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Melbourne, Derbyshire
01332 300542
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Out For Dinner At The Spirit Vaults In Melbourne

Published On Sunday 18 Feb 2024 by Sticky Beak
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The town of Melbourne, in South Derbyshire, is a really picturesque place, and it’s also where you’ll find The Spirit Vaults. Originally built in the 1700’s, the building began selling alcohol, named as The Spirit Vaults, but shortly after became known as The Blue Bell Vaults and then, later still, as The Blue Bell Inn. Fast forward over a century and the venue has undergone a massive transformation: as well as an on-site micro-brewery, there are a handful of en-suite rooms to stay in, a lively bar, and a 26-seat capacity restaurant.

His Nibs and I had kindly been invited along to sample the food and, having found a spot to park the jalopy in just down the road, walked up the quaint (if steep!) trio of well-worn stone steps into the bar area of The Spirit Vaults. A lovely person behind the bar gave us directions to the restaurant at the rear of the venue, and one of the serving team showed us to our table.

I must admit to not getting a good look at the pub space; it was absolutely throng, so I couldn’t really see the colour scheme of the seating etc. However, the restaurant was relatively quiet to the bar – though it was at about 90% capacity when we rocked up, so there was a good bubble of chatter. I couldn’t see any children dining, but other than that, all age groups were represented. Children are very welcome to dine at The Spirit Vaults though, and dogs are allowed in the bar area, where bar snacks are served.

The restaurant has a stylish country feel to it; think exposed brickwork, herringbone-laid wooden flooring, natural paint colours, and faux foliage and Hops suspended from the ceilings. You get the gist: comfy and relaxed. Wooden tables were partnered with either check-upholstered, free-standing chairs or a nut-brown toned banquette.

As we sat down, our server offered us water without needing to be asked, and then gave us a couple of minutes to decide what we’d like to drink: I opted for a glass of red Rioja and His Nibs had a pint of The Spirit Vaults’ own ale called Vaults Gold, a beautifully fruity minx. We declined nibbles, going straight to starters of Ham Hock Croquettes with Truffled Hollandaise, Lincolnshire Poacher Cheese, Garden Peas and Parsley (£9), for Him, and Beetroot and Dill-cured Salmon with Crème Fraiche, Cucumber, Apple and Beetroot Remoulade (£10), for me.

It wasn’t long before our server was carefully placing our starters in front of us, and they looked wonderful; everything was in its place, lots of colour had been used, and the portions were generous. The Man Bird admired his pair of large, meaty balls for a couple of seconds (steady on you filthy lot, I’m referring to the pair of Ham Hock Croquettes!), before cutting into them and inhaling the aromas that wafted up to his nostrils. Juicy shreds of pink Ham were marvellously deep in flavour and sublimely soft, which contrasted smartly with their crisp, golden outer coating. Where the Ham Hock had that soft salty edge, the Peas, in puree form, added a sweet balance on the palate. Truffled Hollandaise added a touch of indulgence to this clever starter, as well as a divinely silky, fragrant flavour.

My choice of starter was altogether lighter in the mouth, but it certainly wasn’t lacking in the flavour stakes! A quartet of thick slices of Salmon had been cut to highlight the ‘grain’ of the flesh, showing off the accents imparted by the Beetroot used to ‘cure’ it. Pretty, it most definitely was, and just as marvellous in the mouth. The Salmon released a superb richness and velvety oiliness over my tongue, complimented perfectly by the sharpness of the Apple Purée and Crème Fraiche. Chef had cut the Cucumber into long ribbons and swirled them artfully to provide visual appeal – I should add that they were lightly salted and soft in the mouth. Finely julienned Beetroot’s crunchiness was gently bound in the mustardy smooth texture of the remoulade itself.

One of the serving team came and checked that we were enjoying our starters, and took the opportunity to check we were ok for drinks, too. A little while later, two squeaky clean plates were being taken back to the kitchen and we awaited our main courses: Braised Beef Cheek from the Seasonal menu (£21) for me, and the Spirit Vaults Burger from the ‘Classics’ menu (£16) for The Man Bird. I also ordered a side of Tenderstem with Garlic Butter and toasted Almonds (£6) to accompany my Beef.

Whenever His Nibs sees Beef Cheek on a menu, his eyes light up, but I really fancied it on this occasion, so called dibs! The cheek meat was super-tender, falling apart with the merest pressure from my knife, and it literally melted on my tongue where it released all its rich flavour. Bone Marrow is enjoying its 15 minutes of fame, currently; many places are serving it in one guise or another, and it showed its face here in the mashed Potato. Already creamy, the potato was pimped up with gentle hints of nuttiness and a sweet-and-savoury combo, making it rather marvellous on the palate. I love Mushrooms, as you know, so I was totally smitten with the chopped medley that was served amongst the Cavelo Nero leaves. If I had one criticism of this dish, it would be that the Pancetta Fricassee was too salty for my personal liking; as I say though, this was my own preference.

Sometimes, the portions of sides can be a little wanting, so I’m happy to report that this definitely isn’t the case at Melbourne’s Spirit Vaults. A sizeable bowl housed many pieces of Tenderstem Broccoli, all cooked to al-dente perfection and glossed like supermodels in Garlic Butter. Further crunch came via the plentiful toasted Almond slices, making this a sensorial delight in the mouth.

Across the table, I could see The Man Bird puzzling as to how exactly he was going to tackle the gargantuan burger in front of him! As if a 6oz Beef patty wasn’t satisfying enough, the Spirit Vaults team slaps a thick layer of sticky Pulled Pork on it and then smothers it all with tangy Cheddar Rarebit – talk about flavour central! Classic burger companions of crisp Gem Lettuce, sliced fresh Tomato, sour Gherkins and zippy burger sauce all got piled in, too; as you can imagine, it was quite the sight.

Creamy Coleslaw was kept apart from the burger – music to the ears of those who don’t like ‘wet’ food touching ‘dry’ food, I’m sure. Not only was it cool, it was crunchy and colourful, too, and His Nibs (surprisingly) ate it all. Balancing out the meaty element was a mixed, dressed salad comprised of leaves, Cucumber, cherry Tomatoes and sliced Red Onion. Crisp fries were in a separate pot and were beautifully hot; there’s nothing worse, when you’ve got a superstar burger, than their side-kick (the fries) letting the side down by being soggy and insipid, is there? Yet again, Chef laughs in the face of such rookie errors, sending out flavoursome spuds that are hot and crispy on the outside and soft in the centre – get in!

Yet again, check-backs had been done whilst we were merrily chomping away and the lovely young lass that came to clear away our plates was dead chuffed when we told her how thrilled we’d been with the food. Smiling widely, she said that she’d pass on the comments to Chef and his team.
If we’d been listening to our inner, ’common sense’ voices - which we really should have done, but, hey, why change the habit of a lifetime?! -  we would’ve swerved pudding. You all know how the story goes...we ordered Cherry and White Chocolate Trifle and Salted Caramel Tart, both £9.50. As with the rest of our meal, we didn’t have overly long to wait for our sweets to arrive; no mean feat, given how busy the restaurant was!

I do love a Trifle, and was intrigued by the combination of Cherry and White Chocolate. The Spirit Vaults kitchen serves this iconic British dessert in a low, round tumbler glass, and I smiled as I took in the three distinct layers. With no decorum at all, I delved into the depths of the glass with my spoon, smiling as that infamous squelch issued forth; I mean, is it even a proper Trifle if it doesn’t trump at you?? At the bottom of the glass was the White Chocolate Custard and, oh-my-word, how flippin’ indulgent was this?! Wickedly unctuous, this clung to my tongue and cheeks, allowing me to fully appreciate its creamy mellowness. Rather than following convention and leaving the fruit and sponge separate, Chef had macerated the Cherries and combined them with the Vanilla Sponge to form a firm-ish layer that contrasted with the softer layers of custard and cream excellently. My taste buds enjoyed the cleaner notes of the fruit and, without the inclusion of Cherries, this dessert could easily have been a one-trick pony...yet another pit-fall Chef skilfully dodged. Whipped Cream is Whipped Cream, but it was pimped up by the topping of White Chocolate pieces that crowned it; the one thing I thought was missing was, literally, the Cherry-on-top! A smidge more colour would’ve elevated this dessert just that perfect amount; and who doesn’t love an extra Cherry? 

The Man Bird is partial to Salted Caramel, which is just as well, given the sheer amount of thick, gooey Caramel that topped the buttery pastry base! Chef had got the pastry absolutely spot-on; this buttery beauty was firm enough not to disintegrate when cut into, but not crumbly to the point of falling apart when eaten. The Salted Caramel (rather unusually) had a Brulée top; a proper bobby dazzler it was as well, producing a marvellous sound as His Nibs smacked it with his spoon. A perfect balance of sweetness with a salty periphery, the Caramel charmed The Man Bird, leaving him waxing lyrical about its beautiful flavour. Pieces of sweet Honeycomb added a blast of crunch which, given the final element of this dessert was Ice Cream, was very much needed. Ah, yes, the Ice Cream: not just your average bear! Ice Cream is creamy in the mouth (there’s a clue in its name, after all!), but this was.just.beyond.  If you could fall in love with a foodstuff, His Nibs would’ve gone heads-over-heels!!!

What a treasure of a meal this had been; definitely DeLorean worthy! Note-worthy, too, was the level of service we’d received; on a busy Saturday night, with a couple of larger groups in, the team never wavered in their professionalism and efficacy. I was pleased to see that several members of the serving team came out in quick succession with the larger parties, ensuring that the dreaded scenario of the first person to get served was finishing their meal as the last person gets theirs was avoided. Props where they’re due, guys!!

Hot Wings very happily given to this fab Melbourne venue; The Man Bird and I had a superb time with you. For more information about food, accommodation, and the micro-brewery visit the website www.thespiritvaults.co.uk To book a table or a room, phone the team on 01332 300542.

The Spirit Vaults is open, serving food, 7-days-a-week. Monday-Thursday the venue is open 11am-10.30pm, Friday and Saturday 11am-11.30pm and Sunday 11am-8.30pm. On Sunday, the food service is Noon-5pm; other than that, lunch is from Noon-3pm, Dinner is 5.30pm-9pm, and Bar Snacks are available from Noon-9pm.

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