Memory and the passage of time can play wicked tricks. Many months ago, when the prospect of balmy sunny days to come was heralded by a warm day in April, I bravely suggested that we – myself, Susan and our dachshund – spend a day by the sea in my old holiday haunt of Mablethorpe. A stroll through the sand dunes from Golden Sands Caravan Park to a fish and chip lunch on the promenade overlooking the sea; just like the family did on that holiday in 1958. What a mistake!
The sand dunes were like a boot camp assault course. The promenade was deserted due to the fierce, cold wind that was whipping up the sand and blowing it horizontally into every corner of the town and upsetting the dog. The tide was out and so the sea was nothing more than a faint brown smudge on the horizon. To cap it all it was too early in the season and only one ‘chippy’ was open! We ate our rapidly cooling lunch with added sand, sheltering behind a wall, staring at a deserted car park, serenaded by a howling hound.
There are far better ways to eat the nation’s favourite meal! How about a relaxed atmosphere with homely but contemporary décor? Maybe sitting in the garden, on the decking or in the conservatory? Plus somewhere where there’s space to entertain friends or a quiet corner with an intimate table for 2. There is such a place; The Thorn Tree Inn, Woodlinkin. Situated at the highest point on the main road between Codnor and Aldercar; it’s not hard to miss.
We arrived at The Thorn Tree a little after seven in the evening and found it lively with diners and a knot of people enjoying an early evening drink. The restaurant has recently undergone a refurbishment to make greater use of the existing floor area; creating a parlour-like area but keeping the main dining space and the inviting bar. As the evening was still bright, with the clouds breaking from time to time to reveal the sun, we chose to sit in the conservatory, overlooking the fields, and watching the birds making the most of the bright summer evening.
Our waitress asked us what we’d like to drink; Sue chose a Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic and I, taken by the waitress’s knowledgeable description, opted for a glass of Curious Brew. This is a premium lager re-fermented with Champagne yeast which delivers a clean refreshing taste. It’s lager for people who like beer.
The starter menu has something for everyone; from goats cheese to garlic prawns and halloumi to bangers and mash. For our starter we decided to share a bowl of the bite sized cod pakoras. The fish was coated in onion bhaji batter, deep fried and served garnished with spring onion and coriander, accompanied by a mellow coriander and mint dip. There was just a hint of onion in the batter; not enough to overwhelm the succulent cod.
A varied selection of main meals are available. Along with the traditional fish dishes there is also a grill section with fish, chicken and a Thorn Tree surf ‘n’ turf. There are burgers in several combinations and an intriguing cauliflower and mushroom Jalfrezi pie. Sue went down the traditional route and selected the battered Scottish haddock (it can be either battered or breaded) with chunky chips and freshly made mushy peas. The haddock, beneath the crisp, golden batter was moist and broke in delicious white flakes. The chips were crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle and the mushy peas were just right; they had texture and flavour.
On the charcoal grill section is the daily catch. This changes according to whatever is available and that evening there was a choice of grilled salmon or tuna. I chose the tuna and a baby leaf salad. The grilled tuna was presented on a bed of sweet potato mash with a sweet corn, coriander and chive sauce. This tasty fish needs nothing more than a brief turn under the grill to sear the outside and this had been done beautifully. The savoury sauce complimented the tuna and the creamy mash brought the dish together. The lightly dressed salad leaves made a refreshing counter point.
If you still have room the dessert selection has pies, sundaes and even a steamed pudding. Wherever possible, the ingredients used in the kitchen are locally sourced and this included our shared dessert; a pot of ice cream from a Matlock dairy farm. It arrived with 2 flake bars; so that there would be no arguing over who got the chocolate.
We had lingered on a summer evening, in a relaxed atmosphere and enjoyed excellent food and drinks. A big thank you to all the staff at The Thorn Tree Inn.