I reviewed The Samuel Fox Country Inn for the December 2013 issue of Westside Magazine – a serious contender for the best place I’ve eaten all year. Wanna read what I thought? Of course you do! Scroll down, amigo…
Fox by name, fox by nature. Everywhere you turn in The Samuel Fox Country Inn, you’ll find cheeky nods to its moniker – a fox-shaped doorknocker, say, or a brass fox keyhole-cover. All told, this place is very vulpine.
There’s a little cartoon fox printed on the menus and wine list too, huddled under an umbrella. That’s a witty reference to the man from whom this place takes its name – Samuel Fox was the local (Bradwell, Derbyshire) resident who invented the modern steel-ribbed umbrella. Mr Fox himself has long since shuffled off this mortal coil – one assumes he was bone-dry when he went – but his namesake is going from strength to strength.
Chef proprietor James Duckett is the man in charge, having taken over the inn in late 2012. He brings with him some impressive baggage, including spells in the Michelin-starred kitchens of Le Gavroche and The Square in Mayfair. After a planned deal to move his own Devon restaurant to another nearby location fell through, James widened his search for a new venue, which has brought him oop north to t’Peak District. Ee, James, we’re honoured, lad.
The Samuel Fox may be a country inn, but it’s not of the dark, old-fashioned, low-hanging-beam type – instead a clean, contemporary décor is the order of the day. That doesn’t mean the atmosphere is muted, though – there’s a friendly warmth to the place from the minute you walk through the door. When my girlfriend and I entered on a Sunday afternoon, James was on this side of the bar chatting to some regulars – if he hadn’t introduced himself as the owner we would’ve figured him for one of them.
The Fox’s inviting ambience is helped in no small part by its beautiful Derbyshire location. The view from the dining room window made us feel like we were in a Constable painting – a welcome change from our resident Sheffield, which often looks more like something from the spray-can of Banksy.
The food was similarly transportive. A wonderful venison salad starter brought to mind an autumnal walk through woodland; sticky toffee pudding was a trip back to the school canteen, if that school canteen had served stunningly good desserts instead of lumpy custard. The vivid pink of my delicious beetroot risotto, meanwhile, reminded my girlfriend of her childhood toy box (I thought the colour was the same as a Barbie dress; she assured me it was more like one of Sindy’s. Disclaimer: other dolls are available).
There’s little to dislike about The Samuel Fox County Inn. As well as its charm and conviviality (service, by the way, is spot on – relaxed, but prompt and polite), it’s affordable – 19 quid for two courses, a fiver more for three. As for the food, it really is great – timeless dishes prepared by a talented, confident kitchen team. With all those things working in its favour, it surely won’t be long before this sly, cunning Fox teases a star of its own from those Michelin Guide writers. Book a table while you still can.
See the review as it appeared in print via this PDF or by visiting the Westside website and clicking ‘read online’.