Back in the mid 1960s the Sunday afternoon picnic was something to look forward to. Family and food packed into the Morris Oxford and my father at the wheel conducting us on his own, very special, mystery tour. It could be to Clumber Park and long walks through the woods or to Dovedale; over the stepping stones and a stroll by the river.
However, the best picnics were when we headed towards the Peak District. Not along the A6 but on the quiet roads that took us from Ripley to the free playgrounds of Beeley Moor, Chatsworth Park and Curbar Edge. On the outward journey we’d head north along the A615 and, if the timing was right on the way back, stop for refreshment in Wessington at The Horse and Jockey. With my memories of those happy times Susan and I set off once more for Wessington but this time for an evening meal in the rebuilt, restyled, Horse and Jockey gastro pub and hotel.
For many years the pub has stood guard over the vast village green and the same façade still greets you as you head north towards Matlock. The façade is the only thing that hasn’t changed; the rest of the building has been demolished and rebuilt on the same footprint but with an exciting addition.
It was a damp, dark evening and we hurried from our taxi, through the main entrance into the bright, contemporary interior. The layout is similar to its previous incarnation; a snug to the right, the bar area stretching away from the entrance towards the rear, a larger room behind the bar and to the left the dining area. That is where the similarity ends. Everything is, of course, brand new. Most of the floor is grey, stone effect tile. The lighting is modern industrial and the furniture chunky, handcrafted from northern hardwoods. The tables retain some of the manufacturing saw marks and the beeswax finish gives them a warm, honeyed glow contrasting against the clean, white walls.
We sat in the snug with a pre-dinner drink and watched our fellow diners as they arrived and, like us, marvelled at the transformation.
It was a busy evening and we made our way to the entrance of the dining area where a member of the staff stood by a low lectern and efficiently performed the role of maitre d’. We didn’t have to wait and were escorted to our table. The exciting addition to the pub, accessed through the dining area and where we would be eating, is the extensively excavated basement. One wall of the basement is taken up with wood lined dining booths and the centre of the room, where we were seated, is partitioned with robust, glazed wooden half walls.
The menu lived up to its billing with a selection of innovative dishes. For her starter Susan chose the medley of wild mushrooms on black treacle and stout toast. The bread was dark and had a nutty flavour contrasting with the rich cream of the sauce and the delicate mushrooms. This was a substantial starter.
I chose the salt and pepper squid with roasted garlic mayonnaise and burnt lime. The rings of squid were melt in the mouth perfect. The pepper dusting on them had a hint of heat which was tempered by the juice of the burnt lime. Roasting the garlic for the aioli toned down what could have been an overpowering flavour, and made subtle accompaniment. It was served in a novel way in a small colander on a sheet of crumpled greaseproof paper.
We ordered our mains one of liver and the other pork, and sipped a very nice Greyrock Marlborough sauvignon blanc. We find that with a meal of mixed dishes from delicate squid to pan fried liver the clean, fresh sauvignon blanc covers all the bases.
Susan’s pan fried lambs liver was cooked to perfection. The texture was creamy and it had subtle flavour. It was served on a bed of wilted spinach with roasted beetroot and dressed with a warm sweet onion relish. A very British ‘sweet and sour’.
My main was the roasted belly pork. The plate had been brushed with a serving of green Bramley apple sauce and topped with sharp pickled red cabbage and a butter rich fondant potato. Astride this was a generous portion of slow cooked belly pork and a golden slice of crispy cracking. The sharp sauce and the cabbage were a perfect balance against the rich pork. A silky jus, served in a miniature churn, brought the whole dish together.
The Horse and Jockey is a boutique hotel and boasts 14 individually styled bedrooms that I must one day take a peek at. A testament to the quality of the design and build of this modern gastro pub is that we never gave a thought to the fact that the room we were in had no windows and was mechanically ventilated. Also, I have a confession to make; that crackling was so good I ate it with my fingers.
The Horse and Jockey
Brackenfield Lane, Wessington, Alfreton, Derbyshire, DE55 6DW
The White Hart
Inns Lane, Moorwood Moor, Alfreton, Derbyshire, DE55 7NU