So far this series of blogs has covered the retail high street in Ashbourne but I realised that the scope applies just as equally elsewhere – where we spend our leisure pound is just as important. I’ve wanted to visit the Dining Room ever since I moved to Ashbourne. I love good food and I am interested in cooking. I regularly buy Peter Dale’s bread in the local shops but until now I’d not crossed his threshold.
What caught my eye was the Game menu. We are in a marvellous part of the world for game and at this time of year it is abundant. More to the point I have regularly tried cooking pheasant, partridge and rabbit myself with not even mixed results…it has always been dreadful! I saw the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone and see how it should be done.
My expectation, from conversations with people I knew who had been before was to expect small portions and an expensive wine list. I am pleased to put this straight right from the beginning and confirm that we enjoyed ample food and a reasonably priced wine list. (We chose a bottle of Australian blended red wine from the Margaret River which was priced at less than £30. Almost all the wines on the list were less than £40 per bottle and there was something for all pockets on an interesting selection).
First impressions of the restaurant is how much more spacious it is than the view from outside suggests. We had a lovely table for two by the window. The atmosphere in the restaurant is pleasant with music and conversation. I would recommend the setting for romantic evenings or a leisurely dinner with friends. Because of the nature of the menu, and the fact there is only one chef, guests all arrive between 7pm and 7.15pm and everyone works their way through the menu together. This worked really well and it felt leisurely and relaxed. This is aided by charming waiting staff who are attentive but friendly with it and not in the least stuffy.
And so to the food. We began with an utter delight – home smoked woodpigeon. This was done in a light fragrant North African style with pomegranate and hummus. The smoking was sensational and the seasoning with the sweetness of the pomegranate was fantastic. The dish had a crisp flatbread to accompany it. This sort of food is why you go to restaurants – to try something you would have a one in a hundred chance of carrying off at home if you had the imagination in the first place. This was my favourite part of the meal and I would rave about it wherever I was eating it.
The second dish was a rabbit pakora. I really enjoyed it but I have slightly mixed feelings. There was some real spice in the dish but I felt this overpowered the rabbit a little. The rabbit was confited and beautifully tender but I felt as if I hadn’t really appreciated the rabbit enough. There was a delicious carrot and cumin salad with it and a delicate “raita”.
The pheasant came wrapped in home smoked bacon – again fabulously done where can we buy some? – and was perfectly moist and tender. This was served with a deeply fruity damson chutney and winter vegetables (kale and roasted carrots) which made it a perfect dish for a dark and cold November evening.
The dessert was roasted orange pippin apples with a red berry sorbet and a Creme caramel. The creme caramel was really creamy and stood up well against the other ingredients. We really liked the toasted nuts underneath the sorbet which gave some saltiness and crunch to the dish. This summed up the cooking for me. Each dish was executed well but there were four or five elements to each dish which each required some skill to get them right. There is no doubt that Peter Dale is a really gifted chef who uses good local ingredients and has a huge range of styles to call on.
I thoroughly enjoyed each part of the menu but I would love to come again and try the taster menu at the weekend. We walked away feeling pleasantly full and our bill for two with a decent bottle of wine and coffee was £92. The attention to detail and respect for the local heritage was shown again with the tea and coffee served with little gingerbread men (and home made chocolate petit fours).
So, does The Dining Room fit the Try Ashbourne First model? Possibly more than many retailers. Peter Dale uses local produce wherever possible and this contributes to the local economy through butchers, greengrocers, and the staff he employs. Not only will you get some memorable food but you are keeping your money in the local economy.