Fishmore Hall Hotel - in foodie heaven

PUBLISHED: 01:17 18 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:09 20 February 2013

Fishmore Hall Hotel - in foodie heaven

Fishmore Hall Hotel - in foodie heaven

Top marks for Ludlow's latest star chef

Theres no point in beating about the bush. In the inimitable words of Gregg Wallace from Masterchef: Food just doesnt get better than this.

Sure, there might be room for an extra amuse bouche here or a foamy flourish there, but the food I enjoyed at Fishmore Hall was about as good any anything Ive ever tasted. It was clever, fresh, intricate, looked amazing and tasted divine.

So good was my experience, in fact, that I was a little puzzled. Forelles at Fishmore Hall was a two AA rosette restaurant, so a high standard was to be expected - but not this high.

Thus it was that in a first draft of this article I spent some time castigating AA inspectors for failing to properly recognise the deftness of touch and culinary skill on show here. This is, I wrote, a restaurant which deserves three AA rosettes.

So I was genuinely delighted when, a short time after my visit, I received a stop press notice from proud owner Laura Penman proclaiming that Fishmore Hall and its unassuming young chef David Jarman had indeed been awarded that coveted third AA rosette.

The accolade is shared by only two other Shropshire restaurants - the wonderful La Becasse, also in Ludlow, and Worfield gem The Old Vicarage. David and his team were just thrilled he was dancing around the kitchen on learning the news and every guest in the dining room that evening joined us for a glass of champagne, said a delighted Laura.

The recent inspection also raised the accommodation rating for the hotel, which previously held three AA stars. It now boasts three Red Stars - marking it out as among the most outstanding in the category. By dint of its size and lack of on-site leisure facilities it will be hard-pressed to meet the criteria for four stars and beyond.

For David Jarman, this is a personal success and testament to his vision and skill. It is also an accolade for Laura, who entrusted her new hotel to a young, up and coming chef rather than an experienced older hand.

There is nothing flash about David. His kitchen is a calm, unflustered oasis; his staff speak to him with respect but without fear; and you can tell in an instant that he doesnt hold with too many airs and graces.

But he loves food; its his passion and his joy. His rapport and working partnership with Laura show she trusts him implicitly. As David puts it: I didnt become a chef to turn out average food I want to use the best ingredients, in exciting ways, to make people smile. He doesnt quite say it, but he also craves that Michelin star.

Fishmore Halls success is also a tribute to the whole Ludlow food community, providing further evidence that the town is still blazing a trail for the rest of Shropshire to follow.

Being based in Ludlow is a blessing, with so many quality producers on the doorstep and the towns reputation for high quality restaurants, said David. This combination is what makes Ludlow such a special place for food and I want to ensure that Fishmore Hall is right up there with the best of the best.

I couldnt wait to get an opportunity to taste Davids food but first I had to earn my keep by going shopping.

David makes regular forays into Ludlow and beyond, visiting his producers and suppliers to inspect foodstuffs and pick up specialist advice and tips.

I joined him on a post-lunch trip into Ludlow on market day. It was an opportunity to watch him interact with producers, many of whom knew him and were quick to foist samples of their wares in his direction. At one stall we stopped to taste a range of honey four varieties later he settled on an elderflower tinged version to accompany a cheese he planned to serve that evening.

At the towns premier cheese shop, Mousetrap, he got me to sample a selection of goats cheeses; at Ludlow Produce Market he headed off to the back of the shop to juice his own oranges while staff served other customers and I checked out peaches and cherries.

A large loin of lamb was collected from butchers Andrew Franciss before we headed back to the exquisite surroundings of Fishmore Hall, just a few minutes taxi-ride away.

I was looking forward to slaking my thirst with an afternoon tipple but my work was not yet done. After unpacking the ingredients and engaging in vigorous hand-washing, it was time to start preparing two of the evening dishes a ham hock terrine and the loin of lamb.

Under Davids expert guidance I prepared a cider jelly, using gelatine leaves soaked in a pint of Ludlow cider. David had already done the hard bit the ham hock had been soaked overnight, then slow cooked for five hours, before it was flaked, seasoned with herbs and pressed into a terrine mould. The poaching liquor was mixed with my cider jelly and poured into the mould, which was left to set. It was to be that nights starter.

Next I got the chance to butcher the loin, learning the intricate knife skills required to produce perfect fillets.

At this point I left David and his young team to it while I headed off to get ready for dinner and carry out my own private inspection of the hotel.

A couple of hours later, pre-dinner gin and tonic in hand, I sat on the hotel terrace with Laura, drinking in the uninterrupted views over fields to the Clee hills. A small herd of cows chewed the cud in front of us; the slightly overcast sky was streaked with blue. The only sounds were the tweeting of birds, the occasional distant car, and the clink of ice.

Laura had stood on this very spot four years earlier, drinking in the same incredible view. It is what had convinced her to take on the mammoth project of turning what was then a derelict building, complete with tree poking through the roof, into the bespoke 15-bedroom boutique hotel and prestigious wedding venue that it is today.

The end result is a wonderfully relaxing and welcoming hotel, packed with features which show Lauras design skills and attention to detail.

The bedrooms are sumptuous and bold mine was light and spacious, with a delightfully comfortable giant bed and crisp linen. I could even prop myself up on a pillow of my choosing, ordered from the pillow menu.

The enormous bathroom had a huge walk-in power shower, double ended bath, fluffy towels and dressing gowns, and high quality Molton Brown toiletries; the perfect place to soak away any stresses and strains. Even the mini bar was of the highest quality, stocked with Ludlow Vineyards white wine and cider, nibbles from the Ludlow Fruit and Nut Company and Bredon Hill elderflower presse.

The lounge, restaurant and conservatory areas are all light and incredibly airy, with well spaced tables. Quality positively oozes from every pore of this hotel.

And so back to the food. Oh, the food. I can taste it still.

First up came a delicious starter of beetroot carpaccio, just the right side of sweet, with a runny poached quail egg and a delicate parmesan salad. My meat-eating dinner companions all tucked into the ham hock terrine; I claimed full responsibility when they proclaimed it delicious.

Next up, the rest of the table enjoyed the lamb loin, while David had conjured up for me a magical sea bass fillet, freshly delivered that morning from the east coast.

The icing on the cake was a sumptuous Black Forest Gateau. Dont think 70s style frozen cake; instead picture Kirsch soaked chocolate sponge, Chantilly cream layers, cherry sorbet, macerated berries and poached cherries, a cassis and cherry jelly and blackcurrant reduction, topped with a chocolate twist and cylinder and mint sprigs.

Every course was a tour de force, stuffed to the gills with great flavours and wonderful details.

Im delighted for this unassuming chef and his incredibly hard working boss that Fishmore Hall has been recognised as being a cut above.

Now its up to them to decide where to head next, for in this pairs capable hands the sky really is the limit.

David Jarman's preferred local suppliers:
Francis butchers
Walls butchers

Mousetrap Cheese Shop
Haytons Bent quail eggs

Bakewell Farm ducks

Bryn Derw chickens
Ludlow Farmers Market for seasonal fruit and vegetables

Jane Haynes was a guest on the Fishmore Hall foodie package experience. This two day/one night break includes Shopping with Chef in Ludlow town and Ludlow Food Centre; lunch at the hotel; Cook with Chef; champagne and canapes followed by a three course dinner; overnight accommodation and breakfast. Call 01584 875148 or email to book your package or for other inquiries.

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