Nestled in the Torrs Ravine in the middle of New Mills you’ll find Torr Vale Mill, a grade II-listed former cotton mill that has recently entered a new chapter of its long and storied life. Originally built in the 1780s, it is positioned in the center of the Derbyshire town at the bottom of a dramatic 40-metre deep gorge, and is the place where two rivers – the Sett and Goyt – meet.
Accessible via the Millennium Walkway, a 175-yard aerial walkway spanning this cliffside above the Goyt and linking to the Torr Riverside Park, its heritage cannot be ignored and thankfully, in recent years, it has been lovingly restored back to life by the Cunningham family . Retaining the industrial architecture of the original structure, you can still expect to see barrel vaulted ceilings, exposed stone walls, and cast iron columns at every turn.
While the many years of textile production are now firmly behind it, the mill has not stopped being a hive of activity. Today, its various buildings – some of which were built in the 1800s – provide a home for what has become a hugely popular food and drink hub.
At the heart of this is The Shrub Club, a bar and restaurant specializing in unique shrub and sherbet cocktails. Established by Matthew Hurst and his wife in late 2019, the concept was originally intended to be focused around the bar, but due to the pandemic it has had to adapt to the changing times.
“I was working as a brand rep for a national wholesaler and my wife was a music teacher,” explains Matthew, The Shrub Club’s founder and head chef. “We were looking for offices, which we found here because we were looking for a change of use, and it turns out there was a leisure unit here. It was a bit of a risk as it was a whitewash shell, there was electric to the building, water and heat, but nothing else.
“But, we decided to go for it and we were open for exactly three months and then on March 20, 2020 we closed the doors. When restrictions eased we did ‘Eat Out to Help Out’, which was absolutely insane and we became a table-service restaurant, which was never really what we intended to do – we wanted to be a bar that over time focused on local ingredients. ”
While the concept feels new and innovative, it is very much rooted in the past, paying homage to the textile operation that resided here before it. Occupying the space where the first mill was built in 1798, you’ll still find a cotton bale shoot in the garden, while a copy of Jerry Thomas’ Bar-tenders Guide or How to Mix Drinks – originally printed in 1862 – sits proudly on a shelf behind the bar.
Come for the history, but stay for the cocktails, which in The Shrub Club’s case are both creative and locally driven. Many are, as the name suggests, made with or incorporate shrubs – essentially sugar, vinegar and fruit – or sherbets, a citrus-based cordial made up of juice, sugar and the peel of the fruit. Tinctures also feature heavily and bring out the flavor of the herbs and spices in the alcohol.
The bar’s take on the Pornstar Martini, which is created for us by Bar Supervisor Sam Morris, comes with a full glass of prosecco, and unlike many versions you’ll find elsewhere, not too sweet. Meanwhile, Forest of Bees provides a creative take on the classic Prohibition era cocktail the Bees Knees and encompasses Earl Gray Forest Gin, honey syrup, the bars’ homemade lemon sherbet and lemon juice.
Cornmilyne Old Fashioned celebrates the town’s strong industrial past using an alchemic blend of bison grass vodka, bitters, dill seed tincture and Nixta Corn liquor, while a Swizz Fizz, a new, soon-to-appear tipple pays homage to the sweet maker Swizzels, which is based on a mill just down the road. Above all else though, Matthew’s passion for local ingredients and homemade products really shines through.
“Part of our plan was always about products and searching for those locally,” he says. “Our coffee comes from Peak Bean roastery, which is just up the road in Furness Vale, the majority of our draft beer comes from Torrside Brewery, which is about 500 meters away; and we hook up with as many local spirit producers as possible, like White Peak Distillery in Matlock, they do wonderful gin and whiskey.”
While it has been a struggle for the business to operate during lockdown, it has proven to be both resilient and resourceful. “We’ve reinvented ourselves as a table service restaurant, as a takeaway coffee shop, as a pizzeria and now finally back to where we wanted to be – an informal bar and restaurant, with everything centered around the bar.
“Whatever we were going to do, we always wanted it to be transportive, somewhere you come into and you forget about everything else. We have a lot of people who say, ‘I only came for one and it’s eight hours later’”.
Much like the drinks offering, food at The Shrub Club is deeply connected to the locale. Smash burgers – two patties smashed into the griddle for maximum crust – are made using Aberdeen Angus Flank Steak sourced from cattle in High Peak by Edwin Wild & Son of Whaley Bridge, while the extra long fermented sourdough for the calzone is sourced from local baker Rick Cowburn-on-High Lane.
“In terms of the food, we get our eggs from Disley, meat from a butcher in Whaley Bridge, our food wholesaler is based in Buxton and our drinks wholesaler is in Manchester,” explains Matthew. “We’re always doing our level best, plus we make as many things as possible ourselves utilizing fresh ingredients.”
While there’s more than enough to go out at The Shrub Club, just over the way visitors will also find The Cheese Wheel, which sells cheese, beer, wine and Hope Valley ice-creams, in varieties including blackberry, clotted cream, whiskey and ginger . Opened by former educators Suzy Alderson and her partner Marc Booker in late summer 2020, the shop boasts hundreds of cheeses made by small-scale dairy farmers, more than 200 Belgian beers, plus beers sourced from Torrside, Buxton, Thornbridge and Redwillow breweries.
While both businesses have felt the effects of the pandemic, the ushering in of the spring season has seen many flock to the riverside destination. Sitting 100 feet below ground level at its lowest point, The Torrs may be slightly unusual location for a food and drink hub, yet it’s history, coupled with these new and exciting dining options, makes it all the more worth a visit.
Torr Vale Mill, Torrvale Rd, High Peak SK22 3HS
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