My by now familiar routine: 7:30 for 8, a seat by the fire, a gin & tonic or Martini to start, canapes and a chance to peruse the menus. But here, as the logs on the fire crackle and spit, I'm jarred out of my country house complacency by menus that I would never have guessed at, and everything on the menu looks stunning. Furthermore, it offers a significantly more contemporary take on food than I would have ever credited to this style of country house; I'm already seduced.
Head Chef here is Rupert Rowley, who trained with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir, John Burton Race at L'Ortolan and Gordon Ramsay at Hospital Road. I could love Rupert forever if only because there is no visible sign of beetroot anywhere on the menu, hallelujah. It gets better yet, nowhere is there foie gras either. What we have here is a chef doing his own thing, I'm thrilled. And torn, the tasting menu looks absolutely brilliant, but so does the a la carte, a menu that has Pork Jowl Slow Cooked & Caramelised in Maltose, Scottish langoustines, grapefruit puree, honey roast scratchings, crispy fried cheek on, a nod to The Ledbury.
I eventually opted for the tasting menu because I was greedy to try as much variety of Chef Rupert's cooking as I could and it sounded distinctly original. Properly named, it's the "Taste of Britain" highlighting British seasonal produce. Starting the affair is a brown onion consomme with a Peakland white Stilton. Whoa, the Stilton comes as a foam, that's so not country house, never been so pleased to see a foam in my life. I love the title of the next dish, Mosaic of Rabbit, it comes with liquorice too, a flavour that's hardly ever used it seems, perhaps because it's not everybody's favourite, still, I'm pleased to see it. The rabbit dish is a beautiful affair, delicate and precise, showing a skilled kitchen, but through it's restraint also, a confident kitchen.
I continue to enjoy everything, the salad of seedling vegetables, and the scallop. With coal baked potatoes on the menu next, it sounds innocent enough but you get a lot more than you bargained for: beef consomme, quail egg, garlic crisp, bacon powder and sweetcorn. It's a fantastic mini-meal with all the tastes, complexities, textures and pleasure to be derived from that but in a perfect little tasting portion.
For the main, it is 'Smokey Beef Bib', and I think this is a bit of genius on the tasting menu. It is a small part of a beef rib in a sticky glaze with an onion crust, sitting at a 30 degree angle, resting on one very large fat cut chip (I bet the waiters love carrying out this dish). On a tasting menu, this is perfect. I've been in top end restaurants having a tasting menu where they bring out for the main an only slightly smaller than normal fillet steak. That's so wrong, not simply because of the lack of imagination, but principally, after seven courses or whatever, I don't want a regular fillet steak in front of me, it's actually off putting. This rib however is exactly what I want at this stage of the meal; I had a smile on my face from start to finish.
And for dessert lovers, there's three on the menu, bingo! They are beautiful, see below, but let's focus here on the 'chocolate tree trunk'. This is a beautiful play on tastes and textures of chocolate, with a hazelnut granita, coconut sorbet and chocolate mousse. It's a moment where you wish you weren't on the tasting menu for there is presumably a fuller sized version if chosen as part of a three course option (chocolate forest?). It's clever in every aspect, it looks the part but delivers in every sweet dimension, and again, unique; it sounds almost comical as I write it but no one else is going to serve you a chocolate tree trunk. Desserts, the weak point of many a top kitchen are a real strength here. Importantly then, you end the meal on a high.
On my return from the trip, I was asked over Twitter what was the food highlight? As a rule, we don't normally answer questions like this because the reality is, questions like this don't need to be answered, all places can be celebrated without having to be ranked like a football league; my trip saw me have six great meals, I was happy. It was only subsequently as I reflected on the trip as a whole, processed the pictures and thought about the message for each post, that I came to a larger conclusion that I wasn't even seeking to draw: my meal at Fischer's was the surprise gastronomic highlight of the trip (rules are there to be broken after all).
I can't imagine anyone being disappointed with this meal, quite the reverse in fact, and it highlights to me that even if you're the sole restaurant in an English country house hotel, you need not be constrained to menus that date back to the manor's build year. I take these trips, jump in the car and drive around the country to see what else is out there, outside of Mayfair, to get to know British food a little better, and each time I do I'm thrilled, because I discover somewhere like Fischer's at Baslow Hall. You should too, it represents all that is good about food in Britain currently.
Follow Chef Rupert Rowley on Twitter: @Rupertchef
Previously I visited: Hambleton Hall, Rutland
Next stop: The Checkers, Montgomery
Fischers at Baslow Hall Location Map