This time of year can be risky to dine out, with Mother Nature serving up a polar-blast cocktail of snow, sleet, ice and gales in winters gone by.
It’s a bit like Russian roulette picking a day to venture from home and find that perfect place to eat.
My companion and I backed a winner when we followed a well-beaten path to Bakewell where there were so many eateries to choose from that we could have stayed there for a week and not dined in the same place twice.
On the streets were billboards advertising pub grub at two meals for a tenner (and less) at lunchtime while upmarket restaurants were offering fixed-price three-course midday meals from £10.95 to £15.
A bitterly-cold gust blew us to the doorway of the aptly named award-winning bistro Le Mistral, which is named after the fierce wind which hits France.
Well-stocked wine racks, handwritten specials boards, dark wood-panelled walls topped with whitewashed roughly-hewn stone gave the restaurant a rustic feel, creating a relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere in which to graze on Gallic cuisine.
I use the word graze because we enjoyed a rare leisurely meal, just like our French friends do frequently across the Channel. There was no pressure to vacate our table for another sitting or because the waiters wanted to clear up after us.
The lunchtime service was impeccable, with attentive staff responding quickly to our every need and returning with answers from chef to questions about the ingredients of each course.
Most of our queries focused on the herbs used in our dishes. Dill, tarragon and chives complemented the salmon in the fishcake starter (£5.50) which my partner said was the best he’d tasted.
For mains, he chose the restaurant’s signature dish, boeuf bourguignon (£11.90). This succulent melt-in-the-mouth medley of British beef, smoked belly pork, baby onions and mushrooms in a thick wine sauce went down as well as the accompanying bottle of house red, a 12.5% Carignan Merlot (£14.20). However, the garlicky mash soaked up the rich sauce before my partner had time to savour it and perhaps the eaterie’s tasty bread would have been a better accompaniment.
For dessert, my dining companion chose a winter berry soup (£4.50), a deep, dark concoction of seasonal fruit floating in cinnamon-infused jus with a side serving of vanilla ice cream, which was the high spot of his meal.
I opted for the fixed-price lunch menu at £10.90, choosing French onion soup for my starter. Tasty and tangy, with a hint of tarragon, and topped with a Swiss cheese crouton, it was a little thin in consistency and could have done with a bit more onion.
A chargrilled rump steak (which cost an extra £4) came just as I had ordered it, well done on the outside and pink in the middle. Accompaniments included a miniature gravy boat of peppercorns floating in a creamy sauce to drizzle on the steak, the skinniest pommes frites (chips) and a small serving of salad.
Piece de resistance was my choice of dessert – a small slice of tarte au citron, which truly was a taste sensation. Melt in the mouth pastry, zingy curd to set those tastebuds tingling and the thinnest glaze of caramelised sugar on top which exploded when it came into contact with my tongue.
We’d had our fill, then came the bill – £53.70 for two three-course meals and drinks.
For the first time, we left town without buying the obligatory Bakewell pudding… now we have two good reasons to go back there.
RATING: Four stars
Le Mistral, Bridge Street, Bakewell
Contact: (01629) 810077 or www.lemistral.co.uk.
Opening times: Monday to Sunday, food served from midday to 9.30pm.