly long time ago I worked in an office on Iron Gate, Derby. Myself and my colleagues never appreciated the grandeur of this elegant street; with its subtle curve that leads the eye from the Market Place towards the Cathedral and the pleasing proportions of the Georgian facades. We simply hated the fact that there was nowhere close to the office to park!
Till one day when, for the first time in many years, one of the buildings close to the Cathedral was having the topmost floor opened up. This was to make more office space. We were invited to see what the builders had discovered. In front of each of the top floor windows, covered in dust, were neat piles of stones. Each stone was about the size of a cricket ball. It was surmised that, 150 years ago, they had been stacked ready to use to defend the building and its occupants from an impending riot. I suddenly became aware of the history that I was surrounded by.
It’s the same feeling we got as Susan and I walked up Sadler Gate on a chilly November evening. A great deal of the old market town of Derby can still be seen in the buildings and small yards in this part of the city, now called the Cathedral Quarter, and while I admired the architecture and Sue window shopped for handbags, we strolled through snippets of history towards the Blacksmiths Loft at the entrance to the Old Blacksmith’s Yard.
Sadler Gate can be a lively part of Derby but as the restaurant is on the first floor, away from the busy street, is has a quiet, relaxed atmosphere. The décor is simple but not austere. The wall colours have been chosen to reflect the Georgian period and the tall windows that face the street emphasis the buildings origins.
We were greeted by Matt, the restaurant manager, who showed us to our table. The restaurant space is the result of combining, with large openings, four of the first floor rooms. Although the area is large it has the effect of creating a great many intimate dining areas.
On the wall a chalkboard described some of the wines available and offered suggestions of what they best accompanied. We chose two glasses of the Cloud Factory Sauvignon Blanc This is a fresh and lively wine from the home of Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough. It has aromas of white stone fruit and minerals with a hint of tropical guava and lime and a zesty citrus burst. Clean and delicious.
A damp autumn evening with a nip in the air is a great excuse to order a hearty starter and Susan chose the soup; a generous bowl of thick, amber coloured sweet potato with a hint of warm spices. It was garnished with tasty crisps made from the sweet potato skins. A pleasing combination of contrasting textures.
I chose the corned beef hash. The chef has transformed this ‘quick, leftovers supper’ into an elegant starter. The hash was braised beef and tiny crushed potatoes sitting on a bed of small cannellini beans in a smoky paprika and tomato sauce. The whole ensemble topped with a poached egg sprinkled with black pepper. Spots of horseradish mayonnaise finished the creation.
Susan’s main was a feast for the eyes. She had ordered the duck à l’orange; Marmalade glazed duck breast with cointreau carrot puree, sautéed potatoes and a sour orange gel. The duck breast was cooked to just pink and the sweet puree decorated the plate with a flourish against the contrasting blobs of sour gel.
I was eager to taste the main dish I’d ordered; Spiced cod with curried cauliflower puree, mango relish and Bombay potatoes. A sweet relish often accompanies a spicy meat dish but how would it work with white fish? Answer: perfection. The flaky cod, with its crispy skin, had been pan fried in mild spices: fenugreek, cinnamon, fennel, cumin and black mustard seed. The cauliflower puree had just a hint of curry, as did the potatoes. The fresh, slightly sweet mango brought the dish together. A delicious combination and one I would like to try at home.
I finished with the white chocolate panna cotta and Susan ordered the lemon meringue cheesecake. The panna cotta had just the right wobble and was not too sweet. It was decorated with refreshing strawberry gel and fresh strawberries. Chocolate soil and a crisp basil tuile topped off the dish. The cheesecake was a de-constructed tour-de-force. Mascarpone ice cream, lemon curd and lemon gel was flanked by shards of meringue and crumble. A slice of candied lemon gave a clue to the flavours in every spoonful.
All the dishes at the Blacksmith’s Loft are totally gluten free – including their Sunday dinners. The lunchtime and evening menus are ever evolving and constantly being tweaked by Simon Bates, head chef, to enhance the dining experience.
A big thank you to all the staff and to Matt for the two excellent coffees that completed our relaxed evening’s dining.