The West House at Biddenden

The West House at Biddenden – 2005 As we set off on the nine mile journey from Ashford International train station to The West House in Biddenden, Kent, the scene which unfolded before us was fairly typical, according to my friend who has lived around here for the past 25 years. It was raining. The scenery, once we deserted the main roads, was stunning, still deserving in many instances of the county’s epithet as ‘the garden of England’. Biddenden is no more than three miles from the splendours of the…






Wilting in Wiltshire

Wilting in Wiltshire – 2001 I am not an aggressive man but I had made one point very clear to the rest of my family. If they did not treat me with due respect I would take them away for a weekend in the British countryside. Over the past few months of course nothing has seemed less exciting. The combination of flooding, foot and mouth and unseasonably cold weather has been enough to put off all but the most intrepid. Yet even for a family of townies there does come…






Corse Lawn House Hotel

Corse Lawn House Hotel – 2007 Quietly, imperceptibly but definitely regrettably, there has been a significant change in one of the most distinctive aspects of British hospitality over the past five years as many of the individual, and in certain cases, mildly eccentric pioneers of the country house hotel movement have moved on. The Hendersons have sold Gidleigh Park in Devon while Martin and Brigitta Skan have parted company from their beloved Chewton Glen in Hampshire. As others have sadly passed away numerous properties, previously privately owned, have moved into…






The Helyar Arms and other country pubs with good food

The Helyar Arms and other country pubs with good food – 2003 The car park of the The Helyar Arms in East Coker, three miles from Yeovil Junction, Somerset, separates two quintessentially English buildings. On the right, what was originally built about 400 years ago as an apple store today houses an authentic wooden skittle alley to which successive teams of men repair to compete with their pint glasses. On the left, dating back to 1456, is the pub with five far more modern bedrooms. Its interior is so idyllic…






Hotel du Vin

Hotel Du Vin – 2003 Anyone dreaming of opening their own restaurant should, before they take the plunge, book a day trip to Winchester, Tunbridge Wells, Bristol, Birmingham, Brighton or Harrogate and discover how Robin Hutson and Gerard Basset have managed to get it so right with their group, Hotel du Vin & Bistro. Firstly, find a little niche in the market so that you stand out from the crowd. These places have done it with wine very successfully. Then be as inclusive as possible. By using the user-friendly term…






The Beckford Arms

The Beckford Arms – 2010 I set off for The Beckford Arms, in the depths of Wiltshire, with two specific questions for its chef, Mark Blatchford, whose food I had always previously enjoyed in both London and New York. Why had he suddenly left the big smoke and what did he miss most in his new, more tranquil setting? The 30-minute drive from uplifting Salisbury Cathedral provided immediate answers to the first question. We drove past calming woods; peaceful fields of sheep; much more surprisingly, fields full of llamas; the…






JSW, Hampshire

JSW, Hampshire – 2003 Initials are seemingly as good a solution as any to the tricky problem of naming a restaurant. RSJ, named for obvious structural reasons, has pleased National Theatre goers and Loire wine lovers for the past 22 years (tel 020 7928 4554) on London’s South Bank; EAT has been Eli Zabar’s exhortation to those on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to enjoy his good food whilst an unrelated chain, EAT (Excellence and Taste) has prospered across London. When Jacob Saul Watkins’ parents named their talented son it was…






The Walnut Tree, Ludlow

The Walnut Tree, Ludlow – 2008 As an antidote to the heavy rain outside, the sight of the couple behind the bar at the recently re-opened Walnut Tree Inn outside Abergavenny in Wales could not have been more heart-warming. They were a waitress and a chef who between them have over 75 years experience in the restaurant business yet have only been working together for the past three weeks. Pauline McKay started here in 1972, nine years after Franco and Ann Taruschio first opened what, until they sold in 2001,…






Adlard’s, Norwich

Adlard’s, Norwich – 2003 David Adlard, chef/proprietor of Adlard’s restaurant in the centre of Norwich, joined our table and responded forcefully to the compliments on an excellent meal by saying, ‘I am a simple man who likes simple food’. The vehemance of this response betrays Adlard’s physical and mental strength in keeping this highly distinctive restaurant going since 1989, overcoming not only personal problems but also commercial ones. When he first opened, Adlard’s was alone in concentrating on top-quality local producers and could never be cheap. Today, having led the…






Bristol – where to eat

Bristol – where to eat – 2006 The city of Bristol has had a long association with food and wine ever since the first shipment of honey and wine (then known as clairet) landed on its quayside from Bordeaux in 1487. Harvey’s and Avery’s maintained the wine connection; the influential George Perry-Smith once cooked there professionally, as did a young, highly talented and flamboyant Keith Floyd. For the past decade, however, the easy profits from the drinks business have tended to dominate, as in so many other cities around the…