Epicurean Expeditions with
Willersley Hill, Broadway, WR12 7LF
Situated just outside the quintessential-Cotswolds market town of Broadway and conveniently sited for walking the glorious countryside all around, Dormy House Hotel was formerly a farmhouse (it must have been a pretty impressive one!), dating from the seventeenth century. It retains many original features, including its wonderful golden-coloured stone (a prominent feature both inside and out); magnificent stone fireplaces – with open fires blazing away on this damp November evening – and oak panelling, with beautiful carved detail. There are three lounges to choose from, whither diners are ushered for pre-prandial drinks on elegant sofas and comfortable armchairs. Each room has its own decor and feel – one is more contemporary, with clean lines, bold colouring and contemporary furniture and mirrors; one features a stone wall as well as the great, original, main fireplace; and the one we settled in has more of a library feel with the wooden panelled walls painted a dark green-y blue. Plants – both live and pressed – are a predominant feature of this room, from pot plants to floral arrangements. Atmospheric lighting is provided by candles and lamps; hessian carpets are overlaid with rugs and – pleasingly – board games are also provided for guests to enjoy.
The staff at once impressed with their professional and polished but nevertheless very friendly manner (they were especially kind to baby Tristan). All were immaculately dressed and attentive – top marks here.
Our drinks, once ordered, soon arrived, along with delicately flavoured – and rather moreish by husband’s reaction – vegetable crisps. My kir royale was rich and crisp with a rich and sweet bite; my husband’s “dry sherry” was actually rather too sweet for him – more of a pale cream than a fino, but was refreshing nevertheless. The only source of irritation was the music – it wasn’t too loud but the pop-y beats intruded on what would otherwise have been a relaxed atmosphere. One fears that the choice of music may be to cater to the tastes of the generally young and trendy clientele (none of whom, we noted, was suitably attired, my husband being the only guest actually wearing a tie). One would really have hoped for classical music or light jazz or even easy listening in a country house hotel atmosphere – something a little more refined at least!
The hotel has two restaurants, both under head chef John Ingram: the formal Garden Room and the rather more relaxed Potting Shed. We were seated in the Garden Room – a reasonably large room overlooking the gardens, appropriately enough. This room also has a contemporary air, with modern floral fabric wallpaper – a bold but basic design in several shades of green; green velvet banquettes; simple wooden tables; modern grey chairs. There is no table linen, but simply a tealight candle in an ornate glass and fresh flowers on each table. Centrally placed is a vibrant display of flowers, while Art Deco-inspired wooden screening separates sections of the restaurant. The flooring is also wooden, and the only wall adornment are simple mirrors and slightly bizarre wall lights sporting hundreds of cream grassy spines.
Wine first – we chose a relatively dry Gewürztraminer. With its classic nose of lychee, very delicate flavour (lychee predominating here too), a foretaste of mint and bite of darkness – black pepper and even a slightly unusual hint of tar underlying the lychee and peach – it was quite extraordinary and really rather good.
Bread was brought almost at once, with a choice of three types – black olive, white semolina and granary rolls. All were excellent; served warm and clearly freshly baked, with superb flavours and full-flavoured butter, too.
We were not brought any amuse-bouches, which slightly surprised me. My husband rather uncharitably surmised that this might be because the clientele might not be aware of dining etiquettes and the proffering of an extra, unchosen course, might even engender an embarrassing confusion in them.
The starters were fairly small in terms of size, yet very good nevertheless: my smoked duck breast along with roast peaches was excellent, with an appropriately subtle smoked flavour, and Mr Marshall-Luck’s venison was delicately flavoured, albeit very peppery, and more of a Carpaccio than the pastrami denoted. The accompanying salad was an interesting combination of flavours and textures which complemented the venison well. My husband’s only regret was that there was not slightly more in the helping – he found it one of those servings that looks rather deserted and forlorn on the plate.
The main courses were also extremely good – the rabbit was wonderfully flavoured, and not at all ‘gamey’; a very light meat which was, nevertheless, immensely satisfying. It came served on a bed of spinach with fondant potatoes and roast carrots, all of which were equally excellent, the servings being well proportioned and no flavour overly intruding, although there was a definite and fitting accent on the meat. I’m afraid that my husband wasn’t allowed to enjoy the best bit of this, his meal – the filo pastry rabbit parcel (tender and flavoursome shreds of rabbit meat in a crisp and crunchy parcel), as I snaffled it as soon his plate arrived!
My pheasant was also superbly flavoured and featured a well-chosen variety of textures, with its complementing vegetables and also a rather interesting dried fruit puree (possibly strawberry). Improbable as it sounds, this worked excellently with the meat, bringing out the flavours and adding a new and unexpected dimension. As well as wedges of roast pheasant, there was also braised meat mixed with a sliced brassica which worked extremely well – very flavoursome and well-offset by the shredded, dark-tasting cabbage.
The final course of the meal also did not disappoint, as my husband’s apple soufflé was absolutely outstanding in every way. A deliciously light (feather-light, one might almost say) soufflé, infused with apple and with a pool of apple puree at its base, it came with warming and delicately flavoured cinnamon custard, of which there was enough to allow generous pourings into the basin containing the soufflé. A richly flavoured vanilla ice-cream complemented the dish beautifully.
I opted for the cheese course – one is offered a choice of five out of eight cheeses – I was particularly impressed with my Lord of London, Cremet and Smoked Cherry Wood, but all the cheeses (which, incidentally, were served with de-stringed celery, grapes and Fudges biscuits) were very individual, characterful and idiosyncratic – yet I would nonetheless have preferred a full cheese trolley. I indulged in a dessert wine with the cheese – a Noble Late Harvest. It was golden in colour and with a nose of intense mint and fat, juicy, honeyed sultanas. The flavour was deep and intensely-honeyed – but a darker honey, such as manuka. There was also spice – quite a bite of white pepper and even chilli alongside the searing sweetness of the sun-drenched raisins. Interesting blend of sweetness and spice.
We had tea and coffee sent up to our room afterwards – the tea was very good; the coffee reasonable (though not strong enough for my husband as usual), and a trio each of very sweet petit fours was a pleasant addition.
Our suite – The Snug – was a slight surprise after the rather traditional and gloriously old-fashioned entrance hall, being contemporary in style and decor, with a colour scheme of grey and cream – the sofa, bed, carpets, walls and curtains all following similar shades. The plus side of this meant a superb bathroom – with an utterly fabulous huge, deep metal bath which filled, it seemed, in almost seconds, and a monsoon shower. It also meant a Nespresso machine (much to Mr Marshall-Luck’s delight), whilst I was particularly impressed by the top-quality tea pyramid nets with a choice of Darjeeling, Jasmine and English Breakfast, and the rather nice crunchy oat biscuits, too. The downside was the large television screen in the sitting area (which had room enough for a sofa, chairs and desk) – but, again, these contraptions would no doubt be screamed for by clientele should they not be provided. And, actually, I must say that the i-pad thing with a button to press to request fresh milk was rather nifty…. I also rather liked the owl theme – on placemats; doorstops; little recycled owl ornaments, and suchlike (the owl also makes an appearance on the hotel’s logo). Although the three elements of the suite were slightly on the smallish side it was, nevertheless, fairly cosy and snug, especially when lit by the numerous lamps provided. Furthermore, it was all very comfortable, with everything provided one might wish for (including a generous number of shampoos, conditioners, body creams, slippers and bathgowns). It was a rare example of everything being pristine too – no exposed pipework or fraying carpets here – all clean and crisp – and a huge and deep bed to induce Morpheus….
Breakfast the next morning was back down in the Garden Room. A fine spread; and I was particularly impressed by the help-yourself-to-Bloody-Mary-or-Bucks-Fizz counter, and gladly indulged in the former. There were also buffet tables of cereals, juices (in little bottles to be taken back to the table), and cheeses and hams – these were excellent and constituted a good selection. Tea and coffee was brought to the table – nice tea, although my husband found the coffee a little on the weak side (catering for British rather than Continental tastes, unfortunately.) There was also a good choice of hot options which were served at the table (at which point in time my husband started muttering about chafing dishes and the fact that a gentleman shouldn’t be served at breakfast). The smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on brioche were wonderfully light (albeit still filling); and the full Dormy very satisfying: the quality of the sausage and bacon was excellent; the fried bread was indulgent without being over-greasy; and there were nicely-flavoured sautéed potatoes. The toast was also excellent; home-baked bread, evidently, and brought in an insulated bag which added a nice touch of rusticity.
After a hearty breakfast we retired to the spa, where there is a further eatery. The spa is an entire separate wing, and includes a lounge area and restaurant, the central feature of which is a circular fireplace, blazing away, with electrically operated circulater glass which descends to allow one to top up with wood – very clever. The seating here is on chaise longues, sofas and arm chairs with low tables, but there is also extensive decking area outside with wicker sofas and sun chairs and tables. The palate is greys, greens and blues. Downstairs one finds the pool area, which also encompasses a series of saunas and hammams, and a very smart shower that emulates Caribbean storms (great fun). There is also a gym, and a series of treatments rooms where I enjoyed a deep tissue back massage in which restful and relaxing surroundings the masseuse applied some stringent force to unknot congested and tense muscles, as requested. The spa restaurant serves sandwiches, drinks – specialising in both soft and alcoholic smoothies, and a salad buffet lunch, with a variety of different salads, a bake, lots of different nuts and seeds and condiments, and dessert. I took advantage of the buffet lunch and found it all very delicious as well as admirably healthy. The atmosphere in the spa restaurant / lounge is so relaxing that one could conceivably spend an entire day here, pottering between pool and lounge with a book and a long lazy lunch. We certainly found it immensely difficult to summon up the will to drag ourselves away from what had been an extremely enjoyable, hospitable and tranquil stay. With excellent food, kind and attentive staff and smart surroundings, one was able to forget the worldly pressures for an all-too-brief time.