Dining out with your partner, family or friends should be a memorable experience for all the right reasons; beautifully cooked food, pleasant surroundings and a relaxed atmosphere. What a delight when all these things come together as they did recently for my wife Susan and I on a chilly Autumn evening at Santo’s Higham Farm, Derbyshire.
Santo’s Higham Farm is a hotel and restaurant with a reputation for excellent cuisine having held a rosette for the past 10 years. Situated in the centre of a much deserved conservation area, and on the main street which follows the path of the old Roman road, Ryknield Street; the most direct route from Derby to Chesterfield.
Our taxi dropped us at the entrance to the hotel. The restaurant and bars are just beyond the modern and spacious hotel reception. Here we introduced ourselves to the receptionist, who in turn handed us over to Romany who showed us through to the ‘Sport Bar’ and arranged our pre-dinner drinks.
The well stocked Sport Bar reminded me of one of the glittering bars you see in a hotel at a holiday destination; bottles with unusual shapes full of amber liquids with exotic labels. The atmosphere in the bar was relaxed with gentle chatter rising from the guests waiting for their table, many enjoying the warming glow of the large open fire. We took our first look at the menu, which has a well chosen selection of around 10 dishes that cater for all tastes. Also Friday night is steak night with rump, rib eye, t-bone and fillet all available. We were guided through the menu and wine list by restaurant manager Jack. The wines are wide ranging with something for all palates and pockets.
With our choices made we were escorted to the dining room and once seated we were presented with a dish of freshly baked, paprika and cheese bread rolls. These were stunning and when Susan asked how they were made Romany gladly explained.
Susan had declined a starter but I went for the goats cheese ravioli with spiced pear puree, shallot jam and a hazelnut dressing. The sweet shallot jam and silky goats cheese made a delicious combination. To accompany our meal we’d chosen a bottle of Gavi di Gavi del Toledana from the north of Italy. The Chablis of Italy – tasting of ripe peach and pears with hints of citrus and honey.
For our mains Susan had selected the rib eye steak, cooked medium rare and accompanied with a classic sauce Diane. The steak was cooked to perfection and the generous helping of sauce, delicious as it was, went almost untouched.
I chose the Moroccan spiced lamb. An 8oz lamb rump served with spiced potato wedges, a salad and mint yoghurt. The moment the dish was placed in front of me the warm, fragrant North African spices on the lamb and the wedges promised great things. Chef Cameron’s expertise did not disappoint. The meat was pink and exquisitely seasoned, the wedges crisp on the outside, the salad light and yoghurt refreshing.
For desserts Susan had the dark chocolate mousse with a macadamia nut brittle and salted caramel ice cream – indulgent! I chose the tonka bean, white chocolate crème brulée; it was a revelation. The bean combines the taste of vanilla and walnut and is served with a yoghurt sorbet and kirsch cherries.
Sue finished with an Americano and I had a double espresso. Colleagues will vouch for my love of coffee and this hit the bulls eye. I accompanied my coffee with a grappa, grappa is made by distilling the skins, pulp, seeds left over from winemaking after pressing the grapes, the flavour then depends on the type of the grapes used and how it is distilled. I chose one I had never had before a gerwurztraminer. A warming way to end a perfect dinner.
It was a joy to be among staff passionate about the food, the wines and the liqueurs they serve. The prices at Santo’s Higham Farm are comparable with many gastro pubs and we will return to try their lunch menu.