When the weather is cold and the sky dark it is not hard to think of fleeing to warmer places, but that doesn’t have to involve an airport. For me, warmer can also mean cosier and I love packing a bag and heading for a night at a country house hotel. Heaven is being holed up somewhere, preferably in a beautiful location, fresh scones and a pot of tea by the fire after a long walk, a drink in the bar before dinner and a comfy bed to snuggle down in. Then there is the breakfast and the papers next morning. Bliss.
The Cavendish Hotel at Baslow is one such place. It is part of the Chatsworth Estate (so not that far from Yorkshire) and is elegant without being in the least bit stuffy. Staff are always on hand should they be needed but stay out of the way when not. The rooms are quintessentially British country house and are fussier than I would have at home yet love in this setting.
There are three choices when it comes to dining at the Cavendish. If you want to go casual, fresh, home-style food is served in the Garden Room, so no need for a posh frock. Here you can simply have a bowl of soup through to a full dinner while enjoying stunning views over the estate.
Secondly, the Gallery, which is a lovely room, decorated in soft colours with chairs designed to enjoy sitting on not just looking good and a crispness to the table setting signifying that attention to detail is of utmost importance here. Again, the room is not stuffy but is certainly more of an occasion and as such deserves somewhat smarter dress.
Finally, there is the Kitchen Table in – surprise, surprise – the kitchen. The table is grander than it sounds and from there you can enjoy watching head chef Alan Hill in full flight on a busy restaurant night during which he will also cook you a surprise five-course menu with matching wines. So enjoyable is this event that you will need to book ahead. We couldn’t get in (this time), but happily Chef did cook his surprise menu for us in the Gallery, meaning I could sit back and prepare to – hopefully – be impressed.
Alan’s cooking is sharp, clean and contemporary, and many elements of the estate appear on the plates including partridge, venison and ox cheek.
Highlights across the many plates started with the canapés of game terrine, pork belly, apple, cauliflower tempura and crab with an assortment of carefully coaxed tiny blobs and swirls of tastes.
A dish of partridge had a flourish of orange plus a game consommé which for me was one of the blemishes of the evening as it was a touch greasy and slightly cloudy but I am rather picky in saying that. Another slight down point was a chunk of Brillat-Savarin cheese larger than the impeccably cooked scallop sitting on its cushion of leeks alongside it. The hunk of cheese managed to knock the whole dish off balance.
Flaws out of the way, the rest of the dinner was exemplary. Sticky, salty deep-flavoured ox cheek encrusted with dates and pork rind was one of those dishes which if no-one is looking deserves a swipe of the finger to scoop up anything left on the plate. I loved a tender piece of venison with gnocchi, sour cherries and a pepper sauce and we both agreed this was the best dish of the evening. The flavour combinations here were brilliant and the venison so good I was at the farm shop the next day to buy the meat for home.
Pudding came as a pineapple tart tatin and star anise ice cream, the lightness of which was perfect. We finally managed an excellent plate of cheese plus petits fours and coffee before we finally called it a day.
The wine match with each dish was spot on and the generosity of spirit at the Cavendish meant that each was a tad more than just a tasting measure. All I can say is thank goodness we were staying.
The weather continued to be foul with the wind rattling the windows for most of the night, but did we care? We had had a lovely evening, and were so impressed by the cooking and the service we looked forward to breakfast, which I can say, was well worth the wait. The Cavendish certainly delivered all I love about a country house hotel and in abundance.
• The Cavendish Hotel, Baslow, Bakewell, Derbyshire DE45 1SP. 01246 582311. Dinner in the Gallery, two courses £39.50, up to four courses £59.50. For the Kitchen Table and Surprise Menu and room rates call the Cavendish for details.