Hold the front page. Ladies and gentlepeople, we have a new number one. Welcome to Shropshire’s new best restaurant: Fishmore Hall.
The privately-owned boutique hotel and spa that offers stunning views across the south Shropshire countryside has been a regular feature on the county’s best-of-the-best list during the 10 or more years it’s been under the ownership of Laura Penman.
Penman has devoted herself to the continued improvement of her fine Georgian property, which was originally built as a private house in 1810. There have been a series of improvements and upgrades, most recently with the addition of a spa, and the woman who purchased the handsome Regency property in 2007 and restored it from its derelict state has finally got it right.
Having worked with a series of decent chefs, from Marc Hardiman and David Jaram to Andrew Birch, she more recently appointed new incumbent Joe Gould – and he outguns all of his predecessors.
Joe was the proud winner of Chaine des Rotisseurs UK Young Chef of the Year 2015. His journey to Fishmore Hall is one steeped in establishments of the highest critical acclaim, including roles at one, two and three Michelin star level across the UK, Germany, Hungary, Spain and the USA.
Curiously, on the evening that my friend and I dined, Gould was on an evening off – hell, even head chefs can’t be expected to work seven days a week. And so what made our evening all the more exciting was that we dined on an evening when Penman and Gould were both away from their posts and their teams excelled in their absence. Standards were maintained, no corners were cut, the deputies and foot soldiers delivered in a manner that would have made Penman and Gould proud.
The food, of course, bore the imprint of the venue’s owner and her head chef.
Gould’s DNA runs through every dish of a complicated and intricate menu.
Featuring a mass of ingredients harvested from within 30 miles of Ludlow, it is a celebration of interesting textures and accurately seasoned ingredients, it is a carnival of precisely cooked protein and deep, rich sauces, it is a jubilee of exceptional garnishes and the best seasonal produce. Hats off, Joe, we salute you.
Penman has poured time, money and love into her creation. And ten years on, her efforts are being rewarded.
While Fishmore has been outgunned during her tenure by more illustrious restaurants nearby, Penman has finally heaved her creation to the top. She deserves all credit. It has been a long, slow process of refinement. Hers has been a quest for constant improvement. She deserves her reward.
My friend and I ate on one of the quietest nights of the week and were the only guests in a large and impressive conservatory that’s appended to the rear of the property. It overlooks an impressive new spa and during daylight hours offers majestic views across one of south Shropshire’s prettiest and more alluring vistas.
Service was good. A youthful team worked well together, pushing each other to maintain high standards, engaging in conversation and offering knowledgeable comment about the delightful dishes that Gould’s team were cooking in his absence.
Though we opted for the three course a la carte menu, we ate far more as the kitchen sent out an amuse bouche, exceptional bread and a delightful pre-dessert. The flavours were harmonious and the presentation immaculate.
A trio of bread and butters began the evening with a charcoal brioche, sweet onion bread and exceptional seaweed bread being brought to life by seaweed butter, a sensational, umami-rich marmite butter and a best-in-class chicken butter that dazzled and gave delight.
The amuse bouche was an artichoke puree plated to look like egg and soldiers. It was the only dish that didn’t quite hit the mark and while the presentation was excellent a veloute with deeper flavour might have been a better idea.
A crispy beef cube was also served separately: it was faultless.
My friend’s starter, a goat’s cheese dish, was as pretty as a picture and married complimentary flavours and textures in heavenly style.
My quail breast with butternut squash mash and chorizo was dressed with sharp pieces of pomegranate and goat’s curd. It was utterly magnificent. The sauce was divine – angels danced on my tongue as I ate – while the quail was expertly cooked with a tender breast replete with crisp skin and a shredded leg cooked in a crisp cylinder with notes of mild and sharp from the pomegranate and curd. Well done Mr Gould and co.
The mains were sensational. A Korean-style pork dish was exemplary with satisfying dashi, beautifully tender protein and kimchee.
My friend’s beef shortrib was tender and indulgent while a sauce was once more of the highest quality and attendant garnishes were dreamy.
The pre-dessert was a Waldorf salad in a glass, with a cheese foam, candied walnut, layer of not-too-astringent-chutney and dreamily soft pear in the bottom.
It was a nice idea that was perfectly executed. And then we ate three desserts. A baked Alaska was sensational with dreamy Italian meringue engulfing pistachio sponge and a layer of raspberry while a small piece of peach added acidity. Wonderful.
A white chocolate dish with raspberry and rose was similarly exquisite while a Douglas fir dish with apple and honey was creative and offered wonderment.
Gould’s menu had proved itself to be creative and full of flair, imaginative and full of innovation.
Fishmore is an obvious candidate for Best Restaurant In Shropshire. The departure of Karl Martin from Old Downton Lodge means the four rosette restaurant at which he cooked is in a period of change – though, in truth, Gould’s team is cooking at a slightly higher standard that Martin achieved, irrespective of what the AA says.
They’re not matching the standards of a restaurant just across the border, the one-Michelin-star Pensons, near Tenbury Wells, which boasts one of Britain’s most impressive talents in Chef Lee Westcott and has a larder full of ingredients straight from its own kitchen garden. But in terms of Shropshire-only restaurants, Fishmore Hall is the best.
Joe Gould, Laura Penman and the rest of their team deserve congratulations for their magnificent achievement.
Tasting menu – £79
Wild mushroom with blue cheese, pickled walnut, beetroot and pear
Pork with red prawn, aubergine, apricot and harissa
Smoked eel with cauliflower, chicken wing, shallot, wasabi and apple
Squab pigeon with broccoli, pumpkin and blackberry
Mackerel with minestrone, artichoke, fennel, carrot and pesto
Duck with sweetcorn, shiitake, avocado and five spice
Lemon with crumble, honey, rosemary and gin & tonic
Pistachio with milk chocolate, strawberry, chai tea latte and ginger aero
Fishmore Road, Ludlow