Two hits and a miss: weekending with the Dymbels.

HIT: Our second visit to The Bull’s Head at Ashford in the Water confirmed it as our new favourite country pub with food. I don’t want to say “gastropub”, as that’s not really what it aims to be – despite having been named one of the country’s ten best towards the end of last year. (By persons unknown, but a list’s a list for all that.) Rather, it’s an unassumingly traditional place, with no fancy decor, a straightforward chalkboard menu, no advance table reservations, quick service, and a fairly rapid turnover of tables: you arrive, you eat, you leave, but there’s no unseemly pressure to vacate your places, either. The welcome is an uncommonly warm one, the low-key buzz of the place puts everyone at their ease, and the food is flipping fantastic.

Last night, all four of us chose a minted pea mousse for starters: served warm, on a bed of watercress and rocket, with a spicy tomato sauce. There was nothing remotely showy-offy about it, and yet the clever combination of simple ingredients added up to something stimulating and new, yet wonderfully reassuring at the same time. My baked plaice came in a thick, creamy sauce, and was… hell, I can’t bloody well remember what it looked like, I was too busy enjoying it. Sheesh. The four of us (myself, K, Dymbel and Dymbellina) then shared two puddings: a something (with chocolate), and a something else (with pastry). They were both completely scrummy, and the fact that I can remember nothing else about them (apart from the pastry), should not be read as any sort of indictment. Whoever said that all memories should be catalogued for future reference, anyway?

MISS: Although, before their departure, Dymbel and Dymbellina expressed their wish to publicly disassociate themselves from my slaggings, I have to say that our lunchtime visit to the newly opened “Design Museum” (plus attendant café) at the David Mellor kitchenware shop and factory in Hathersage singularly failed to delight me.

For “museum”, read a single wall of display cabinets, plus a letter box, a rubbish bin, a few chairs, some bollards, traffic lights and a Pelican crossing. Mellor designed them all, you see. My word, but the geographic and functional re-contextualisation of the Pelican crossing… well, it made it look like a Pelican crossing, basically. Still, it was nice if you like looking at old knives and forks.

And many do, don’t get me wrong. It was just that I was hungry, and cranky, and in no mood for delayed gratification.

The attached caff looked stunning, granted: a beautiful row of tables and chairs against a long glass exterior wall, its panels opened to the warm afternoon sunshine, with divinely turned wooden benches spanning its length both inside and out. But, oh, the service. An age to take the order, and at least 35 minutes to bring it to the table – and we only wanted salads. It’s not even as if they were swamped with other food orders; we barely saw another table served while we waited. Then, the coffees: a cafetiere so weak at to be undrinkable, and a nasty, bitter espresso which perfectly matched my mood.

HIT: The gardens at Chatsworth house are currently playing host to an exhibition of modern and contemporary sculpture (yes Virginia, there is a difference), with works provided by the Sotheby’s auction house. All pieces are for sale – but God knows who’s going to be able to afford them, as this is serious stuff. Dali, Miro, Moore. Gormley, Hirst, Kapoor. Names, names, names, sweedie.

The positioning of the pieces around the extensive gardens is bold, ingenious, and frequently quite magical. A Gormley stick figure perches on the roof of the house itself; in the landscaped rock garden, a scaled down version of his “Angel Of The North” looks down on passers-by from either side. A custard yellow Keith Haring figure sits on the main lawn, with Robert Indiana’s bright red “LOVE” letters halfway up the water cascade behind it, and Damien Hirst’s intricately gruesome “Saint Bartholemew, Exquisite Pain” off to the left. Down by the canal pond and the Emperor fountain, there’s another miniature: this time, it’s Anish Kapoor’s “Sky Mirror”, looking even more effective than it does outside Nottingham Playhouse. At the pond’s end, Dale Chihuly’s “Sunset Boat” radiates bright yellows, oranges and reds: the colours of the bizarre glass objects which fill its hull.

It’s not all hits: Joan Miro’s slapdash assemblage “Femme Et Oiseau” causes me to coin the phrase “objets plonkées”, and the space-age optimism of Juan Dubuffet’s “Arbre Biplan” looks as tired and shabby as its cultural contemporary, Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. However the vast majority of pieces complement their settings so well, that you find yourself longing for them to remain there permanently.

(Oh, and the dahlia garden by the entrance to the maze is quite, quite dazzling, my dears; almost as good as the lupins of a couple of months ago.)

The exhibition runs until October 27th, and I commend it earnestly to the group.

Update (1): I agree with most of Richard Dorment’s review of the exhibition for the Telegraph (don’t miss the slideshow), with two major exceptions. Firstly, the Dali sculpture is not on the same axis as the Hirst; they’re at opposite ends of the garden, and the Dali is hidden up a narrow walkway. Secondly, I couldn’t disagree more with Dorment’s suggestion that Manzù’s seated cardinal should be swapped with Condo’s Miles Davis – the current location of both pieces suits them quite wonderfully.

Update (2): Justin has more photos: the LOVE, the Miles Davis and the Salvador Dali.

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