Food Review: Riley's, Bridge Street, Bakewell DE45 1DS
Summer is about to peak so make time for food, people and visits to remember it by.
We’ve barely had a day in a deckchair or seen a Swallow and soon it will be dark earlier and light later.
How very depressing.
So I decided it was summer and took my 83-year-old mum for an afternoon in Bakewell.
Bakewell is one of her favourite places in one of her favourite areas and, although her memory loss meant she couldn’t immediately recall it, she spent her honeymoon - 60-plus years ago - in nearby Matlock.
“Rose Cottage!” she exclaimed a few minutes later with a huge smile, suddenly remembering where she and my dad stayed after their wedding in 1954.
“I could never forget that”.
We walked to the river Wye that runs through the picturesque market town, sat by the bridge and watched the swans and ducks on the weir. We had a drink in the afternoon sun outside the Peacock Inn then walked across to Riley’s where we were greeted and seated with patience and friendliness.
We chose the three course Early Bird Special for £16.95 to avoid the potential confusion of a larger menu and to sample what looked like great value.
I chose meat - Ham Hock Terrine with watercress, orange, cucumber and apple to start, followed by gammon, egg and chips with salad and onion rings for main course.
My mum chose fish - a smoked salmon starter with granary toast, pistachio crumb, pea shoots and a quail’s egg followed by “Peak Ale Bitter” battered haddock, hand cut chips, mushy peas, tartar sauce and lemon.
None of the above is sophisticated cuisine and the menu is small – three options on each course – but the way basics are prepared and presented says a lot about restaurant.
And this is good food - made better by respective glasses of well-priced shiraz and sauvignon blanc.
There’s plenty of rich smoked salmon, the bright green Californian pistachio crumb adds texture and sweetness, the granary toast and salad give depth and crunch.
My ham hock terrine had good texture and chunks of caper and pickled gherkin within to add acidity to the richness of the meat and butter and the bitterness of grain mustard. Beautiful. It also came with a tasty cauliflower cous-cous, a new one on me - made with ‘blitzed’ cauliflower ie put through a blender - lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Our main courses were equally handsome. The gammon steak was thicker than most, making it tender and smoky with a salty hit from the dry cure.
It came with skinny French fries - fries are quicker to cook and save time in a busy kitchen - rather than the twice cooked chips that came with the large, melt-in-the-mouth haddock in its light and crunchy batter.
That came with a zesty home-made tartare sauce and earthy pea-shoots, and the gammon with two of the best, biggest and crunchiest onion rings you’ll ever taste.
Dessert-wise I had the panna cotta - with serious wobble and made from an old Italian family recipe. Delicious. Mum had the sorbet selection – raspberry, pear and banana – all 50 per cent fruit puree and 50 per cent syrup and all outstanding.
Owner and head chef Carl Riley knows his bread and butter customers have to be looked after - especially in Bakewell where there are two dozen eateries within a minute’s walk.
“This is my first place of my own and it’s going really well – it’s been a great year,” said Carl, formerly head chef at the Chequers at Froggatt Edge. “It’s very competitive in Bakewell and we have based our appeal on quality. Whether that’s fish and chips or the a la carte menu, we get the best produce and present it in the best way.
“The detail really matters.
“I’d rather give people more and have a full restaurant than less and the place be half empty.
“Our suppliers are all local: Thompson’s of Buxton, Critchlows, William Howe, Moss Valley Meats and the Chatsworth estate and we think it shows.”
It’s not all Early Birders at Riley’s either.
“There is a fairly affluent customer base in this area who are happy to pay £25 for a fillet steak,” adds 30-year-old Carl.
“It’s about good food at the right price with a bit of finesse. Details make the difference.”
Carl trained at college in Buxton and started work at Hassop Hall aged 14 as a waiter and later as a trainee chef. He worked at the Plough in Hathersage, Moran’s in Sheffield, had three years at the award-winning Peak Edge Hotel near Chesterfield, and a year with Sheffield chef Richard Smith at Catch and Artisan in Crosspool.
He knows his stuff, and it shows.
“Thanks for that Mart, it was lovely and the food was really nice,” said my mum as we got back to the car.
“I won’t forget today.”
Though of course she will. It’s not really within her power to do otherwise any more.
But as we drove home under blue skies, the evening sun casting long shadows over Derbyshire’s stunning greenery, she smiled and looked happy in her fleeting memories.
Those details really do make the difference.
For three courses each and two medium sized glasses of wine our bill came to £41.60.
Star rating out of five:
* Riley’s, Bridge Street, Bakewell DE45 1DS
* Tel: 01629 815 613
* Email : [email protected]
* Open: Tues to Sat - noon to 9pm for food, bar until 1am; Sunday - noon to 4pm food, bar until 11pm