Country house hotel in Shropshire
Any excuse to revisit Ludlow is fine by me. With its large ruined castle, picturesque streets and strong foodie heritage, this Shropshire market town ticks all my boxes for a quintessentially English weekend, even if it is within shouting distance of the Welsh border. The rolling Shropshire hills are a paradise for walkers and the area has more than its fair share of heritage attractions within an hour’s scenic drive.
So the chance to overnight at Fishmore Hall, a contemporary boutique hotel just outside Ludlow was not to be missed. Especially with the added inducement of dinner cooked by Chef Andrew Birch. Awarded 3 AA Rosettes for his exceptional cuisine, Andrew will be taking part in the Great British Menu, in an episode to be transmitted on 12 September.
Built as a private house in 1810, Fishmore Hall was turned into a school during World War II, but the property was derelict when Laura Penman bought it in 2007. In less than six months, she had transformed it into a stylish hotel with 15 character bedrooms ranging from Standard through Superior and Executive to Luxury. Among the hotel’s many awards are Shropshire Chamber Leisure and Tourism Business of the Year in 2011.
Standing beside a country road, Fishmore Hall is surrounded by farmland, and our spacious bedroom offered views to the hills across a field of glorious Longhorn cattle. Neutral walls were offset by highlights in teal blue, brown and black, making for a stylish and relaxing atmosphere. An investigation of the welcome tray revealed a wide selection of organic teas and coffee, with fresh milk in the mini bar rather than the dreaded long life version. There’s complimentary bottled water too and home-made biscuits are available on request. WiFi is free and – oh great joy – easily accessed without a password. And the vast Hypnos bed promised a great night’s sleep.
A large bath for me, a rainfall shower for my husband, made us both happy. I’m always pleased to see Molton Brown toiletries but would also have liked a small bar of soap – not everyone likes slippery shower gel! There was more delight from me at the magnifying mirror, although with no natural light in the bathroom, the lighting around the mirror actually made it quite difficult to see. Wonky mascara yet again. But they’re small niggles.
Gastronomic dinner is served in Forelles restaurant except on Sunday evening when the brasserie menu only is available. A light, bright conservatory-style room, Forelles looks towards Clee Hill and takes its name from a variety of pear which grows in the hotel garden.
The restaurant is open to non-residents so I’d advise booking your table at the same time as your room to avoid disappointment. And you would be disappointed if you didn’t get to eat here. We browsed the menu over a drink in the small bar and had to ask the friendly young staff for help with the odd unfamiliar ingredient or spice. But equally because the description gives no hint as to how the list of ingredients will be combined. Do I need to order potatoes or a side dish, I asked. No – each dish is complete. And, we soon discovered, also a work of art.
Tiny canapes are followed by an amuse-bouche before we even get to the first of our three courses. When they come, I am captivated by the way Andrew has transformed an apparently simply list of ingredients – most of them locally sourced – into dishes that are both beautiful to look at and delicious to eat. I start with a delicate combination of shredded crab, caviar and sweetcorn; followed by sweet flaky hake with morelles and mussels. For dessert, the most sublime salted caramel fondant, liquid gold pouring from the thin sponge and served with cider sorbet and creme fraiche. Oh and did I mention the tiny pot of lemon posset after the main course to cleanse the palate? Perfectly balanced.
There is a seasonal menu with five or six choices and also 6 or 8 course tasting menus. All that artistry in the kitchen doesn’t come cheap – but Andrew has won a clutch of awards including Welsh Chef of the Year in 2004 and Young Chef Apprentice of both Britain and Europe in 2005. When he does his thing on the Great British Menu, he’ll be representing Wales.
There are various packages detailed on the website including DBB, Mid-week Dining Offer, Walking Break and a Gourmet Package. Check the site for the up-to-date seasonal rates.
The room folder tempts you to explore the surrounding area with information on attractions such as Acton Scott, location for the TV series ‘The Victorian Farm’; beautiful Stokesay Castle (English Heritage); the Severn Valley Railway; and the National Trust countryside around Carding Mill Valley and the Long Mynd. A delightful corner of England and a delightful base from which to enjoy it.
Shropshire SY8 3DP