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Dining In Derbyshire – Seafood Cave & Grill, Matlock

Dining In Derbyshire – Seafood Cave & Grill, Matlock

It felt a little surreal as Susan and I drove into Matlock Bath, late on a sunny, mid-week afternoon. Most of the traffic was heading in the opposite direction; office workers in a rush to get home. We weren’t in a hurry and our route wasn’t busy. It felt like one of those summer evenings, back in the late 70s when you just went ‘out for a drive’. Our destination was the Seafood Cave and Grill for an early dinner. 

We parked in the Matlock Bath Station car park: deserted apart from a hand full of cars and an ice cream van, sales window closed and the driver already behind the wheel. 

Perhaps it’s because Matlock Bath is on our doorstep that we have a tendency to forget that, for many, it’s a tourist destination. It’s been one for more than a century. Holiday makers and the casual visitor have wandered through the gorge, cut by the river Derwent, admiring the scenery. We also admired those same views as we strolled over the Derwent and crossed the main road. A two minute walk and we were outside the stone arch that leads onto the covered courtyard in front of the seafood restaurant.

We were greeted warmly by Ian, chef patron, who invited us to take a seat at a table in the flag-stoned courtyard. The interior of the restaurant is uncluttered: with white painted walls and solid furniture. The festoons of bare light bulbs, with their exaggerated filaments, are quirky, but the most striking feature is the open kitchen and grill. You can see the chefs at work, and everything is on show.

Ian explained that the ethos of the restaurant, with its daily deliveries of fresh fish and shellfish, had not changed and he was now spending all his time concentrating on the Matlock Bath venue.

A warm summer evening calls for a long cool drink. I asked Ian if he had any alcohol-free beers. ‘Yes’ he said: ‘Ales, cider, lager and stout.’ I chose a glass of Heineken. I didn’t want anything too heavy to mask the taste of the food. Susan, as constant as the Northern Star, asked for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Ian has devised a lunch menu with two and three course options all at fixed prices. In the evening the a la carte menu takes over. Most of the dishes are also available as a takeaway. On the evening menu there are nibbles of potted crab, shrimp and crayfish on a herb crostini, or roasted garlic marinated olives with rosemary focaccia, plus a whipped goats cheese with Highland oaties.

The starters or wee plates as they are called on the menu include a crispy belly pork with salt and pepper squid. The Cave Cocktail: prawn and crayfish in a bloody Marie Rose sauce along with smoked salmon and samphire. There’s also a grazing board and goat’s cheese. And the one we were having: the hot and cold taste of the sea sharing platter. 

As Susan and I chattered over our drinks Ian brought us an amuse-bouche: two bite size hors d’oeuvre to whet our appetite. One was a shot glass of crab and rice soup topped with a crab claw tip. The rice had been blended to a silky-smooth paste with the sweet crab flavour holding its own. The second was a dice of Ian’s own sea trout pastrami topped with a dash of sauce and samphire. It’s cured similar to gravadlax but with dark sugar and coriander. The fish was firm, full of flavour and enhanced by the salty samphire.

Our sharing starter arrived. A colourful palette of exciting nibbles. There were mussels and whelks in their shells, small cubes of the sea trout pastrami and two crab claws all on a bed of lettuce. Two crab and sweetcorn bon-bons, with a crispy coating of deep-fried bread crumb, jostled for position in a dish of Marie Rose sauce. A bowl of potted shrimp and crayfish was topped with a disc of whipped caper butter. On top of that sat a small mound of caviar, and all topped with a scattering of samphire. There was sliced focaccia, oat cakes and crostini tucked in amongst the fish. 

The mussels were succulent, the crab claws sweet, the dressing spot on and the salty samphire and caviar enhanced the delicate shellfish flavours.

The platter for two has many rewards. One being that you can exchange ideas and thoughts about the food you are both sharing; a conversation over dinner.

And the sharing continued.

The mains on the restaurant menu contain a mix of fish and meat. There’s Moray Firth monk fish, battered haddock and a posh Kiev (breaded hake stuffed with garlic, crab, shrimp and crayfish butter). There’s haunch of lamb and Sirloin steak, plus, a surf and turf. But we maintained our sharing evening with a lobster and crab celebration. Ian had devised a special menu, for one month, devoted to these tasty crustaceans.

The platter was a visual delight. It was dominated in the centre, by two huge crab claws. To one side was a lobster Thermidor, topped with a lobster claw, and to the other side a pile of king prawns dressed with samphire. We’d been provided with two crab forks to pick the flavoursome white crab meat from the claws. A task we shared with some amusement. The tender sweetness of the lobster meat had been blended into the not too heavy cream and white wine sauce for the Thermidor. It was a delight to eat. I also nibbled on the lobster legs. The prawns had been dusted with a little cayenne to add warmth, each one a juicy mouthful. A small dish of dauphinoise potatoes accompanied the platter. The smooth, starchy nature of the potatoes offset the richness of the shellfish.

As we drove home we reflected on our delightful evening: our shared experience of delicious food and the attentive service. The Seafood Cave and Grill is somewhere to make a return visit to. If only to try the Posh Kiev Fae Peterheid (hake stuffed with shellfish).


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