Former Essex pub tenants Pete Dale and Laura Anderson have moved to Derbyshire's Peak District to start their own restaurant. Janet Harmer found out how they were faring.
As tenants of the Rose and Crown pub in Great Horkesley, Colchester, Essex, Pete Dale and his partner Laura Anderson scooped the titles Pub Chef of the Year 2000 and International Food Chef of the Year 2001 at the British Meat Awards.
Now they're aiming to achieve similar success with a small freehold restaurant property they bought in Ashbourne in Anderson's native county of Derbyshire and which, after installing a new kitchen and decorating both the interior and exterior, they opened as the Dining Room at the end of November last year.
Although the couple are both chefs, Dale runs the kitchen while Anderson looks after front of house. There are no other full-time staff for the 18-seat restaurant, but three part-timers join them at the weekends. "Hopefully, Laura will eventually join me in the kitchen and we'll employ someone full-time in the restaurant," says Dale.
Good use is being made of local supplies to operate both lunch and dinner menus, which produce an average spend per head of £30 including drinks and which Dale changes every six to eight weeks. At lunch he offers a selection of seven starters and light dishes, which can be served in small (£4.95) or large (£8.95) portions, as well as six main courses (all at £8.95) and six puddings (variously priced).
The restaurant is in the main shopping area of Ashbourne, and starters and light dishes such as American pancakes with dry-cure bacon, free-range egg and maple syrup and stir-fried squid salad with noodles are particularly popular with shoppers wanting a quick lunch. Those with more time on their hands may opt for one of the main-course dishes such as home-made sausages with parsley mash and rich jus, or daube of beef with roast carrots, shallots and rösti.
Sitting on the edge of the Peak District and surrounded by farming communities, the restaurant always sells far more meat than fish on the à la carte menu, which operates at dinner. "The only fish that seems to sell well here is poached smoked haddock, which is currently on the menu served with spinach, beetroot and potato mash, and bacon-creamed Savoy cabbage," says Dale.
Among the five starters and five main courses are a couple of dishes that use organic chicken, which he buys from Derbyshire Dale Chickens, based on a farm just one-and-a-half miles away. "The flavour is wonderful," he enthuses.
Dale uses the back piece of fillet and trimmings from the carcass to make a starter of home-made white pudding with white bean purée and sautéd chanterelles (£6.50). He minces the meat with the livers, some pearl barley, cream, an egg, parsley and seasoning and forms it into a sausage, which is first poached and later grilled just before service. For a main course, a poached breast and confit leg of the chicken is served with a red onion tatin, sautéd chanterelles, roast garlic and chervil jus (£15.95).
A big seller among the choice of six desserts is the pecan and maple brioche bread-and-butter pudding with caramel ice-cream (£5.95). Dale always likes to include a brûléeof some kind and currently offers one that incorporates all the components of an apple strudel - vanilla brûlée with almond and cinnamon biscuits, roast apple and Calvados raisins (£5.50).
The Dining Room, 33 St Johns Street, Ashbourne, Derbyshire DE6 1GP. Tel: 01335 300666
Red mullet ravioli, artichoke froth, keta caviar, £7.95
Polenta-crusted goats' cheese, roasted red pepper reduction, rocket, pine nuts, £6.95
Thai king prawn and noodle broth, £8.50
Fillet and braised shin of beef, rösti potato, roast carrots, thyme jus, £15.95
Seared sea bass, poached squid, rouille, bouillabaisse, £14.50
Pan roast duck breast, caramelised shallots, cassoulet beans, £13.95
Steamed ginger-and-orange pudding, home-made orange curd, custard ice-cream, £5.95
Warm chocolate mousse, chocolate and hazelnut ice-cream, chocolate cookie, £5.95
Caramelised rice pudding, sloe gin plums, £6.95