There’s far more to Bakewell than its sticky sweet pudding – although it’s worth going for that alone. Charlotte Morgan shares her favourite foodie hotspots in and around the Derbyshire town.
The very word ‘Bakewell’ makes me salivate, and not just for Mr Kipling reasons. I’ve been visiting this chocolate box town for years (it’s on the way to family in Yorkshire), and am yet to tire of its foodie offerings and beautiful surroundings.
Indeed, my favourite thing about Bakewell is the fact that you can enjoy Bakewell Pudding in the morning (a contender for the world’s most indulgent dessert), then walk it straight off with a Peak District ramble.
It seems only appropriate to begin with where to get the best Bakewell Pudding. I’ve already delved into the subject in this article about how to make your own Bakewell Pudding, but as a quick reminder, Bakewell Pudding is an oval-shaped, pastry-encased, jammy, syrupy pudding.
The gooey centre of Bakewell Pudding is made from an eggy almond mix, and folklore has it that this filling was stumbled across accidentally. The story goes that the mistress of The White Horse Inn, Mrs Graves, instructed her cook to bake a strawberry tart for guests in the 1860s. But instead of stirring the egg mixture into the pastry, cook accidentally spread it on top of the jam instead. The result was an overwhelming success, and Bakewell Pudding was here to stay.
There are half a dozen shops selling Bakewell Pudding in town, but my favourite comes from The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop in The Square. It’s a beautiful cottage-style building that was once lived in by the canny Mrs Wilson who, noting The White Horse’s happy mistake at the time, started to make and sell the puddings herself. The same flawless recipe is still used today, and the puddings are sold in small, medium and large sizes. But beware – it’s hard to polish off a small one by yourself, due to its teeth-tingling sugar content. And the prices are arguably a tad on the high side.
Be sure to check out the rest of the shop too – there’s a deli at the back selling everything from freshly baked loaves to Derbyshire honey, cheeses and local ales. And if you want to take the weight off, visit the cosy restaurant upstairs and grab a table by the window to watch the comings and goings outside. I’d wholeheartedly recommend the Welsh rarebit for a filling lunch – the cheesy, mustardy mix atop chunky wholemeal toast comes laced with a glug of local ale.
Brave souls could attempt the afternoon tea – little triangle sandwiches of your choice, plus a scone with jam and a bucket of cream, plus an individual Bakewell Pudding. And your choice of tea, of course, which is an absolute necessity to cut through all that sweetness.
Best of the rest in town
The Lavender Tea Room in Hebden Court is another great shout for lunch. It’s a mismatched-cups-and-saucers-type place, with busy décor on the walls and outside seating in a sheltered courtyard. Service is as charming as the furnishings, and more substantial offerings include huge omelettes, Welsh rarebit (again), and homemade fishcakes. You can also try Bakewell Pudding here. Note that The Lavender Tea Room is closed all day on Thursdays, and only stays open until 4pm for the rest of the week.
For something a bit posher, try Piedaniel’s French restaurant on Bath Street. It gets flattering reviews and is often singled out for its smartness, sophistication and romance. The food is fresh, precise and clean, with a la carte starters including monkfish ceviche and terrine of ratatouille, and a main menu offering Derbyshire beef fillet, red mullet with Japanese radish, and noisette of lamb topped with tarragon mousse. Iced orange nougatine with lavender honey is a good bet for dessert. It’s at least £16 for a main course here, but if you’re not eating on Friday or Saturday night, opt for the two-courses-for-£16 lunch and evening menus for great value.
Ricci’s is a more low-key Italian restaurant in Water Street that prides itself on a menu fit for all food allergies – there’s a choice of gluten-free pasta dishes, for example. Friendly owners Les and Sue serve authentic, rustic fare using local meat and specially imported Italian produce. The pizzas are better than average, made with homemade tomato sauce and generous blobs of mozzarella.
Wyes Waters Tea Rooms on Granby Road is a real favourite with locals. It serves up good, honest Derbyshire fare (pie of the day, cooked meat breakfast, etc.) at reasonable prices and without pretension.
Treats from Carousel Chocolates make a nice gift for folk back home. Most of their goodies are made on site, and particular favourites include cherries in kirsch, dipped orange slices, stem ginger and praline seashells. If you’ve a sweet tooth, do try the vanilla, chocolate, or rum & raisin Bakewell fudge – it’s even richer than the normal stuff.
Just a bit beyond Bakewell
Just a note: the Peak District is the second busiest National Park in the world, after Mount Fuji's in Japan, so there are masses of cafes, pubs, restaurants and hotels to explore. But with all that choice comes some overly-priced and overly-touristy places. If you want to escape all that, put your walking boots on, or jump in the car, and make the short distance to one of the below gems instead. After all, eateries away from the throng tend to try harder.
Sticking with cafes, try walking north from Bakewell along the old railway track (now the Monsal Trail), to Hassop Station Café – it will only take you half an hour. The café is attached to a book shop and cycle hire place, and is a great example of what a working caff can achieve with a bit of effort and locally sourced ingredients. Expect large portions of almond & cherry cake, wonderful fresh yoghurt, granola and fruit, and strong black coffee. It’s the perfect pit-stop for hungry cyclists.
A little north of Hathersage (a 20-minute car journey from Bakewell) is the Riverside Herb Centre. You can look through the café windows to the massive and very busy bird tables about five feet away outside. It’s often busy, but you can enjoy the deli and herb plants while you wait for a seat, and they have a marvellous selection of china mugs and teapots for sale.
It’s best to head out of Bakewell for a really decent pub meal. The Plough at Hathersage, for example, is just the ticket – you can eat freshly cooked and plentiful food here, and it's all good value. It’s actually a privately-owned 16th-century inn, situated on the banks of the River Derwent. Options are pretty much all classics, from fish and chips to a huge steak sandwich, topped with red onion marmalade and smoked Applewood cheese.
The Barrel Inn at Bretton (a 15-minute drive from Bakewell) also serves solid pub food, with good beer and wonderful views. And finally, The Devonshire Arms at Beeley (again, very close to Bakewell) offers a good selection of beers, and used to be justly famous for its Sunday lunches. It’s moving steadily gastropub-wards, although it might have been better off staying in its comfort zone.
The village of Baslow is less than 15 minutes away from Bakewell by car, and is home to the Michelin-starred Fischer’s restaurant. It’s a major treat to come here. Go hungry – the food is rich, exciting, and the evening is often peppered with extra little dishes that the chef fits around your order. You could even push the boat out and go for their Dinner Bed and Breakfast option (around £300 for a couple), so you can both enjoy the wine list. There’s also a (quite) reasonable lunch menu at Fischer’s, which is well worth the money.
Competition just along the road, at a lower price, comes from The Cavendish Hotel – it boasts not only great food, but excellent service too. Between Fischer’s and The Cavendish Hotel budget-wise is the Riverside Hotel in Ashford-in-the-Water. It’s very well regarded locally.
But according to my uncle, who lives just outside the Peak District, the “place that sends tingles up my spine” is Hassop Hall Hotel (literally an eight-minute drive from Bakewell). “I first visited it one winter evening, and passing through the gates into a drive lined with burning torches was a magical experience,” he says.
“The overall ambience, the big fireplace in reception, the cosy bar for brandy after dinner, the tastefully faded grandeur, are all priceless. The food isn’t pretentious, but is still well prepared and very relaxed. Several times I’ve sat up late in front of their open fire nursing a drink when I should have been in bed. The bedrooms are enormous, the floorboards creak, and breakfast is always served in one’s room.”
My favourite – The Peacock
My favourite place for a fancy dinner, excellent wine, and a cosy room to collapse in afterwards is The Peacock Inn at Rowsley – a pleasant eight-minute drive from the heart of Bakewell.
It’s a small luxury hotel with a spookily gothic frontage (mellowed by a ring of roses around the entrance), fine dining restaurant, wooden-beamed bar and pretty garden in the back. It’s actually owned by Lord Edward Manners, also proprietor of nearby Haddon Hall, and the feel inside is one of good taste. Fine fabrics have been sourced from London, Paris, New York and Milan, and you even get chocolates on your pillow each night.
But strangely, the décor of the dining room is out of kilter – I don’t understand why they painted the walls lime green, especially when the rest of the inn (I love the bar area) so tastefully matches the rustic, castle-style look of the building. My advice is to focus on your plate instead: presentation is beautiful here, from a delicately balanced Whitby mackerel tartar dish to English hake, parsley and pear barley risotto finished with a flourish of poached cockles.
The meat dishes are probably your best bet at The Peacock (after all, the surrounding countryside is packed with livestock), and of particular note is the pan-fried fillet of Derbyshire beef, usually served with braised ribs, smoked mash, and a rich red wine sauce. Mouth-wateringly succulent, but it does come at a price (nearly £40). Cheaper mains start at £20, and desserts – including an elegant mille feuille with poached apricots and hazelnut praline – are around £8 a pop.
If anything, portion sizes err on the large side and you’d be hard-pressed to lick every plate clean – especially when ‘pre-dessert’ is involved, and a shimmering tray of homemade fruit jellies comes with after-dinner coffee. It’s wonderful hospitality, not only for the ‘we-won’t-let-you-go-hungry’ ethos, but also because of the cheery, immaculately presented waiting staff, most of which are young lads and lasses recruited from the nearby towns.
If you are dining at The Peacock, it’s a very, very good idea to stay over as well. Partly because you won’t be able to move after chef’s generosity, and driving means you'll miss the lengthy wine list. Besides, the bedrooms are perfect – huge, rustic in style (but complete with modern bathroom), comfy beds and pillows, and sparkling clean. Get a room overlooking the garden if you can, and make use of their extensive DVD library kept at reception – there are literally hundreds to choose from!
The Peacock will be even more of a treat if you like fishing as it’s famed for its seven miles of fly fishing on the Rivers Wye and Derwent, where anglers come from all over the world to fish for rare wild rainbow trout and a unique strain of brown trout. There’s some great fishing-related memorabilia in the inn’s entrance, so be sure to take a look on your way in.
Breakfast is filling and complimentary (cooked stuff costs extra), and the lasting impression of this place is one of winning hospitality. There’s a little newsletter each morning, for example, detailing the day’s weather, a riddle to solve, a little nugget of local history, and a suggested walk of the day. A lovely touch in a lovely setting.
Have you any other Bakewell foodie pit stops to recommend? We can’t possibly cover everywhere, so please don’t be shy with your suggestions in the Comments box below.
Main image attributed to Rob Bendall
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