Review by Fiona Duncan, published 29th June 2008.
When a menu proposes starters for £12.75 and main courses for £26.50, expectations are raised, wallets nervously patted. So here we are in the Derbyshire Dales, as eager for dishes such as “crab tian, pickled carrot, fennel salad, crab beignet” and “duck breast, beetroot, red chicory, walnut, port sauces” as we are alarmed at their prices.
The dishes arrive on large, square white plates decorated with edible shapes and colourful sauces that are smeared in twists and whorls and dotted with puffs of foam in the manner of modern haute cuisine.
I wish I warmed to the long, narrow dining room a little more. The aged oak tables, set out in two rows, are splendid (no surprise to find a mouse tail carved on each, revealing them as the work of master craftsman “Mouseman” Thompson), but for me, the room’s decoration (large black-and-white seascape; Fifties-style chandeliers; frameless mirror above plain fireplace) doesn’t quite complement the time-worn, original Twenties furniture.
The rest of the hotel (except the cosy wood-panelled bar) is equally eclectic and disparate in design, but more successfully so. It’s the result of three makeovers in its first year under new ownership. The designer India Mahdavi was brought in to overlay an initial palette of pale cream with much bolder colours – lime-green upholstery, sudden purple walls.
Bedrooms are furnished in a mix of decent antiques, poor antiques and Mahdavi’s own designs. Beds are thinly covered in sheets and blanket; duvets would make the rooms look more voluptuous.
You think I’m ambivalent about this place; but I’m not, I love it. Like its decoration, it’s a hybrid: part fishing inn (dreamy dry-fly fishing on the Wye, with superb gillie); part serious hotel (smartly dressed, bag-carrying staff); part hip hangout (it has sheltered Keira Knightly and Scarlett Johansson).
Once the dower house for Haddon Hall, seat of the Dukes of Rutland, it was built in 1652 and has been a hotel since 1820. Five years ago, Haddon’s present incumbent, Lord Edward Manners, had the chance to buy it back; now it’s one of a growing breed of hotels on great estates that combine a sense of family history with modern luxuries.
Sketches of the great and the good of the day by Lord Edward’s great-grandmother hang on the walls, while iPod docks, DVDs and free Wi-Fi are supplied in the rooms. You should put the hotel into context by visiting captivating Haddon Hall (where The Other Boleyn Girl and Jane Eyre were recently filmed): its authenticity is what makes it so endearing.
The Peacock stands on the A6 as it slows through the estate village of Rowsley, so you hear the whoosh of traffic, albeit muted, in one ear and the sound of garden birdsong in the other. The hotel’s stated aim is to make everyone feel at home, and it does; Chris Tomlinson, the down-to-earth manager, with years of experience, and his able team, make sure of that. Single guests are particularly welcome, with two rooms at fair prices. And the food? Reader, it’s worth the money - Tasting menu £75 on Friday & Saturday, Light Bites at lunch at £17.75 including starter and dessert and half size main course.
The Peacock, Rowsley (01629 733518; www.thepeacockatrowsley.com). Doubles from £145 per night, including buffet breakfast. Not suitable for guests with disabilities.