EATING FOR BRITAIN: A SHROPSHIRE LAD
The night after our Balti fest, Stuart, James and I spent the night at The Hundred House, a small and entirely charming country house hotel in Ironbridge close to Telford, which Stuart’s family has been running for nearly thirty years. The rooms were warm and comfortable if ever so slightly eccentric and I was interested to notice that my abode for the night had its own swing. No one told me that it was that kind of hotel.
Most impressive of all however was the hotel’s kitchen garden from where nearly all of its produce was taken by Stuart to use in his daily menu. Stuart trained under Rowley Leigh at Kensington Place and the next morning he treated James and myself to a “Shropshire breakfast” before we headed out to on the food trail James had laid out ahead of us. Superb bacon, meaty sausages, gently scrambled eggs and, best of all, three types of new season asparagus.
Fuelled by our breakfast James pointed the car towards the foodie Mecaa that is Ludlow and our first stop, The Ludlow food Centre, a new local food store owned and run by The Earl of Plymouth (er, I think)
It was an interesting if slightly sterile environment for highlighting food products from the surrounding regions of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Wales, but it did give James and myself the chance to meet up with Catherine Moran who takes advantage of the kitchen space at The Food Centre to run her award winning dessert company, Sweet Stuff Low, The Observer Food Monthly’s Producer of The Year 2008. It’s good stuff and we were particularly taken with a superb lemon possett. Well worth checking out on Catherine’s website.
A few years ago with the move of Hibiscus to London and the change of hands of The Merchant House, Ludlow began to lose its lustre and its allure to the list tickers of the dining world. But, I am pleased to see that it is already bouncing back as was evidenced by our lunch at La Becasse in the space that was formerly Hibiscus.
After Claude moved out, Alan, Murchison, moved in and, butting against the trend avoided the obvious route of opening a casual restaurant to compliment his Michelin starred L’Ortolan and set his sights on gaining another star for this new venture.
He placed young star chef, Will Holland in charge and earlier this year the efforts of all involved were recognised when they received their first Michelin accolade. Before lunch, James and I sat in the small courtyard of the restaurant with Will as he talked with considerable passion about the quality of ingredients he was able to source and, music to my ears, although he is keen to source locally, he does that only when he is sure it will not impact on quality.
Will, not yet thirty, confounded my views of most young chefs usually so keen to show all they know on each plate and when he began to enthuse about the quality of a side of lamb that was just being delivered as we sat there, I suspected that lunch would be well worth the slightly unpleasant drive through twist and turns of the Shropshire countryside.
I can’t offer a proper review of our meal, for two reasons, the first being that we were the guests of the chef and the second being that I write this in NYC and I am jet lagged and so knackered from my book tour that I struggle to recall every dish. I can however say, with hand on heart that the £26 three course set lunch must be one of the great bargains in UK fine dining.
The standout dishes included a spot on terrine of pig’s head with small rings of crisp squid and slivers of deep fried pig’s ear, slices of rare Herefordshire beef with more new season asparagus and dainty little beignets filled with sharp Shropshire Blue cheese and desserts of Rhubarb mouse and chocolate tart with poached golden plums
Will may be young chef, but our meal was the stuff of a serious operator and a serious team at work and on this showing, it wont be long before Hibiscus is just a fuzzy memory in Ludlow and La Becasse is on every food tourists “must visit” list.