Reviewer's rating ***** Sharon Walters enjoys a summer evening of fine dining at a restored Georgian venue.
Reviewer's rating ***** I have lived in south Shropshire for quite a few years - some would say for far too long, writes Sharon Walters - and remember Fishmore Hall at Ludlow first as a run down school and then for many years as a derelict shell.
And that was a pity because it had obviously once been a distinguished Georgian house with stunning views over countryside towards the Clee Hills.
It had been viewed by a number of people but none had dipped their hands into their pockets - too much of a major project for many.
Thankfully Laura Penman turned up in October 2007 and immediately knew it would be the place to set up her dream - a luxurious boutique hotel with fine food.
And so she has with 15 luxurious contemporary bedrooms and designer bathrooms.
So what of the fine dining?
There is no other way to describe it other than as exquisite food from young head chef, David Jaram, and his team, using ingredients sourced from local producers in the Shropshire Marches.
We dined on a pleasant evening and sat out on the terrace enjoying delightful views while choosing from the menu - two courses for £38.50 or three courses for £46.50.
Nibbling on the most fragrant canapés was an impressive start to the experience. They included tiny cottage pies with buttery pastry and slightly spicy meat which, to be honest, I could quite easily have enjoyed in larger portions with some seasonal vegetables as a main course. Not quite Fishmore a la carte style but they would make a perfect lunch. And so into the stylish dining room for one of the best meals I have eaten in the past year - and that includes three Michelin-starred enterprises.
A choice of freshly-made bread arrived including a rosemary and a tomato and both were top quality. Good food is often spoiled by serving up inferior bread. If you can't or won't make it yourself then spend a little more at the bakery!
I had Foie Gras which arrived in five formats including a seared sliver of crisp on the outside but pink on the inside. Perfect.
Neil had seared scallops which arrived with smoked bacon, caramel and cauliflower. He is very picky about his scallops (unlike his vegetables which he can take or leave) and will leave them if overcooked. These had been briefly introduced to hot oil in a pan and then left to stand for a couple of minutes. The result was silence from the other side of the table as he savoured every mouthful.
Next for me was grilled lemon sole served with watercress, avocado and spring onion in a beurre noisette. I hate the saying 'picture on a plate' but it was and the fresh tastes tantalised my palate into sheer delight.
Poached and roasted spring chicken was Neil's choice. Served with broad beans (and yes the veggie hater did eat them!), sautéed girolles and Sarladaise potatoes on a Madeira jus, he was justifiably impressed.
A small interlude was called for before pudding to gather our taste buds back and make them stand to order for the next assault.
Apple crumble soufflé and custard was my choice and oh what a dish. Light as air soufflé and chunks of sweet apple as you dug down to the bottom of the dish and silky smooth custard in the creme anglaise-style.
Praline mousse was the other choice which came with honeycomb and milk ice cream. Only the slightest bit was left on the plate, not bad for someone who had really not wanted a pudding.
And then there were the delicious taster courses in between. And I am sorry I just don't have enough space to describe them to whet your appetites even further.
You don't have to spend a fortune on a bottle of wine and please go for the coffee and petit fours. If you really don't have space for the sweeties, take them home to enjoy.
Fishmore Hall has already won several awards and recently was runner-up in the Sunday Times Best Value Rural Hotel UK 2010.
I have just voted for it in my top restaurants for a prestigious eating guide even though I had just one small gripe about the visit.
On the table next to us was a journalist who was obviously doing a review which the hotel knew about. Our service suffered slightly at their preferential treatment (wine not topped up when it should be and the like).
I was there also doing a review but anonymously and paying the bill. You really should treat all customers exactly the same.
Fishmore Hall, Fishmore Road, Ludlow SY8 3DP
Tel: 01584 875148
Two courses for £38.50 or three courses for £46.50
Cornish crab & Coriander salad - tempura soft shell crab, coconut & lime and caviar; Quail with truffle gnocchi, fried egg and consommé
Turbot served with gem lettuce, oxtail cannelloni and grilotes; Roast loin of pork - sweet potato, sticky belly pork and maple syrup
Chocolate fondant with blood orange sorbet; Rhubarb - poached & jelly with ginger ice cream
Very formal surroundings yet relaxed at the same time
Full disabled facilities