And then there are the times you want to be sure you’ll get a good experience in every sense – whether it’s for a special occasion where you simply don’t want to be let down or just because you fancy something tasty.
I have a few go-to places like that, here in Shropshire, and further afield – from London, to Birmingham, the Lake District and in Scotland.
And at the top of my very local list is Elliotts at Dinham in Ludlow (closely followed by Fishmore Hall but that is a veritable gourmet experience for very special occasions!) where I know I can get a simple dish or go for the whole three-course delight.
Chef Olivier Bossut was in charge of the kitchens at the hotel more than 20 years ago and after he left I followed him to wherever he cooked, such was his talent for classic French food, in bistro-style and true restaurant style.
He returned to Dinham two years ago and I was soon booking a table. I had not eaten there since he left because I had two dreadful and very expensive experiences.
Since his return I have eaten there several times with friends and on my own after a morning shopping in the town’s fabulous independent shops and from the outdoor market.
Dinham Hall is a charming listed building in a perfect spot close to Ludlow’s historic castle and for those who don’t want to go through the main hotel entrance Elliotts has a side entrance directly off the street.
Olivier is following a French-style bistro theme with a regular menu and daily specials – we have eaten delicious hare and bream from the special offerings. But his regular menu is a well-balanced mixture with something to suit everyone and that is what we opted for on our last visit.
You can have a full-on eating experience or just a light meal. Choosing what to eat is always difficult, all the offerings are very tempting (and I’ve eaten many of them!)and knowing Olivier’s skill, each dish promises 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 into.
My partner 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 blueberry 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.
We spotted steaming hot bowls of that great French classic onion soup with loads of cheese melting on the top, fat and juicy snails in garlic, and one of my favourites – Olivier’s Bitter Chocolate Venison Lasagne which comes with perfect French Fries and Lane Cottage’s Mixed Leaves.
Now my mouth is watering again . . . .
And let’s not forget the very efficient service, friendly but not too in your face.
My next date at Elliotts is when my son comes to stay for a few days. He first ate Olivier’s food when he was around ten and has also been enjoying it, like me, ever since.
Try this gem and combine it with a visit to the pretty and historic town itself – and of course the shops and market.