Peacock Or Pheasant?
Both is the short answer. But that really doesn’t make for much of a feature so we’d better tell you more about what makes these two venues special. One is in Derbyshire at the southeastern edge of the Peak District, close to the pretty market town of Bakewell and the Duke of Devonshire’s magnificent Chatsworth estate. The other is hidden away near Bassenthwaite in the Lake District, midway between Keswick and Cockermouth, with the looming presence of Skiddaw just across the water. Both offer a brand of restrained and understated charm that’s becoming increasingly hard to find.
The Peacock at Rowsley dates back to 1652 and was built originally for the Steward of Haddon Estate. A hotel since 1830, the Grade II-listed building remains part of the estate to this day and guests enjoy access to some of the best fly fishing in the country on the rivers Wye and Derwent. (The Derwent runs right past the bottom of the garden and there’s a lovely riverside stroll up to Chatsworth if you have the energy and the inclination.) There are 15 guest bedrooms, all individually styled, ranging from cosy singles to a luxurious suite with four-poster bed.
The Pheasant is cut from humbler cloth. Originally a farmhouse, it slowly developed into a coaching inn and from 1778 boasts an unbroken history as hostelry and staging post on what was to become the A66. Thankfully, for what is now a real haven of tranquillity, a bypass was built in the 1970s leaving the Pheasant in splendid isolation, a hidden gem for those in the know. It has 15 guest bedrooms too, each individually named and styled with antique furniture, china tea sets and the best with garden and fell views. Four of the rooms are dog-friendly.
Dining is a key part of the experience at both venues. Head Chef Malcolm Ennis has been at the helm in the Pheasant’s kitchens for more than 20 years and these days guests have a choice between the elegant AA-rosetted Fell Restaurant and the more informal Bistro. Expect signature dishes like Twice baked Swiss cheese soufflé with leek velouté and parmesan to start and Braised feather blade of Galloway beef with roast heritage carrot, chestnut mushrooms, Cumbrian pancetta and sage and onion potato to follow. The Bistro is open at lunchtimes as well as dinner and offers a more extensive choice, including lighter fare and sandwiches at lunchtime. Wine is a passion for the Pheasant’s General Manager Matthew Wylie and the varied list is well-chosen with a Reserve Cellar section featuring some top wines for special occasions.
Dan Smith is the young head chef at the Peacock. A protégé of Tom Aiken, Dan presides over a restaurant that has held three AA rosettes for a number of years now and his dishes are based firmly on local produce and suppliers. You can choose between a Tasting Menu (with an optional wine flight) and the a la carte - both menus offering fine dining with an adventurous Mediterranean twist with dishes like Wood pigeon with beetroot, pickled cherries, granola and liver parfait and Hake with sweetcorn, smoked teriyaki chicken wings, girolles and cockles.
But as good as the dining experience is in both venues, you simply can’t miss the bars, even if you’re not a ‘pub’ person. Both are brimming with character – the Peacock with its stone-walls, wood-panelled, copper-topped bar and roaring fire; the Pheasant with its unbroken history stretching back more than two centuries, its tobacco-stained varnished walls and its cast list of quirky locals dropping in for a pint early evening.
Which edges it in a head-to-head, Peacock or Pheasant? Bar-wise, it has to be the Pheasant as you can stand and drink at the same bar that used to welcome legendary Lakeland huntsman John Peel and look around and think how little it has changed over the years. How do they stack up overall? – That’s for you to decide…