Shropshire Star

Dinham Hall, Ludlow - food review

I guess most of you will know the phrase ‘three strikes and you’re out’.

One of the delicious desserts

A phrase that has its origins in baseball back in the 1940s and was used by Bill Clinton in his 1994 State of the Union Address referencing violent crime – commit a third violent crime and he promised the offender would be put away for good. ‘Three strikes and you’re out’, he warned.

Well I’m a little harsher than that with reference to bad eating experiences. With me it’s two strikes and you’re out. I’ll take one disappointing meal and will always go back a second time to give a restaurant another chance. But a second unfortunate culinary disaster and that’s it for me. Unless the restaurant makes an effort to apologise – waiving the charge for a course you can’t eat and offering a free drink. Because let’s face it no-one’s perfect.

That’s why I crossed dining out at the beautiful Dinham Hall in Ludlow off my list a few years ago. I took two dear friends there for a celebratory meal and it was, in the words of Craig Revel Horwood, a disaster darling. Two mains were inedible including a fish dish that you could smell was off even before it got into the dining room; the table was scruffy and dirty, and I think the waiting staff had been grabbed off the street just that day and thrown in at the deep end. I could go on but I think that’s enough of that experience.

Then I took a friend there a few months later to see if things had improved. Well, the food was just about palatable but nothing else was. And it was expensive. So, I crossed Dinham Hall off the list.

And that was a shame because the hotel is a charming listed building in a perfect spot close to Ludlow’s historic castle and with fabulous views from its terrace.

So it was with some delight that I heard one of my favourite chefs, who was in charge of the kitchens almost 20 years ago when it was my top spot to eat in town, was returning to Dinham and revamping the eating experience with a French-style bistro theme.

I have followed Frenchman Olivier Bossut in his journey since those days and even hired him to cook dinner at my home for a special birthday party. And what a night that was!

But before I tell you of my most recent dining experience, Olivier did not know I was in the restaurant. I booked under another name and there was no special treatment for me.

First impressions were good, the restaurant has been made more welcoming, there is now white linen on the tables, glasses and cutlery are clean and the decor was warmer. You can have a full-on eating experience in the restaurant or even sit in the bar to have a light meal. And the bar itself has well-laid tables and a separate entrance off the street which means you don’t have to go through the main hotel reception. More welcoming again.

Elliott’s French Bistro at Dinham Hall is a pure delight – it’s a world away to its last incarnation.

Choosing what to eat was difficult, all the offerings were very tempting and knowing Olivier’s skill, each dish promised so much.

Starter for me was decided by the influence of one of my favourite foods, fig. Délice de Bourgogne cheese tartlet, with pickled vegetables and fig coulis. The pastry was perfect and the filling was light and creamy – it was delicious.

Across the table was a blast from my foodie past – Lobster raviolis with petite ratatouille and a mussel and basil cream sauce. Light pasta encased juicy lobster with tender mussels and a sauce that demanded to be mopped up. Both starters were demolished without a sign of anything ever having been in the dishes.

Next I had Normandy Pork civet in an apple and apricot sauce with French fries. A hearty yet sophisticated slow cooked dish, rather like a casserole. And the taste was outstanding, you could distinguish every element. I felt that I was sitting in a French bistro in Paris. Especially with the perfect French fries on the side although I didn’t smother them with mayonnaise. The sauce was perfect to dip them in to.

My dining companion chose one of the classic bistro dishes a cassoulet Toulousian-style with mixed salad leaves and crusty bread. And it’s fair to say the portion was substantial with a tender duck leg, pieces of pork and a huge sausage with a creamy sauce of white beans. Now it has to be said that puddings had to be sampled and it was only because of that, that half of the sausage was put in a bag and taken home for my very spoiled dog to savour.

My choice for dessert was a lemon posset with yoghurt lemon meringue ice cream and blue berry compote. A tart and refreshing way to end a very satisfying meal for me. Walnut and armagnac chocolate brownie with salted caramel and vanilla ice cream was the other choice. The brownie was not heavy at all and the addition of walnuts and armagnac brought the dish up to another level. Another plate cleared.

Other tables in the dining room were equally impressed judging by the snippets of conversation that drifted across to us. Olivier is renowned for his interpretation of French dishes with delicious twists on the classics. Dining at Elliotts in Dinham Hall continues his reputation. Without a doubt one of the best culinary experiences I’ve had recently. And I don’t give praise all that easily.