Shropshire Star

Food review: Pride restored at historic Ludlow inn that's been welcoming guests for centuries

It’s not just one of the best looking buildings in Ludlow, The Feathers Hotel is one of the most handsome buildings in Shropshire – if not THE most handsome.

A very posh chicken and chips

The black and white building is quintessentially Ludlovian. As much as the town’s castle, its river and weirs, or its remarkable Broad Street, it’s synonymous with the town.

Built in 1619 by an ambitious attorney called Rees Jones, who moved to Ludlow to pursue his career at the ‘Council of the Marches’, the building was converted into a hotel by his grandson 50 years later and has been welcoming guests since 1670.

The Feathers’ famous half-timbered Tudor façade is adorned with carved wooden motifs of the Prince of Wales’ three feathers emblem, which gives the hotel its name.

A magnificent building

Described by architectural historian Pevsner in his seminal 1942 book ‘The Buildings of England’ as ‘that prodigy of timber-framed houses’, it was listed as a Grade I building in 1954. More recently, in 1983, The New York Times named it the ‘most handsome inn in the world’.

In the article by historian Jan Morris, she added: “It is one of the prime images of olde England, portrayed in posters and brochures wherever tourism is known.” Guests have stepped through The Feathers’ original studded plank front door, which survives to this day, and enjoyed food, drink, rest, and relaxation within its Jacobean interior for over 400 years.

Many 17th century features remain. In 1970, the careful restoration of the hotel’s intricate wood carvings on its oak panelling by specialist craftsman Robert Pancheri, was awarded the UK’s Civic Trust Award for excellence in renovation.

Today, visitors in the Lounge look out on to Ludlow’s main street, through the same lattice windows as The Feathers’ first guests. The carefully-preserved moulded glass, with original mullions and transoms, are set with cast iron diamond glazing.

The Feathers bar area is welcoming

By the turn of this century, the years were beginning to tell on the hotel and it was in need of a makeover to fix its creaking plumbing and bring its facilities up to scratch for the modern visitor.

The Crest Hotel Group purchased The Feathers in 2018 and embarked on a £2.7 million renovation, working closely with local authorities and the community, and paying careful attention to requirements of its Grade I listing.

With an absolute commitment to retain The Feathers’ historic charm and character, structural upgrades and a major refurbishment of all bedrooms and corridors were carried out. The lounge and restaurant areas were then enhanced, to preserve original features and add modern comfort, lighting and facilities.

The Feathers’ English tearoom was re-opened in early 2019 and its new Plume@Feathers restaurant in September 2019.

A mix of trend and tradition in the dining room

The future for The Feathers looks bright with a dedicated hospitality team working together to help guests enjoy every aspect of their experience as they eat, meet, and sleep at this unique heritage hotel.

Indeed, the fortunes of The Feathers have been in the ascendancy since its transfer to new ownership. A venue that was once down at heel has been brought into the modern era.

I visited for a midweek supper and found the dining room busy as overnight guests enjoyed casual suppers.

The menu is a mix of tried and tested classics – fish and chips, and the like – alongside fancier, restaurant-style dishes, which help to demonstrate the ample skills of the team in the kitchen. It’s challenging catering to a hotel restaurant, which is what Plume@Feathers is. There are breakfasts and lunches, afternoons and a la carte – it has to try to be all things to all people, which is never easy.

Cheese souffle could have been lighter

And yet it manages that balancing act fairly well. The staff are friendly and show willingness to please, but it did a pretty good job.

The refurb worked remarkably well when The Feathers was relaunched and its dining room is well appointed, mixing trend with tradition, heritage with modernity.

Prices are reasonable, particularly for the three-course menu, and I began with a twice-baked Colston Basset souffle, served with chives and a cheese sauce.

It was pleasant, without being remarkable, and a lighter souffle would have earned higher marks. The sauce was reasonable, rather than great, and more intensity of flavour and a feather-ier souffle would have been more pleasing.

The main was good. A chicken croque royale gave the chef the opportunity to show some skills on a dish that featured immaculate chips, a beautifully dressed side salad, and a superfluous dish of French peas.

The chicken was a little over, though the cheese and ham accompaniment was big on flavour, in a way, perhaps, that the souffle was not. The chips were magnificent, with bashed, golden edges that were crisp and crunchy. It was a decent dish, which needed just minor revision to improve.

Rhubarb was the highlight

Dessert was exceptional. A Yorkshire rhubarb meringue tumble was, in essence, a wintery Eton mess, with creamy/custardy flavour, a wonderfully mallowey meringue that had plenty of ‘chew’, new season rhubarb, and other, sharp berries.

Service was reasonable, with a restaurant manager and younger waitress both eager to please and both possessing good people skills. Their attention to detail and speed could maybe do with a bit of attention, but any slight oversights were dealt with with grace and a smile,.

The chef was pretty good, demonstrating good skills in places and needing a little more consistency across the board to elevate the dining experience.

Still, the restaurant made a good job of the evening and was deserving of a high score.

The Feathers has been transformed in the modern idiom and is now a place of which Ludlow can once more be proud.