The day hadn’t started very well. One of those tiny warning lights had illuminated on the dashboard of the car and, although I thought I was good at solving cryptic crosswords, this combination of hieroglyphics and abbreviations had me foxed. It required an excursion to Derby for a diagnosis. It wasn’t good news. It could be fixed but it would take most of the day and the parts weren’t free! And so we found ourselves in Derby city centre for lunch and in need of a spirit-restoring pick me up.
Derby, like most large towns and cities, has a wealth of long established retail outlets; Bennetts department store in Irongate is one of these. It was probably one of the first department stores in the country and for the past 275 years, the store has provided everything from agricultural machinery to Zoffany fabrics. It now boasts an elegant brasserie; the award winning Lisa Jean at Bennetts. Just to wander through the store is always entertaining. Something out of the ordinary will always catch your eye.
Myself and Susan took our time as we meandered through the ground floor towards the rear of the store where the brasserie is situated. A pair of gently sweeping stairs lead up to two long, glazed balconies. The balconies run the length of the ladieswear section and are wide enough to accommodate the brasseries tables. This part of the store was, eighty years ago, a theatre and dance hall. At the end of the balconies, linking them together, is the reception area and a bar with additional seating furnished in an Art Deco style with fan tailed mirrors, Tiffany lamps and period posters reflecting its entertainment past. Plus the all important kitchen; an open style enabling you to watch the chef at work.
We were met by John Scannell, assistant manager, who introduced us to Lee Bebbington, the manager. Lee escorted us to our table; like the other tables it was set against the balcony rail. A reserved sign made from Scrabble tiles fixed to a wooden holder sat on the crisp, white tablecloth. A linen napkin, rolled and inserted into a napkin ring at every setting. The little touches that make dining a memorable experience. The panel below the balcony balustrade is glass. This is an elegant way to have lunch; people watching from our lofty dining table.
Lisa Jean’s begins service when the store opens, with a breakfast and brunch menu. The menu contains many favourites including The Full English, poached eggs on muffins in either Benedict, Florentine or Royal style and smoked salmon and scramble eggs served on potato cakes. There is also a selection of keenly priced breakfast bloomers. Who can resist a classic sausage and egg or the more up-market croque-monsieur? One of my all-time favourites, that I must go back to try, is the kedgeree: Smoked haddock, served with buttery lightly spiced basmati rice, fresh herbs and finished with a free-range boiled egg.
Lee presented us with the lunch menu and the short, but not over priced, wine list. We chose two glasses of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc: crisp, chilled and served in large, elegant glasses. The lunch, like the breakfast menu also has a selection of bloomer sandwiches and they are all served with French fries. There’s a variety of salads; bulgur wheat and quinoa, melon and feta cheese along with the more familiar ploughman’s, Caesar and prawn cocktail.
Award winning head chef Lisa Thorley has created a diverse selection of main meals for the lunch service. There’s a smoked haddock risotto that’s finished with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce. Continuing the Italian theme is seafood linguini; the pasta and the chef’s seafood selection are served with a thermidor butter sauce of white wine, shallots, herbs, lemon and parmesan. Moules frites, cooked in cider with a chilli and lemon broth, sirloin steak ciabatta and Arnold Bennett omelette are also on the menu.
Flavour and excellent local ingredients are at the heart of all the brasserie’s menus and for those reasons I chose the award-winning Derbyshire sausages. The dish was a visual delight, 3 plump, smooth textured sausages on a bed of savoury mash topped by a trio of tempura battered onion rings and dressed with rich, dark, silky smooth, red onion gravy. I selected a side of seasonal greens; a combination of beautifully cooked, vibrant cabbage and leeks.
Susan selected the tempura battered cod, chunky chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce. The piece of cod in the light crispy batter was moist and fell apart in large white flakes when cut into. The chips, presented in a stack, were crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle. Accompanied by smooth mushy peas and a proper tartare sauce with texture and flavour this was a lunch dish to linger over.
The creative dishes, the furnishings and the location all lean towards the Parisian style; combined with the relaxed and friendly atmosphere it makes this an ideal place to ‘do lunch’ and the bill will hold no fears.
The brasserie, winner of the Best Newcomer at the Marketing Derby Food and Drink Awards 2016, is open from 9am to 3.30pm every day except Sunday when it’s open for lunch from 11am to 2pm.