From the beginning of the 18th century Derby has had a reputation for fine town houses. A slow walk along Friar Gate and on to Ashbourne Road will reveal many fine examples but if you continue that journey out of town along the Kedleston Road you will come across the grade II*-listed Kedleston Country House Hotel. Built in the middle of the 18th century by the Curzon family of Kedleston Hall, the hotel was a ‘posting house and coaching inn’. One of its purposes was to provide lodgings for people who came to ‘take the waters’ at the sulphur baths in Kedleston Park and at the nearby Chalybeate Well in Quarndon.
‘Taking the waters’ was the last thing on my mind on a recent chilly winter evening as Susan and I hurried out of the car, up the steps and through the elegant entrance into the warm, inviting and relaxed bar area. A recent and very expensive renovation has returned the Kedleston Country House to its Georgian splendour but with a modern edge. From the colour of the panelling to the smaller details of the soft furnishings, everything has been carefully co-ordinated to deliver the ‘wow’ factor.
We had arrived early and after our coats had been hung up for us we were invited to take a drink at the Kedleston Bar. Tucked away behind this bar is the Hidden Study – a secluded spot with comfy armchairs – somewhere to chill. The Kedleston Country House is part of the Derby Brewing Company and the bar selection reflected this. Susan chose a gin and tonic and was guided towards the unique No. 7 gin which is blended exclusively for The Kedleston Country House Hotel. To quote from tasting notes it is ‘something unique and different, resulting in a bold and confident gin, with waves of black pepper, spice and cooling citrus. Sophisticated, assured and complex – a true Gin drinker’s Gin.’ I can only report what I read and was told – it was my turn to drive.
Soon our table was ready and we were escorted through to the dining room, another room reflecting simple Georgian style but with modern comforts.
While we read the well constructed dinner menu we nibbled on a selection of olives, various home made breads and an olive oil and balsamic dip. On a menu with a choice of 9 main dishes it was refreshing to see that at least 2 were suitable for vegetarians.
I chose the ham hock and parsley terrine with cobnut and spiced pear chutney served with pear gel and toasted brioche. The terrine had a deep, rich ham flavour that was beautifully off-set by the spice in the chutney and the sweet pear gel.
Susan chose the crab and crayfish cocktail which is served with an avocado mousse and spiced Marie Rose sauce. Who doesn’t love a prawn cocktail, but with a few adjustments the seafood classic was transformed into a creamy, shell fish lovers delight.
I selected the Gressingham duck breast for my main course and was asked how I liked it cooked – pink or well done – and we discussed whether or not I needed any additional vegetables. I made the wise choice not to have the extra vegetables. It arrived perfectly pink and crisp skinned, on a generous bed of seasonal root vegetables including roasted beets – one of my favourites – and drizzled over with a slightly sweet berry sauce. The sauce was the perfect foil for both the earthy vegetables and the succulent duck.
For her main Susan chose the seasonal special of turkey, not on the usual menu. The vegetables that accompanied the turkey were stars in their own right; duck fat potatoes, heritage carrots, a parsnip puree and of course buttered brussels but the star of the show was the tasty and unusual presentation of the meat. Large pieces of the light and dark meat from the locally sourced bird had been combined with whole cranberries and pressed into a large ballotine, then cut, not sliced, and served with a light meat jus.
To finish the meal Susan selected the cheese; an array that catered for most tastes with a soft brie, a Cornish Yarg, a creamy blue, a smoked and a very mature cheddar. Slices of celery and dessert apple helped to keep the palate fresh between nibbles.
I settled for the seasonal fruits; plums, apples, pears and blackberries, steeped in a spiced, mulled, red wine and served with a refreshing elderflower sorbet. A very pleasant way to end a memorable meal.
There is an extensive wine, or should I say drinks list with some of the best tasting notes I’ve seen. The list covers everything from their real ales, through the full range of wines and liqueurs to their carefully selected teas and coffees.
Admiral Rodney and Dr Samuel Johnson are known to have visited the Kedleston Country House when it was first opened as the ‘New Inn’ over 250 years ago and it would be nice to think that we had chatted, wined and dined in a bit of history where they had enjoyed themselves too.