Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Le Mistral

There is nowt special about Wirksworth. It's a reasonably picturesque Derbyshire village with a kebab shop, a chippy, and a couple of bog-standard pubs. It's not like Hebden Bridge or Hathersage, where you can buy lucques olives on every corner and munch organic free-range special breed pork sausages with herb and mustard mash in a gastropub surrounded by people who moved there from the South when the commute and the fetid stench of rampant Toryism got too much.

It's just a normal little town in Great Britain.

That is why Le Mistral on Wirksworth high street is such a little gem. A metropolitan reviewer might sneer at its Mediterranean/Bistro stylings, wince at the fridge cold butter,

or raise an eyebrow at the friendly informality of service. They'd be missing the point, and missing a treat. Jarek Ossowicki has put together a reasonably priced, interesting menu, and an unpretentious wine list, in a relaxed setting that works in a variety of ways. I'd go to Le Mistral for a mid-week treat, or a valentine's dinner, or

even for a glass of wine on a Friday night as a more grown up alternative to the Sky sports dominated pub scene.

A mixed antipasti plate for two almost fills us up with perhaps not the finest quality jamon iberico, but certainly value for money. Duck and pork mains from the special board come roasted with generous smooth mash and rich herby gravy.

The bill isn't very much, and we finish our wine while listening with a sense of recognition and nostalgia to the Waitress telling her mother's friends about how she has been

saving up for a trip to do volunteer work in South America before she goes to university. We leave a good tip.

Peak Pudding

(Sorry... been away with work...)

Despite the best efforts of the rude and incompetent staff at Hertz car hire, we manage to escape the capital for a few days in the Peak District with Mr and Mrs Jiffler Senior. A smart cottage on the outskirts of Wirksworth becomes the venue for some robust roast dinners and a takeaway balti munched in front of what passes for television in the UK ('The dog whisperer'... come on...).

Bakewell pudding Being Easter weekend, and sunny, Bakewell is heaving with visitors. We amble around, checking out the fantastic independent Bakewell Books' great selection of natural history and travel literature, munch a couple of bhajis from an impromptu curry stall, and marvel at the queues outside the chippies.

You can't come to Bakewell without sampling a Bakewell pudding, and the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop invites us to try the, er, original.

You can, of course, buy Bakewell tarts in pretty much any bakery in the UK. Bakewell puddings on the other hand are endemic to Bakewell, with three bakeries producing them, two of which claim to be producing the original recipe. The story goes that the Bakewell tart was invented at the Rutland Arms, Bakewell, after a chef forgot to mix the eggs and almonds into the pastry mix for a jam tart, instead mixing the whole lot with the jam and spreading it on top of the pastry. The resulting rather ugly looking pudding seemed to catch on. My guess is its because the pub sold the first batch off cheap, and folks like a bargain don't they?

Whether their origins are disputed or not, Bakewell puddings must be famous across the pond as the bakery is packed solid with with badly dressed American tourists. Being somewhat, ahem, "large", they block our progress to the pudding counter and Jiffler Senior and I start getting a little claustraphobic. Unable to squeeze our barrel chests between the lard-armed masses we send Mrs Jiffler (Senior), who is slight of build and as nimble as a scrum-half, into the melee.

Having tried the shambolic upstairs cafe on a previous visit, we opt to enjoy our puddings on a bench (again spotted and quickly bagged by the nimble Mrs Jiffler senior) overlooking the canal.

This is what a slightly blurred bakewell pudding should look like:

Not like one of those Mr Kipling's monstrosities. An almondy nose, jammy sweetness at the sides of the mouth, buttery aftertaste. Would make a fine accompaniment to a cup of tea and a sit down.