I CONSIDER myself a thoroughly English sort of chap. I’m fascinated by old museums, natural history and stately homes. I love walks in the countryside, brown beer and antique leather chairs in front of roaring log fires. The Peacock Hotel, in the pretty village of Rowsley near Bakewell, is right up my street.
It’s a stunning old building that’s lost very few of the features that will have been designed in when it was built, as a country manor house, back in the 17th Century. It looks, feels and even smells like the opulent country pile it began life as, despite the fact that the building has been used as a hotel since 1820.
Perhaps I’m a tad over-anglicised, but as my wife and I studied the menu before we sat down for our evening meal during our recent stay, I was a little surprised to see frogs’ legs among the starters.
For a hotel with such a rich English heritage, this meant one of two things, I tentatively concluded. Either its restaurant was trying to be something it wasn’t, or there was a very imaginative chef at the helm. It turned out the latter was correct.
Bouyed by the enthusiasm of our waitress who also, I’m ashamed to admit, had to explain to me that ‘morels’ were a type of mushroom, I took a punt on the frog’s legs. But more on that later.
The main course menu was every bit as adventurous. Ray wing nearly swayed me, as did the roasted turbot, but it was the thoroughly English Derbyshire fillet of beef with ox tongue, parsley pearl barley, parsley root and red wine sauce that won the day.
My wife opted for ‘milk fed lamb’, which came with al dente peas, wild garlic, black olive and lamb sauce. Both dishes were exquisite. Beautifully presented and bursting with flavour.
We chose, on the advice of said enthusiastic waitress, to keep the wine list closed and opt for a tempting offer of trying three glasses of hand-picked wines, each chosen to complement the courses we had picked. It was an interesting journey that began with a sparkling white, stopped off at a pinot grigio, and ended on a lovely red, with dessert.
Dessert ranged from a fruity ice cream dish to a blue cheese moose. That turned out to be a tad too rich for me, but my other half was in heaven. I watched her demolish it while I picked away at the distinctly French range of complimentary sweets that had been brought out alongside the dessert.
The rooms at The Peacock live up well to the splendour of the main entrance, lounge and restaurant. They’ve been professionally designed to incorporate beautiful antique furniture, along with huge beds.
We’d been treated to an overnight stay in the newly refurbished suite - and it was gorgeous. Separated by a walk-through bathroom and a small corridor alongside it, the lounge and bedroom areas were fitted with large televisions, modern, high quality iPod docks and alongside all the antiques was a smattering of modern furniture. It might sound like an uncomfortable mix of new and old, but it worked very well.
There were free dressing gowns and filter coffee in each room; the free WiFi worked and it was very easy to control the temperature. The bed was massive and, although made up of two joined together, very comfortable.
The only thing that wasn’t comfortable, weirdly, was the carpet. It was obviously a period feature but felt very sharp under-foot. Walking around in socks was unpleasant and we were very grateful for the free slippers in the room.
The Peacock, which sits in a popular corner of the Peak District, just by the River Derwent, is in an ideal spot for exploring the area on foot. The hotel’s daily printout, the ‘Rowsley Times’ that was delivered to our room and breakfast table suggested a ‘walk of the day’, as well as giving weather forecasts and promising discounted entry into nearby Haddon Hall.
We opted against a walk and, following a pleasant breakfast, ventured five minutes down the road into the lovely market town of Bakewell to see its renowned mix of interesting local shops and grab some gastronomic souvenirs from the many pie and pudding shops.
We could have jumped on a bus, we were told, which the hotel will also arrange for its guests, but we weren’t sure where we would head next (Chatsworth was also a short drive away) so we opted to jump back into our car.
The offer of a look round Haddon Hall, one of the country’s most interesting stately homes, was too tempting to resist. Many describe walking round its public areas as like stepping back in time. They’re spot on. The kitchen, which is no different to how it would have looked when it was occupied by the house’s many staff, is a particular highlight.
Stepping back in time was something of a theme of the day. The Peacock, where our short break in the Peak District began, provided the perfect platform for a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.
Oh, and the frogs’ legs. They were terrific. It’s true what people say, they do taste like chicken.
If my stay at the Peacock has taught me anything, it’s that. while it’s all well and good being thoroughly English, there’s nothing wrong with crossing the cultural divide.
In the same way this lovely old hotel serves up its ancient English style with a beautifully prepared plate of frogs’ legs, I’ve broadened my horizons.
And I can thoroughly recommend a stay, or at the very least a meal, at the Peacock. Bon apetit.
A stay at the Peacock starts from £160 per room per night for bed and buffet breakfast Sunday – Thursday (£227.50 on Friday and Saturday)
Rooms start from £225 per room per night for dinner, bed and breakfast on Sunday to Thursday which includes three courses from the fine dining menu (£297.50 on Friday and Saturday)
Hotel guests receive 50 per cent discount on admission to Haddon Hall
To find out more call 01629 733518 or visit www.thepeacockatrowsley.com
Also visit www.haddonhall.co.uk
For Peak District information visit www.visitpeakdistrict.com