A dining establishment changing ownership is always going to be news. The myriad implications of this change have a direct impact upon perspective, vision and food once the signatures have dried on the dotted line. I visited Darleys Restaurant for the first time since the new owners’ announcement. Would the new menu excite and deliver (like the excellent Deadwater Fell) or would it be as underwhelming as the Game of Thrones finale?
I visited Darleys Restaurant one wintry evening. It was darker than coal tar outside, which made the contrast all the more dramatic as I sought refuge in the warm confines of the Grade II listed building. (I don’t know what it is about bracing winds and inclement weather, isn’t it all so wonderfully Gothic?)
The first thing that hits you is the warm welcome inside. These people actually want you there, and you really feel that through genuine smiles of the front of house at the door.
We are seated in the central area at a table with a view. It is all very dramatic, and I can’t help but admire the whooshing water of the River Derwent that lies a few yards from my window.
Speaking of the interiors; change is good, and I cannot help but think, as I glance around the restaurant, that new ownership is a good thing. Everything is neat and tidy, but the elephant in the room is that the interior is really, really dated to the point of it being retro and not in a good way. The 1990s IKEA advert springs to mind: “Chuck out that chintz” which should be taken quite literally here. The décor is however, one of the things that the new owners have an eye on revamping. I have no doubt this will lift the ambience and make Darleys a place that makes you want to stay for way longer than you should.
We are to dine from the nine course tasting menu. Naming the menu ‘A Taste of Darleys’ is simultaneously clever and informative, because it acts as a considerate announcement giving diners a heads up of what to expect from the new team.
We start with roast butternut squash (toasted seeds, pumpkin seed oil). Earthy yet mildly sweet notes of the butternut squash create a playful melange with the pumpkin seed oil. The resultant concoction – because that’s what this is, it’s not just your regular squash soup but more like science – is magnificent. It is poured at the table creating a sense of occasion. Boasting a silky middle and soft foam top, this magical concoction is a slurp-able soup of many textures. It is also the most luxurious soup I have ever eaten.
Pan seared scallops (sweetcorn purée, chorizo, charred baby corn) are cooked perfectly with a still translucent middle. I wilfully scarf the remainder with zero shame. Mustard coloured purée is aesthetically pleasing providing that pop of colour and is especially good on the palate. The addition of a corn kernel garnish ensures continuity of the sweetcorn thread running through the dish, which is clever and playful. It is dishes like this that enable you to catch a glimpse into the ingenious mind of executive chef Chris Marshall.
Home-cured salmon gravadlax (pickled cucumber, lemon crème fraiche, keta caviar) is one of my favourite dishes on the menu. The punchy piquancy of the cucumber pyramid is refreshing and tart, whilst the bright orange mini orbs of salmon roe bring salt and drama to this very beautiful dish.
Smoked Gressingham duck breast (glazed fig, chicory, Earl Grey soaked raisins, duck leg croquette) is regal in its meaty glory. Densely packed croquettes are juicy, and that when eaten with the fudgy fig is a very good mouthful indeed.
I’m not a big fan of gin. It smells of aftershave. Yet the palate cleanser of Shining Cliff gin and cucumber sorbet is so moreish, I am half tempted to ask the kitchen for the recipe.
Loin of venison (braised red cabbage, blackberry and lemon thyme jus) arrives with a flourish, and I especially like it when swiped through the fragrant parsnip and vanilla purée.
Other courses include iced mango parfait which is creamy and brings a taste of the Tropics to Derby. The boundary-pushing ‘jam doughnut’ is another playful addition on the menu, because it really isn’t what you expect. It is beautiful and simple and a real joy to swig (I won’t go into too much detail as I want you to be surprised when you order this).
And this simplicity, real understanding and respect for ingredients is what shines through on Darleys’ menu. Executive chef Chris Marshall is doing magical things in the kitchen. Yes I am harping on about his soup again. When you taste it, you’ll see why and his inventive cooking is one of the reasons I see him as a chef to watch in the Midlands.
Service is swift and attentive with Corrine at the helm, whose warm smile puts you at ease immediately. The food itself constitutes accomplished cooking and a tasting menu that has numerous dishes which should be permanently on the menu. Co-owner Lee Bebbington, a jovial, highly likeable character with a twinkle in his eye, is never far from the action. He keeps a watchful yet discreet eye on diners whilst communicating with the kitchen on a frequent basis to ensure smooth service.
It is no mean feat catering for the preferences of a current loyal customer base whilst appealing to a fresh crowd. Darleys have embraced this challenge wholeheartedly (being champions of Carbon-Free Dining is just one thing they are doing differently). I have little doubt that this restaurant will continue to flourish under the new ownership. It is exciting to see the next chapter of Darleys unfold, and I wish the new owners every success.
Bookings are now being taken for Valentine’s Day. There are various menus including an early evening and lunch. For more information, please visit the website now.
Restaurant name: Darleys Restaurant & Terrace, Derby
Address: Waterfront Darley Abbey Mill, Derby DE22 1DZ
Tue – Thurs 10am–4pm, 5–8:30pm
Fri 10am–4pm, 5–9pm
Sat 10am–2pm, 7–9pm
How to make reservation: Online and telephone.
Telephone: 01332 364987
There is seating available on the upper and lower terrace, with 25 covers on each tier
Executive Chef: Chris Marshall
Front of house: Corrine
Caters for dietary requirements: Yes
Wheelchair friendly: Yes
Quietest table: Table 11
How to get there: It is a 7 minute drive from Derby city centre
*Complimentary dining experience in exchange for a review*