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Harpur’s of Melbourne

Harpur’s of Melbourne
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Derbyshire’s newest 2 AA Rosette restaurant

Derbyshire is a county of contrasts. From the dramatic vistas of the gritstone edges scarring through the purple heather, to the gentle rolling pastures and the newly created National Forest along the meandering Trent, the landscape could not be more different. The towns in the county reflect this diverse landscape.

The large towns in Derbyshire, from Glossop in the north to Swadlincote in the south, have grown rapidly as a result of industrial activity. Melbourne however has grown at a more leisurely pace. This attractive Georgian market town in the Trent Valley has managed to maintain its 18th century characteristics non more so than around the market place. One of those elegant buildings is the once Melbourne Hotel now Harpur’s; a bar, a contemporary styled first floor restaurant and a hotel with boutique rooms. Harpur’s have just earned their second AA Rosette, making them one of only 3 businesses in Derbyshire to hold the accolade; Susan and I were soon to find out why.

We arrived at Harpur’s early on a warm September evening and noted the pleasant atmosphere, from the outside seating area through to the bar with its mix of drinkers and casual diners. We introduced ourselves to Hayley Limbert, the assistant manager who escorted us to the first floor. The restaurant is decorated in a contemporary style, and with the careful use of modern colours and furnishing, it achieves a relaxing atmosphere.

do-harpurs-1-oct16We decided to have just one glass of wine each, a crisp, chilled Californian Chardonnay and casually read and re-read the menu. After we had made our selections we were each presented with a delicate amuse-bouche made up of small portions of salt cod mousse and passion fruit curd, topped with caviar and coriander, set on a rice crisp. It was a collection of exciting tastes that gave a hint at what was to follow.

We sipped our wine and nibbled on the next presentation; a selection of fresh breads, malty pain de campagne and a sourdough accompanied with whipped butter.

I’ve heard people talk about it, I’ve seen it on the TV and even read about it’s origins but until my visit to Harpur’s I’d never tried it; so I chose tartare of beef for my starter.

First class Hereford beef is finely chopped, not minced and is the star attraction. I think it was combined with a little shallot, Worcestershire sauce and I may have caught a hint of Tabasco. This is formed into a neat pattie and presented with, sitting in the centre, an uncooked egg yoke covered in fine truffle shavings. This dressing, along with fresh herbs,  and a few spots of mayonnaise, was the perfect balance for the cold, very tender, deliciously beefy, memorable starter.

For her starter Susan selected the bowl of heritage tomatoes. This came with goats cheese, black olives and basil on a bed of pea and mint purée. The whole dish was lightly seasoned and brought out the flavours of the colourful fruits.

Both the starters were served on beautiful rustic bowls, what a delight!

For my main I chose the risotto from the specials menu. My first taste of an authentic risotto was in Rome in 1969 at a small restaurant somewhere in the maze of narrow streets to the west of the Tiber. In those days you could park, for free, on Piazza San Pietro inside the Vatican City. These days the parking is nonexistent but one thing hasn’t changed; my love of risotto. Those tender grains suspended in a mellow, creamy lava are one of the great comfort foods.

The Harpur’s dish was a triumph of flavour combinations. On one side of the plate was a piece of beautifully pan fried, flaky Pollock. On the other was a disc of creamy parmigiano risotto, the base for a crescent of lobster claw. It had been cooked sous-vide and retained all its juice and flavour. The fish and the shellfish were dressed with a tangy, vibrant yellow citrus sauce and tiny florets of romanesco broccoli garnished the dish. The final touch was 2 steamed clams that added a sweet note to the ensemble.

do-harpurs-2-oct16Susan was spoilt for choice as the rest of the a la carte menu was extremely interesting. The rabbit was really pushing her buttons but she chose the bavette steak. This was topped with a parsley and chive dressing and served with triple cooked chips, a whole field mushroom and a confit tomato. There’s a choice of sauces to go with the steak and Susan chose the creamy peppercorn. Bavette is another name for a steak cut from the flank. Often marinaded or braised, it can also be grilled or shallow fried as you would a piece of rump. This one was cooked to perfection and the punchy condiment brought the dish together.

Head Chef Lee Emerson and his team had excelled themselves with every course and it was with regret that we could not find room for one of their tempting desserts. A short list of some of the ingredients used in the many puddings will set the taste buds tingling: lemon curd, caramelised white chocolate, cherry, nougat, strawberry and pistachio.

As well as the a la catre menu Harpur’s also offer a full lunchtime menu, sandwiches, light snacks and even breakfast.

A pleasant evenings dining had been aided by courteous staff, a relaxed atmosphere and faultless food. Lee Emerson is now on his next mission: to get Harpur’s its third rosette. A big thank you to everyone at Harpur’s.

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