I’ve just finished reading C.S. Quinn’s, historical novels centered around her resourceful character Charlie Tuesday. Both stories are set in London in the mid-17th Century; a turbulent time. The English Civil War had lasted 9 years (1642 – 1651). This was followed by Cromwell’s Commonwealth and then the Restoration of the Monarchy (1660). The first story, The Thief Taker, charts his exploits during the Black Death of 1665 and the second, Fire Catcher, has him avoiding the flames of the fire of London in 1666. It made me question; How did any one live to a ripe old age? One man who did was Izaak Walton (1594 – 1683), co-author of The Complete Angler.
Situated between the picturesque villages of Ilam and Thorpe and nestled within the Derbyshire Peaks, the Izaak Walton Hotel, named after the author, is an AA 3 Star converted 17th century country house hotel offering comfort, history and views of outstanding natural beauty. Plus superb fly fishing on one of the finest trout streams in the world, made famous in the “Complete Angler” by Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton, 1676.
Late on an October afternoon we set off for The Izaak Walton Hotel’s Haddon Restaurant. With breath taking views of the Dovedale Valley and creative interpretations of traditional dishes the restaurant has been awarded an AA Rosette. Everything about The Izaak Walton, from the relaxing reception area to the spacious restaurant decorated in a bright, elegant style, says country house hotel.
We were staying the night and after checking in and getting to know our room we made our way to the ground floor restaurant. We introduced ourselves and were escorted to our table. On every table was a single, lit candle in a Georgian style candle holder making the room extremely inviting on this dark autumn evening.
We began with an amuse bouche that lived up to its name. It consisted of a generously sized bowl with a delicate serving of classic vichyssoise. In the centre of the chilled leek and potato emulsion was set a warm onion bhaji with a centre of pureed potato. The whole dish finished with a traditional dusting of chopped chives. It had been designed to make you smile and it did.
This was followed by a selection of homemade breads and flavoured butters. The bread was warm and the trio of butters – one with a hint of warm chilli and another with tasty turmeric – were a delight to explore. Along with the butter was a dish of peppery olive oil floating over a puddle of dark brown syrupy balsamic vinegar. Lots of exciting flavours that were a hint at what was to follow.
For her starter Susan chose the comforting French onion soup. Slowly cooked, caramelised onions that turn mellow and sweet in a broth laced with white wine and Cognac. I selected the Mediterranean vegetable terrine with red pepper puree, watercress and a Balsamic reduction. The presentation resembled a piece of abstract modern art. The reduction had been used to draw free flowing lines across the plate and the tiny mounds of red pepper puree formed points of contrast. The slice of tomato-rich terrine studded with Mediterranean vegetables stood guard over the colourful display. It looked wonderful and tasted even better. Individual vegetable flavours identifiable with every bite.
We accompanied our amuse bouche and starter with a glass of chilled Gavi but as both our main courses were unashamedly red meats we followed the advice of the restraurant manager, Sakchi Moham and opted for a glass of Merlot.
I chose the fillet of Derbyshire beef. The fillet was cooked medium rare and served with a slice of buttery pommes Anna, a swirl of celeriac puree and a slow braised beef blade bon bon. The tasty blade meat had been shredded, formed into a small ball, coated in bread crumbs and deep fried. To complete the dish it was garnished with tender stem broccoli and served with a beef jus. The contrast in taste, texture and presentation between the two styles of beef along with the smooth pommes Anna, was a delicious experience.
There was a ‘special’ on the menu the evening we dined at The Izaak Walton; loin of venison. This was Susan’s choice. The venison arrived with the traditional accompaniments of root vegetables and kale. The meat was tender and melted in the mouth. The root vegetables: a duo of carrots, potato fondant and celeriac puree added a sweet note to the dish. While the flavour of the dark green, buttered kale gave the dish a fresh finish.
Neither of us are big chocolate fans but in the name of research we took the plunge and Susan ordered the dark chocolate tart. I chose the special: the chocolate bavarois. Bavarois is the French name for Bavarian cream; a set cream dessert with a crème Anglaise base, aerated with whipped cream and egg whites and flavoured with chocolate. The mould of bavarois was decorated with crunchy chocolate rubble and dusty chocolate cigarillos and sat in puddles of dark chocolate. To cut through the rich chocolate creations there was a serving of berry sorbet and a crisp chocolate wafer. Chocolate heaven!
The chocolate tart was another mini abstract art creation. The slices of dark tart and contrasting orange parfait sat on swirls of chocolate orange ganache with orange puree highlights. More chocolate decorated the dish along with a thin slice of chocolate crisp.
We are now both members of the chocolate appreciation society!
Simon Harrison is the head chef and the majority of the dishes are created using locally sourced ingredients. The hotel believes it is important to support the local businesses around the Dovedale area.
The service was attentive and the dishes were enhanced by the knowledgeable wine suggestions from Sakchi.
The Haddon Restaurant is also able to cater for special occasions, private functions and parties.
The Hotel also owns the fishing rights on the Staffordshire bank of the River Dove, extending from Ilam rock 3 miles downstream to the junction with the River Manifold on the right bank and a limited number of day tickets are available to guests. But be warned as John Buchan, author of The 39 Steps said “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope”. We chose a morning stroll along the near-by Tissington Trail.