“THIS would be a great place to bring my telescope,” said my partner gazing at the vast expanse of pitch black sky.
We were standing in the car park of a country pub, temperature scarcely above freezing and he was banging on about Jupiter and Venus.
With my tummy growling like a hungry bear I wasn’t exactly over the moon at being given a crash course in the solar system.
The only stars I was interested in were the ones I was going to award to a highly commended gastro-pub where we had chosen to spend our precious Sunday night.
Swopping life on Mars for knives in the bar of The White Bear at Stretton, we pored over the blackboard where a galaxy of mouth-watering dishes twinkled invitingly.
Pheasant, venison, lamb, steak, pork and chicken highlighted the rural location of the pub - which during the day has panoramic views sweeping across the valley towards Ashover - while sea bass, salmon and kleftikos made decisions even more difficult for discerning diners.
Choosing two courses apiece, my partner opted for asparagus from the specials selection as his starter. Tender stalks, topped with parma ham, parmesan cheese and drizzled with balsamic vinegar made every mouthful a taste sensation. Focaccia rolls flavoured with beetroot, green olive or rosemary were a tasty accompaniment.
Lamb Wellington from the main course specials captured my attention. Pure heaven on a plate, this was a pairing of pinkish, plump meat and mint-infused minced lamb bound together in a puff pastry shell, surrounded by sweet Madeira jus. A side dish of rich creamy Dauphinois potatoes was complemented by al dente julienne carrots, French beans, finely shredded Savoy cabbage and broccoli.
My companion chose the pork loin, which was tender and packed a flavoursome punch with its Calvados sauce and chunks of apple.
Plentiful platters had satisfied our hearty appetites but the home-made desserts were too tempting for me to resist. The chocolate and hazelnut parfait was one of the best sweets I have ever eaten, heavier than mousse yet lighter than ice cream with the nuts adding a crunchy texture. Raspberry coulis zig-zags and berry adornments contributed to making this parfait a perfect work of art.
Our two-course dinners, with bottle of Chianti, an espresso, a whisky and two soft drinks came to a total of £69.70.
The experience was one of fine dining in an olde-worlde pub where wood panelling, low beamed ceilings and a real fire created an atmosphere of time standing still.
As we left, the night sky was ablaze with stars and, joy of joys, we even saw Jupiter and Venus!
RATING: Four stars
The White Bear, Main Road,
Stretton, near Alfreton, SP2 8DQ
tel. (01246) 863274
Closed on Mondays