Review: Local focus, exceptional food and warm hospitality make for a superb experience at the Bulls Head in Holymoorside

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I was invited to the Bulls Head at Holymoorside last week to sample their signature tasting menu – something that I would wholeheartedly recommend for any food lovers in Derbyshire.

The Bulls Head is owned by chef-patron Mark Aisthorpe – who took on the venue back in 2016 – and it recently became one of the few restaurants in Derbyshire to have been awarded three AA rosettes.

Mark has also spent time at a number of Michelin-starred restaurants across the UK, working for famous chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing.

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I have to admit that my experience when it comes to high-end dining is fairly minimal, and that was accompanied by an uncertainty of what to expect from my first trip to the Bulls Head.

The scallop was beautifully cooked.The scallop was beautifully cooked.
The scallop was beautifully cooked.

Any slight sense of trepidation, however, was soon alleviated. What struck me instantly as I entered the venue was the cosy, relaxed atmosphere inside what is a welcoming country pub. There was a real warmth to the Bulls Head, and it was so far from the clinical kind of experience that some might associate with fine dining.

The staff were friendly and their service was attentive. They were certainly knowledgeable and were more than happy to talk through the elements of each dish.

To start, we were served pre-canapés of fennel sausage and pork, sourced from Moss Valley Meats in North East Derbyshire – and Mark’s commitment to local produce and ingredients was set to become a running theme throughout the evening.

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The canapés followed shortly after, and the highlight for me was the chicken wings. The chicken wing had been partially deboned and was stuffed with black pudding, and came with a bbq sauce and sesame. Black pudding can be divisive but I’m a huge fan, and I thought its combination with the crispy batter and tender chicken was both creative and delicious.

The venison was my personal highlight.The venison was my personal highlight.
The venison was my personal highlight.

My girlfriend’s favourite was the savoury cheese and tomato profiteroles, made with tomatoes that had been preserved from the summer. From the canapés alone, the attention to detail for each dish was evident – and I only grew more impressed as the evening went on.

After the canapés, we were served with a sourdough bread, along with both cultured and marmite butter. The bread tasted remarkably fresh and came with a beautiful crust, and both butters were lovely.

We were then served with an onion that had been braised in ale, accompanied by crispy shallots, miso purée and a leek oil. This was a hearty, comforting dish – the kind of thing that is perfect for a cold winter's evening.

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The next dish was a hand dived king scallop, which had a beautiful char and – like everything else I was served – had been cooked to absolute perfection.

This plate of desserts was exceptional.This plate of desserts was exceptional.
This plate of desserts was exceptional.

One of the more inventive dishes that came out was Mark’s take on the classic pub staple of ham and egg. His version included ham hock ringed with wholegrain mustard, a sixty two degrees soft boiled egg yolk, Henderson’s Relish and hollandaise – topped with truffle and served with toasted brioche.

This was a skilful reimagination of a traditional dish, experimenting with different textures but creating something that still tasted excellent – with so much flavour packed into such a small pot.

It was my first time trying monkfish, and it was exceptional – the savoury carrot cake that accompanied it was yet another example of the creativity behind every dish, and this was beautifully plated as well.

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Perhaps my favourite dish of the evening was the venison, served with a celeriac purée, kale, elderberry ketchup, hen of the wood mushroom and a game jous. It was another expertly presented plate and the venison was remarkably tender – which paired brilliantly with the flavourful jous.

Mark preparing his creative take on a classic apple crumble.Mark preparing his creative take on a classic apple crumble.
Mark preparing his creative take on a classic apple crumble.

We then moved onto the desserts, starting with an apple crumble that was put together tableside by Mark. He used liquid nitrogen to create two different textures of Tahitian vanilla custard, served with apples and buckwheat crumble.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever associated apple crumble with art, but there was something visually impressive about watching the desert being constructed before you, with the smoke from the liquid nitrogen billowing out. It was so full of flavour as well – another reinvention of a classic dish that came together beautifully.

Joel Stubbs, the dessert chef that evening, then served a plate that included a chocolate mousse, flexi-chocolate, Pedro Ximenez, malt ice cream and an orange twirl with salted caramel.

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The mousse was rich and smooth, the texture of the flexi-chocolate was somewhat surprising but it tasted superb, along with the ice cream. I couldn’t recommend this highly enough for anyone out there with a sweet-tooth.

The petit fours that followed were the perfect end to a night of incredible food. There was chocolate, fudge and fruit pâte – each of which was delicious.

From speaking to Mark afterwards and hearing about the process of obtaining their ingredients, it was clear how passionate and knowledgeable he is – and how much effort goes into sourcing each part of the dishes that he creates.

The canapés were a great start to the evening.The canapés were a great start to the evening.
The canapés were a great start to the evening.
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It would be remiss of me not to mention Amie Foster, Ben Foster and Ryan Saddington. It is a great team that Mark has put together at the Bulls Head, and their service was of the highest standard throughout the evening.

After spending some two and a half hours dining there, I can say without doubt that the Bulls Head is a real gem – and there may not be many other culinary experiences of this calibre anywhere in Derbyshire.

If you want to sample ingredients of the highest quality, expertly prepared dishes and exceptionally warm hospitality, then it needs to be at the top of your list the next time you’re looking for somewhere to eat.

More information can be found at the Bulls Head’s website here.