If I had read some of the on line reviews of the Bull at Wimborne St Giles before booking, I might have abandoned the idea of a weekend break there. That would have been a mistake – if only because it passed my scrambled egg test.
As a rule I try to avoid checking out reactions on TripAdvisor and elsewhere, preferring to make up my own mind. But sometimes the temptation to click on them is hard to resist. Reviews of the Bull, it must be stressed, were overwhelmingly favourable, but the few that weren't were worryingly negative. Complaints mentioned a small room, inadequate towels, unexciting food and the high price of wines. None of them turned out to be justified.
The Bull is described as a pub with rooms, though restaurant might be more accurate. Wimborne St. Giles is a quiet village on the Shaftesbury estate in East Dorset. It had been a pub but Mark Thornton, who bought and reopened it three years ago, says it was in a pretty woeful state. It still has a bar, with three draught beers – including the excellent WSG – brewed by the Wiltshire based Keystone Brewery. "Specially named for us" says the barman. Otherwise the ground floor is given over to eating – with decently spaced, well used tables on a plain wooden floor and a menu which has earned a Bib Gourmand from Michelin – awarded for good cooking at reasonable prices.
My wife found her fishcake starter unexceptional but our mains of grey mullet fillet on crayfish, pea and fennel risotto was beyond reproach. On the second night it was a delicate beignet of gruyere and chives with sauteed wild mushrooms, followed by a robust, intensely flavoured ham and leek pie, with broccoli and carrots perfectly cooked. On one evening I plumped for the locally made ice cream, which was delicious. Wines were far from over priced, the choice was interesting and almost all were available by the glass.
Our room was fairly small but comfortable. Fittings are from interiors specialist India Jane, owned by Mark's wife, Roxy. There were plenty of plump pillows, the coffee and tea maker produced excellent espresso, there was mineral water and a flat screen TV, a jar of home made biscuits – and the towels were plenty large enough.
In Wimborne Minster we lingered, listening to a choir rehearse sacred music, marvelling at the harmonies. We walked in the gentle Dorset hills, through bare ploughed fields flecked with flint, where gulls wheeled and buzzards hunted, picking our way around muddy hazards and negotiating stiles made slithery by Autumn's heavy downpours. Dark clouds threatened but the rain held off until we were in sight of our parked car. From the hotel we strolled to the village church, a restoration, you might say, of a restoration. The church was there for a long time before1887, when it was remodelled at the behest of Harriet, widow of the 8th Earl, in his memory. But it dates in its present guise only since 1908, when it was rebuilt after a major fire. Its monuments include the 1627 Jacobean Tomb of an early family scion, Sir Anthony Ashley, said to have been the first to grow cabbages in England, with his wife and kneeling daughter, and that to the 7th Earl, who championed the cause of destitute children, was president of the YMCA and the Ragged School Union – later the Shaftesbury Society – and was a founder of the Great Ormond Street hospital.
The key question after such a weekend break is whether the hotel merits a return visit. We could nitpick about a couple of negatives – check in is impossible between 3pm and 6pm, there weren't enough hangers in the wardrobe, it would have been nice, given the time of year, to have seen some game on the menu – and the promised pastries for breakfast materialised on only one of our two mornings. But the Bull the answer to the question was a resounding yes. Besides, I like to think my scrambled eggs are the finest in the universe, so I am hyper critical of anyone else's. In too many hotels they are little more than solid bits of omelette. The Bull's, served on lovely toast were light and fluffy. Not quite as good a mine – but close enough.
The bill for two, including half board, pre-dinner drinks and wine – but excluding service – came to £416.70.
The Bull Inn
Wimborne St Giles|