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'Can I offer you a Twiglet while you're waiting?' Not in this Green Room you can't: Belgian endives are hovering in the wings
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It would be a fair exchange. For every chef who leaves a restaurant kitchen to clown around in a television studio, a savvy employee could give up making programmes and open a restaurant. Then there would be more places as pleasant to eat as The Green Room. The early-retirement escape route is lined with tearooms, guest houses and coffee-cum-bookshops, as corporate drop-outs turn their hand to hospitality, and a couple of months ago, Donna Goddard, a former director from Central News, opened this restaurant in Belper.

It would be a fair exchange. For every chef who leaves a restaurant kitchen to clown around in a television studio, a savvy employee could give up making programmes and open a restaurant. Then there would be more places as pleasant to eat as The Green Room. The early-retirement escape route is lined with tearooms, guest houses and coffee-cum-bookshops, as corporate drop-outs turn their hand to hospitality, and a couple of months ago, Donna Goddard, a former director from Central News, opened this restaurant in Belper.

She's called it The Green Room after "the exclusive area reserved in TV studios for VIPs and celebrities to enjoy the highest standards of hospitality and relaxation" - also known as being plied with free drinks and Twiglets before going out in front of the cameras.

Being neither a VIP nor a celebrity, the only time I've ever appeared live(ish) in a television studio, I was given a voucher for breakfast in the canteen.

Belper, near Nottingham and nearer Derby, with its unfortunate ring of indigestion, is not especially remarkable or beautiful, but has plenty going for it. In the High Street, there's a butcher, greengrocer, baker, mini-Woolworth and even a soulful accordion player. It spreads for some way in one direction, overlooks the Derwent Valley more scenically in the other, and trains even stop there.

And now there's The Green Room. Perhaps at last I could mingle with the stars of stage (the Derby Playhouse) and screen (from the Carlton studios in Nottingham, whence came the well-connected patron).

The room is actually yellow and extends across bare floorboards to French windows at the far end, where outside, a blossom tree had snowed pink petals onto the patio. On a sunny Friday lunchtime, it looked far more inviting than a chat-show sofa.

The lunch menu is not extensive, but what it lacks in scope is made up for with attendant details, enthusiastically endorsed by one friendly member of staff. A bowl of lime-and-coriander marinaded olives came with complementary tapenaded rounds of toast, raisin-and-walnut or white rolls, with a warning (and recommendation) that they came hot from the oven. Excepting a strawberry shortcake and a chocolate bread-and-butter pudding, three of us tried everything there was to eat that day.

In contrast to the metropolitan brasserie, where all bases are covered and regions and seasons mean nothing, this short menu effectively imprinted one man's DNA on a limited range of well-selected ingredients. As with the strawberries, impatience for spring to start meant some apparently English ingredients may have jumped our climatic gun and come from further afield. Jersey Royals would have been an obvious choice of produce for Kevin John Broome to bring with him from the Channel Island where he ran his own Michelin-starred restaurant, but less regal new potatoes were much in evidence. And he's found someone to supply him with seemingly unlimited quantities of leaves - rocket, baby chard, spinach, herbs and endive - which, unlike frilly lollo rosso and iceberg, play their part in giving dishes a fresh, seasonal feel.

Admittedly they turned up again and again, but when stuff is in good nick and in the right place at the right time of year, it's a pleasure to come across it more than once.

There was certainly plenty of thyme in place. Mushroom-and-thyme soup blended the fungi and herbs wonderfully, and came with a swirl of cream and handful of croutons in an enormous shallow bowl. Chefs with their eyes on the stars seem to use oversized crockery to show gravity, but here it was more generous than self-conscious.

A good dollop of fresh crabmeat, the ratio of brown to white meat just about right, on a nicely bitter-and-sweet salad of Belgian endive and apple in a creamy dressing, with another layer of green leaves underneath, was a refreshing rendition of a seafood cocktail. And the third starter, an egg, bacon and rocket salad also showed what to expect from now on: simple, fresh ingredients combined to good effect. A stylised sprinkling of parmesan around the edge of this plate, followed by a squiggle of olive oil and a dribble of balsamic vinegar decorating main courses didn't distract from the unfussy central propositions.

Chicken wrapped in Parma ham, with a subcutaneous layer of thyme, was as a result really well flavoured. The very yellow fowl didn't need much help, but when it comes to chicken, any extra effort is appreciated. It came on a tomato risotto redolent of the fruit. Admittedly, you'd have guessed from the texture of the rice that it hadn't been cooked by an Italian - but then the aim here isn't to deceive you into believing you're anywhere other than England. The case for salmon, fashionably called a confit, which meant it wasn't dry or dull, was strengthened by what seemed to be a meat-stock and balsamic sauce, although it was described as basil jus. With it were fresh peas (darker colour, tougher skins than frozen), green beans, lightly sautéed new potatoes, and yes, fresh thyme, too. The third main course (vegetarians who hadn't phoned ahead would have been stuck with just soup) was supposed to be chargrilled fish of the day on a herb salad. This translated into a fillet of smoked haddock on a mix of Belgian endive, too much red onion and boiled baby spuds.

As an alternative to pudding, the cheese plate showed that local produce isn't always best. Sage Derby may be made in a creamery in the county, but the wedge of cheese marbled with a shade of green far brighter than any sage I've ever seen had been cut from a shrink-wrapped block. Red Windsor is another cheese whose distinctive colour now seems to be achieved by cheating. At least the Stilton was genuinely blue-blooded.

Cheesemaking may be a lost craft in these parts, but pastry-making is not. Bakewell, famed for its tarts, isn't far away, and our two puddings put unexpected art into other tarts. A white chocolate and fudge "gateau" comprised lovely, buttery pastry with an alternately creamy and fudgy but not tooth-punishingly sweet filling. Apple and proper egg custard, in similarly splendid pastry, inverted traditional apple pie deliciously.

At £20 a head, The Green Room was indeed hospitable and relaxing - and celebrity-free. Let's hope the chef isn't tempted away by the bright lights of TV.

The Green Room, 61 King Street, Belper, Derbyshire (01773 828800). Wed-Sat 11.30am -2.30pm, 7-10pm, Sun 11.30am-2.30pm. Lunch: £8 starter and pudding; £12.50 two courses incl. main; £15.50 three courses. Dinner £25. Major cards. Disabled access

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