Playground for foodies

PUBLISHED: 12:23 10 July 2009 | UPDATED: 08:56 21 February 2013

Philippe Boucheron visits the swinging Hundred House Hotel - a sybaritic sanctuary for grown-ups who want to have fun

Philippe Boucheron visits the swinging Hundred House Hotel - a sybaritic sanctuary for grown-ups who want to have fun

Nothing relaxes a stressed-out company director like a swing before dinner! All the tensions of the day are swung away to be replaced by a healthy appetite. This is just one reason why captains of commerce and industry, voyaging through Shropshire, seek out the Hundred House at Norton. They enjoy the charming en suite rooms named after herbs. They appreciate all the amenities missing in those soulless multinational bed factories, plus there's that swing in the bedroom. And the food is terrific.
For the past 20 years this delightful gastro pub with rooms, between Bridgnorth and Telford, has been owned and cherished by the Phillips family. They have created a sybaritic sanctuary on the A442.
Like all successful landlords they know that the way to a man, or indeed a woman's heart, is through the stomach. Most chefs would love to have a small patch of herbs growing outside their kitchen door. At the Hundred House Stuart Phillips (with 13 consecutive years of 2 AA Rosettes to his name) has a herb garden the size of two tennis courts. And he uses its produce to such good effect that the restaurant has become a magnet for gourmets for miles around. They appreciate his keep it simple approach, taking the best and freshest local produce and cooking it so that natural aromas and flavours are enhanced.
As a result the restaurant is the hub around which the Hundred House revolves. Well, it
Mother and father, Sylvia and Henry Phillips, come from yeoman farming stock; she from Warwickshire and he, as the family name suggests, from Wales. They had their first pub. The Greyhound Inn, at Marsh Gibbon, Buckinghamshire, where they opened a micro-brewery with their elder son, David, becoming the youngest licensed brewer in the country. David still runs the wet side of the business which, as well as a choice of splendidly kept real ales, includes a carefully selected and manageable list of 40 food-friendly, affordable wines. In addition there are six each red and white House Wines. David had a spell working with McWilliams Wines who have vineyards throughout Australia. Yet his wines are not at all New World driven and include Halfpenny Green, a leading Midlands winery, an Austrian Gruner Veltliner, an excellent Pinot Noir from a top Côtes de Beaune co-op and the quite outstanding Paul Clouet rosé champagne from Bouzy. The wines are kept in perfect condition in 14th Century cellars. These, together with the medieval Tithe Barn used for weddings, wine dinners and other special events, are the oldest parts of the inn that was once a Hundred House, or local court of justice.
I met up one damp summer's day for lunch with our editor and Bridgnorth-based marketing man James Day who runs an on-line dining guide www.comedinewithus.co.uk. As committed foodies we all agreed to chose different dishes so that our roving forks could browse over all our plates. In addition to a full à la carte, the inn has a brasserie menu, a splendid additional bill of fare called the Seasonal Celebration Menu and a selection of Daily Specials. We dipped in and out all paying special attention to the Seasonal Celebration, lobster, mussel and scallop risotto with a sorrel and fennel salad from the herb garden. A perfectly matched dish where each and every ingredient had its part to play, and did so in complete harmony. Asparagus was in season and Stuart gets his from up the road at Quatt. It was far too much of a temptation with James going for his grilled with a marinated feta herb salad and aubergine, a combination that showed the chef's art at its most cunning. I took mine with a citrus beurre blanc and was delighted by the way in which the fresh sparrowgrass was enhanced by one of the finest beurre blanc sauces I have had the privilege to encounter. We shared a bottle of Dani de Wet's superb South African De Wetshof Chardonnay (£20), deep and full of rich flavours.
For her main dish Ed. went back to the nursery with a fish pie in a cream herb sauce, full of plump perfectly cooked fish it was a delight and, not surprisingly, it, together with steak and kidney pie, is a firm favourite with the regulars. James selected a local free-range grilled chicken that had been marinated with thyme, lemon and paprika and served with a chilli tomato sauce and garlic butter. In lesser hands this could so easily become a hotchpotch of conflicting flavours but Stuart's skill created a beautifully balanced dish. My own choice of roast skate was given a Moroccan influence by Chermoula spices - made from cumin, paprika, turmeric, cayenne pepper, garlic, onion and coriander - and served with a refreshing lime salad and new potatoes. Sensationally delicious, it was an absolute surprise to find it rural Shropshire.
James ducked out at the dessert stage, but the Editor and I are made of sterner stuff. Purely in the interest of our readers, we chose to share a crème brulée, whose caramelised crust resonated when tapped with a spoon - the sure sign of a great crème, and it was - and a most formidable hot treacle tart served with custard that was the lightest of crème Anglais. Historic and quite the finest treacle tart I have tasted for nearly half a century! The bill for the three of us, including the bottle of wine, came to £86.35 which is remarkably good value for a meal of such outstanding quality.
Following cups of good coffee we strolled through the herb and flower gardens - Sylvia's domain - with Stuart as our guide.
Excellent yet remarkably unostentatious, the Hundred House is the quintessential English inn with wonderful food, rooms... and of course, swings.
The Hundred House Hotel, Bridgnorth Road, Norton, Shifnal, tel: 01952 730353. www.hundredhouse.co.uk


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