lucknowi siege lamb and cotswolds indian food feasting

Last weekend spicy food lured us down our hill two nights running. We were fed and entertained in sumptuous style at the Great Indian Food Feast and followed our noses to the wonderful spicy smells of Indian street food the following night. All in Chipping Campden, a great little Cotswolds town for eating and cooking, but perhaps better know for cream teas and roast lamb than Indian feasting.

Thanks to award-winning chef Indunil Sanchi and self-styled Urban Rajah, Ivor Peters, there was still excellent local lamb, but this time it was marinated in 24 spices and slow -cooked to produce a wonderfully tender, tongue-tingling dish. And the sweet treat involved an entertaining pancake master-class with honey coconut, sticky toffee ice-cream and caramel sauce.

indy curry nights

At the Indian Food Feast we were greeted with an Amuse Bouche of tasty little steamed lentil cakes before sitting down to a fabulous array of curries, pakoras and patties that ranged from Punjab street food to fabulous dishes fit for a Maharani. In between eating, we were taken on a foodie adventure around the Indian Sub Continent by Ivor Peters.

Chappli Kebabs

BITE Curry Nights 31

Imaginative chef, author of Curry Memoirs and pop-up restaurateur, Ivor is also a self-confessed dandy and a great entertainer.  Splendid in orange velvet jacket and with his signature perfectly groomed moustache, Ivor treated us to tales that leapt from Indian sieges to the chapatti shuffle in his grandparent’s kitchen. He described childhood feasts of vividly spiced food, with big family groups sitting picnic style on luridly coloured sheets (this was the 1970s) and niftily skipped back to Victorian banquets. Encouraging us to chat about spices and get our own “curry clinic” going while we feasted on Spiced Red Lentil & Chicken Patties from Andra Pradesh and Masala Crusted Whitebait from the Malabar Coast.

Masala Crusted Whitebait

Listening and eating, it felt like a celebration of all the imaginatively spiced  regional dishes that are so far removed from the dumbed down versions so many of us have experienced from takeaways or in jars.

I wrote a few months ago about Indunil’s wonderful Black Lamb Curry that he cooks regularly at the Noel Arms. Now I’m hankering after his Cashew Nut and Green Pea curry, a dish that Indy ate as a child in Sri Lanka. Ivor told us that Indy soaks the cashew nuts before cooking to recreate the creamy texture of fresh cashews that he remembers from childhood.

My other favourite dish from the evening was Lucknowi Siege Lamb, so I was very excited when Ivor and Indunil were happy to share the recipe. They use mutton, which I’d like to try, but in the meantime I’ve been using lamb shanks in curries, cooking them on a really low heat for hours so that the lamb falls off the bone resulting in tasty, tender lamb. Also remembering Alex from Dale Cottage diaries reminder of the nutrition value of cooking meat on the bone slowly in dishes. The list of ingredients may seem a little scary but the curry powder and garam masala can obviously be made in decent quantities and stored in jars for future curries.

Lucknowi Siege Lamb

Serves 4–6

  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1kg boneless mutton, diced
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds, pounded into powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 8 cloves
  • 8 peppercorns
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ginger and garlic paste
  • 400g natural yoghurt
  • 5 green chillies
  • 250g tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 500ml water
  • 12 curry leaves
  • 12 saffron strands
  • 1 tsp kewra (aka screwpine water) or rosewater
  • Coriander leaves, chopped


Garam Masala

  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • ¾ tsp crushed bay leaves
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 4–5 green cardamom pods (or ½ tsp seeds)
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 large black cardamom pods (or ¾ tsp seeds)
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 1 piece of cassia bark
  • ½ tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 6 juniper berries
  • ½ tsp ground mace
  • 1/3 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 star anise pod

 Heat a frying pan on a medium heat, then add all the spices. Dry-roast for 2 minutes until they brown and start to scent the room. DON’T burn them. Leave to cool. Peel the cardamom pods and release the seeds into the other spices, tip into a pestle and mortar (or blender) and blast them.


Curry Powder


4 ½ tsp ground coriander

2 tsp turmeric

6 bay leaves

1 ½ tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp whole black peppercorn

½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes

½ tsp cardamom seeds

½ inch cinnamon stick

¼ tsp whole cloves

¼ tsp ground ginger


Pop everything in a blender and blitz for a couple of minutes


Fry up the onions in the oil until crispy and golden, then set them aside on kitchen towel to dry out. Keep the oil. In the same pan, using the onion oil, brown off the mutton, adding the cardamom, fennel, coriander, paprika and chilli powder. When the mutton is browned, drop in the cloves, peppercorns and salt and cook over a low heat for around 30 minutes, until the meat has started to cook in its own juices and the mix is looking darker. Blend the yoghurt, chillies, reserved fried onions, curry powder and tomatoes, turning it into a paste. Add the paste into the pan and swish the ingredients around until everything is coated. Turn up the heat to medium, tip in the garam masala, curry leaves and cook for a further 1½ hours, making sure you stir frequently. To stop the ingredients drying out and sticking to the bottom of the pan, add the water at intervals. The curry shouldn’t be too runny. Just before serving, add a teaspoon of kewra or rosewater.

Serve with rotis or rice and garnish with chopped coriander. Recipe from Ivor Peters.

Lucknowi Siege Lamb

The night after our feast, thanks to the Bite Food Festival, there were reindeers, carols, a Christmas market and street food in Campden. Ivor was cooking tandoori chicken, lamb kebabs and masala paneer on an open grill to eat in wraps and we obviously couldn’t resist a double-bill of spice.

Very exciting that there’ll be Indian Food Feasting in Chipping Campden in February too as part of the week long Bite Food Festival. The Festival will run from Saturday 1st Feb to Sunday 9th Feb 2014 and will include all sorts of breakfasts, brunches, lunches teas and dinners, pop-up restaurants, master-classes, talks by celebrity chefs and food writers and artisan food markets.

I’m particularly excited by the idea of more Indian Street Food, a Peruvian pop-up restaurant,  of Elisabeth Luard visiting Campden (I’m a big fan of her books that celebrate wonderful rustic European cooking) and the fact that the festival includes lots for children. There’s a Chipping Campden school cooking competition for 11-18 year olds and a Mad Hatters Tea Party run by the very stylish Burford Garden Company.

I love the fact that at the Mad Hatters Tea Party, which will be an edible rabbit-hole of wizardry, dancing, riddles and fancy dress, audience participation is optional but hats are essential. A full programme of events is here.

With thanks to Indunil and Ivor for spicing up the Cotswolds and for the great recipe  and to Bite for inviting me to the wonderful Indian Food Feast.





making cheese

We’re lucky enough to have delicious milk delivered direct from a local dairy farmer a couple of times a week. It comes in retro style glass milk bottles (similar to the ones I remember as a child) and I love the fact that these are re-used, the best type of recycling in my view. Better still, the Jersey and Guernsey cows are free-range, grazing throughout the year on grass and fodder crops (no blanket spraying of herbicides and pesticides, tradition rotation of crops to prevent weeds and pests instead), their milk isn’t homogenised and it tastes wonderful.

holmleigh milk holmleigh

So when Ascott Smallholding supplies asked if I’d be interested in reviewing their cheese-making kit, I was keen to give it a go. Knowing I had access to great milk to experiment with was a factor and I’d also read somewhere that making soft cheese can be as easy as wine or bread-making. The idea of turning a bit of leftover milk into home-made ricotta was definitely appealing, and until a few generations ago many people made their own simple cheeses at home. Surely it couldn’t be too difficult?

When I eagerly opened my cheese-making kit a week later, I started to feel a little more daunted. The cheese moulds, cheese mats, thermometer,ladle, vegetarian rennet and cheese culture all promised a good game in the kitchen and there’s a great Beginners Guide to cheese-making in the kit.

Ascott Cheese Making Kit

It was when I read the guide that terms such as ‘scalding’ and the many references to the importance of sterilization and precise temperatures began to trouble me. I began to wonder if, once again, my enthusiasm had got the better of my ability. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a very rustic sort of cook; precision isn’t a word that many would apply to my culinary style.

Once I started making soft-cheese though, I realized that ‘scalding’ is of course only pouring boiling water and although you do need to be patient, cheese-making can be as easy a process as bread-making. Similarly, each step is pretty straightforward – warming milk to a specific temperature or whisking a cheese starter culture into warmed milk is as relaxing in its simplicity as kneading dough.  And although this isn’t fast-food (you do have to wait for hours at a time between some of the processes) the wait requires no effort on your part, you can carry on with your busy day before enjoying the satisfaction of seeing your own curds forming.


First time round you have to make a liquid cheese starter but this can then be frozen in ice cube trays. You only need a small amount each time, and future making of soft cheese is then really pretty simple; Ruby made some with me in the half term holiday and I was able to let her do most of it herself. The soft cheese itself can be frozen too and I’ve used it after freezing in a lovely New York style cheese-cake as well as mixed with spinach or chard ricotta-style in pasta bakes. I’m planning to take inspiration from those delicious Greek pies and use my soft cheese with home-grown greens (or foraged greens in the Spring)  and herbs in filo pastry in a version of my Wild Greens Pie too.

I have to agree with Kate Self of Ascott’s assurance:

“You have just got to be patient and have a go. It isn’t difficult, you can decide to make soft cheese in the morning and eat it for dinner.”

You can experiment by adding different herbs and try different milk – I’m really looking forward to experimenting with goats milk too and maybe even Buffalo milk. Having produced substantial quantities of whey (the watery liquid that’s leftover after the milk has curdled) I can understand Miss Moffet’s fixation. Whey is a by-product that happens to be highly nutritious and versatile yet it isn’t exactly easy to buy. Hence my excitement when it was great in American style pancakes (they tasted a bit like sourdough pancakes). Look forward to trying it out in baking (apparently you can substitute whey for water or milk in cakes, bread and biscuits) though I imagine you have to be careful that it’s something that suits a hint of a sour taste.

I’m also planning to try making ricotta with the whey – apparently you just add milk to leftover whey and heat it (hence the name ‘ricota’ or re-cooked) until curds form.

Can’t imagine I’ll be producing a Stilton for Christmas and an aged pecorino may be a tad out of my league but definitely finding soft cheese-making both satisfying and a little addictive.

If you have access to good milk, would definitely recommend the following:

Making a Liquid Cheese Starter

Heat 1 litre of fresh milk to 20C. Sprinkle a sachet of freeze dried cheese culture (available from Ascotts) onto the milk and whisk thoroughly to ensure it’s mixed into the milk.  Pour into a sterilised container and cover with cling film immediately. Put on a lid and leave somewhere with a temperature between 20-22C for 22-24 hours. After checking for a night or two with the thermometer, I realised that our kitchen luckily remained at this temperature overnight after we’d had the wood-burner lit in the evening.


The cheese starter is ready when it smells sharp and clean. Store in the fridge or freeze for future use – I’ve frozen mine in ice cube trays for future cheese production as only small amounts are needed each time.


 Recipe for Home-Made Soft Cheese

Makes 4 small soft cheeses


2 ½ litres of milk (if you have some that isn’t homogenised it curdles easily)

1 Dessert spoon made up cheese starter (see above)

2 drops vegetarian rennet


1) Slowly heat the milk to 32C

2) Pour milk into sterilised bowl and whisk in the cheese starter until thoroughly mixed.

3) Add 2 drops of rennet to 2 tablespoons of boiled, cooled water in a sterilised cup. Stir this into your milk/starter mixture.

4) Cover with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm room (my kitchen has been warm enough so far but this is obviously weather dependant) for between 1 and 2 ½ hours until the curd has formed and you have watery whey on the top. You will have to poke in a very clean finger to check.

5) Ladle off as much whey as possible, reserving for future use.

6) Now you can either:

a) Suspend the curd in a sterilised muslin, tied and hung over a bowl (to catch more whey) for an hour for a pot of cream cheese. Add salt and maybe herbs to taste and it’s ready to eat.


b) Using a slotted spoon, put the curds into scalded cheese moulds (sprinkling lightly with salt as you go) stood on a scalded cheese mat. Stand both on a cake cooling tray over a baking tray to catch more whey. The salt will help to release the whey, while improving the flavour.  Leave in a warm room for 12-24 hours for the whey to drain – the cheese will shrink by half, leaving a curd that is firm enough to pick up in one piece.



During this time, as soon as it’s firm enough to handle, turn the cheese upside down a couple of times. When you turn out your cheese you may want to coat with cracked pepper or chopped fresh herbs.  I’ve tried chives, parsley and lemon thyme but different herbs can be used according to season and taste.



The cheese is lovely with bread, honey and maybe a few nuts for breakfast as well as on warm bread with olive oil drizzled over as a snack or with lunch. I may need to poach a few of my quinces slowly in red wine to scoff with soft cheese and honey too.

To buy cheese-making equipment such as moulds, thermometers, cheese mats, vegetarian rennet and sachets of freeze-dried cheese culture, see Ascott Smallholding supplies. Thanks lots to Ascott for my cheese-making kit and for getting me interested in making cheese.

farmhouse chic and sticky fingers

 On Friday afternoon we picked Ruby up from school and, after giving her chance to change into a pretty dress, headed straight off for afternoon tea at the fabulous Dormy House hotel.

It had been one of those grey, rainy days when the only time I’d ventured outside was to grab a bundle of logs from the wood-store. A perfect day for afternoon tea. Especially as it was in one of the lovely rooms in this revamped 17th century farmhouse that manages to be both indulgently glamorous and very relaxing; comfortable sofas face the fire, retro lamps give a lovely glow and our window table was beautifully laid with crisp, white linen.

Dormy House Farmhouse Afternoon Tea

Dodie Smith in one of my favourite books, I Capture the Castle (more shabby castle chic than farmhouse) sums up the cosiness of afternoon tea:

“I shouldn’t think even millionaires could eat anything nicer than new bread and real butter and honey for tea.”

Our afternoon was just as cosy but a bit more substantial than this. I was in the mood for the Lazy Afternoon, a classic afternoon tea including cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches, pin wheel wraps, deliciously light homemade scones with preserves and mini cakes and tarts.

Guy’s chose the Farmhouse Tea which has more of a savoury bias and was perfect for an Autumn afternoon with its homemade butternut squash scones (obviously suggesting to me another use for my home-grown Mother Hubbards) sausage roll and mini pasty. There was lots of swapping and I can confirm that it was all delicious. My ‘homemade’ descriptions above are a little unnecessary for specific items too. Pretty much everything here is homemade from the preserves to the decadent little cakes and tarts.  I loved the fact that even the smoked salmon in the sandwiches is smoked over oak shavings in the kitchen of Dormy.

This lovely old hotel has only recently re-opened after extensive renovations and I love the mix of Cotswold stone walls and flagstones and an abundance of 17th century features mixed with contemporary touches, including lovely light flooding into the fabulous Garden Room restaurant. The Potting Shed bar is a cosy place to linger over a drink and I would love to have an excuse (a special birthday or family occasion) to fill the Tack Room with friends and family. The bedrooms are gorgeous too and I get the feeling that every little detail is thought through and done well here.

All in a very friendly, informal way too; it immediately feels as if you’re enjoying a glamorous treat when you enter Dormy, yet you would feel very comfortable kicking off your shoes and making yourself at home on a sofa too.

We did in fact. After Ruby had lingered over her Sticky Fingers afternoon tea, savouring every single crumb. Well, apart from the ones scattered around our table.

The presentation of her afternoon tea was as beautiful as ours, she was truly wowed by her jam fingers, scones, cookies, cake and strawberrry smoothie. Her verdict was:

“It was ALL yummy.”


And she solved the classic scone dilemma; instead of deliberating over whether the clotted cream or jam should go first, piling it all up to create a sort of volcano effect.


In the meantime, I enjoyed more of the very lovely Earl Grey tea, agreeing with Samuel Johnson that:

“Sir, I did not count your glasses of wine, why should you number up my cups of tea?”

 Dormy House Exterior low res

With lots of thanks to Dormy House for a wonderful afternoon tea. Our afternoon tea was complimentary but I wasn’t paid for this review; all rambling opinions are very definitely my own.



black lamb curry and cotswolds indian feasting

I ate the most delicious black lamb curry this week. You know the sort of dish that makes you lie in bed dreaming about it a few days later. Or is that just me?

Indunil Sanchi, chef of The Noel Arms in Chipping Campden, my favourite local place for a curry, explained to me that he adds 100g of black pepper to 1kg of lamb. The lamb is local, delicious and cooked slowly for hours, which tenderises it beautifully but also does something magical with all that pepper. When Indunil, who has been awarded Pub Curry chef of the year for the last 3 years, once told a judge how much pepper he was adding to this dish, the judge thought he’d made a mistake with quantities. Then he tasted it. And obviously enjoyed it as much as I did; it was the winning dish.


Apparently in Sri Lanka, where Indunil originates, black curry is normally made with vegetables and this is something I’d love to try with my garden gluts. But having settled in the Cotswolds with his family 9 years ago, Indy seems to have really enjoyed experimenting with local ingredients in curries from Burma, Indonesia, Jamaica, Thailand and different regions of India as well as Sri Lanka.

I think this is one of the reasons I’m such a fan of the monthly Thursday night curry nights at the Noel Arms – it’s great value for such interesting, unusual curries, they’re all properly cooked from scratch and come with wonderful home-made chutney and breads, yet they use great local ingredients too.

Fantastic then that curry is going to play such a tasty part in the Cotswold food festival, Bite 2014. Indunil is teaming up with Ivor Peters, self-styled Urban Rajah and pop-up restaurateur, whose Curry Memoirs I reviewed here. Ivor’s Waste Not Want Not Mixed Sabzi is now one of my favourite dishes to use home-grown veggies in and his book is a great read too. It’ll transport you to colourful Indian streets where chefs with manicured silver moustaches conjure up earthy meals with notes of musk and bursts of fresh chilli and ginger. You’ll be ransacking your cupboards for spices after reading it.


The Urban Rajah has some great ideas for Afternoon tea by way of Pakistan here and I fancy making his Rajah fried chicken with masala popcorn to scoff with a Friday night film one weekend. A master of wordsmithery and a self-confessed dandy, Ivor should be a perfect entertaining partner for Indunil on their Great Indian Food Feast.

A gastronomic adventure, the Great Indian Food Feast celebrates Britain’s love for curry but the food will be far removed from the dumbed down versions of imaginatively spiced dishes that so many of us have eaten from takeaways and jars. Dishes will be introduced from various corners of the Indian subcontinent, from family recipes featured in the Urban Rajah’s Curry Memoirs and from Indunil’s vast recipe collection.




I can’t wait to try streetfood dishes and hard to find gourmet recipes from across India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan’s regions and am hoping that not only will each dish “transport its diners to an evocative moment shaped over decades and scented by the streets, beaches and countryside of this sprawling diaspora” but there may be a few tips on how to cook them too.
While sharing curries with me in The Noel Arms, Indy promised that the Great Indian Food Feast evenings will definitely be interactive and there’ll be opportunities to be hands-on with food preparation, including desserts. And the Urban Rajah will whisk diners through a collection of personal stories, a short history of Indian food, spice pairing and little known quirky facts and curry miscellany.
Vegetable Pakoras
I’m looking forward to the Chipping Campden Great Indian Food Feast in December, but there will be others around the UK (see here). A percentage of each evening’s funds will be donated to IID supporting education and healthcare projects for children and helping families living in India’s slums and International Justice Mission helping to liberate those trapped in the human trafficking chain.
Ivor and Indy will also be bringing pop-up Indian street food to Chipping Campden as part of the mini-Bite food festivals in October and December; brilliant to think that us spice-hungry Cotswoldians will have some lip tingling, vibrant feasting to look forward to in the winter months!
And if we’re bored of stews and roast root veg by February, the main Bite Food festival (which Indy and Ivor will take part in) will include a mushroom foray at Batsford, artisan Cotswold beer safari ending up at the fab Ebrington Arms, cookery school events at Daylesford, a Sophie Grigson masterclass and a peruvian pop-up restaurant at Bledington. I’m hungry just thinking of it all!
(pics in this post are by Ivor Peters aka Urban Rajah).


verbena, damsons & sweet peas – a joules review

When we spent evenings on the beach toasting marshmallows this summer, it was our Joules fleeces that kept Ruby and me warm. And I’m very partial to their welly socks. Whilst coveting their summer dress designs. But apart from being a Joules fan already, I’ve enjoyed reviewing this lovely Navy Ditsy dress for a bit of a girly reason. It reminds me of our garden this summer.

CIMG9393 (1)

The colours ours are the deeper hues of late summer/Autumn, with all those warm pinks of the sweet peas and knautia mixing with the magenta, rich purples and damsons of September.


Okay, maybe I’m getting carried away seeing a Farrow & Ball paint chart in my garden and wardrobe, but it does give me that feeling. And when I look closer, those small sprigs of flowers look very much like some of the old-fashioned native flowers that were around earlier in the year, the ones with gently pretty rather than showy blooms that I’m as addicted to as the bees and hoverflies.


But before I get too romantically carried away waxing lyrical about flowers, I have to point out that this tunic is very comfy too. Both stretchy and forgiving it’s very easy to wear. So easy that when it arrived, I immediately tried it on and carried on with what I was doing, taking my mug of tea into the garden.

Picking a few beans (I came across some lovely yellow french beans that I’d forgotten about amongst the jumble of flowers and veggies, which was a bonus!) and sweet peas while talking to my photographer friend Chava, who took these pics.

DSC_0373CIMG9401 (1)


I have a feeling this dress will be worn a lot this Autumn, pulled on over leggings or jeans. Would like to say this will be completed stylishly by ankle boots, but have a suspicion it’ll often be wellies. As I’m often guilty of putting on a favourite item of clothing, then remembering the compost heap needs a visit, will have to discriminate a little with this lovely tunic dress though. Picking sweet peas and a little harvesting is fine, but will draw the line at clearing a veg bed or spreading mulch! And definitely resist fitting secateurs into those roomy pockets, although Ruby will no doubt persuade me they’re perfect for treasures.

Thanks lots to Joules for my Navy Ditsy dress. It’s a well-worn favourite already.


The Bull Hotel Bridport, a review

We turned up at The Bull  with sandy trainers and a distinctly windswept (yes, scruffy) look after a blustery walk along the crazily dramatic Jurassic coast from West Bay to Hive Beach. Our welcome was warm and despite the gorgeous Georgian meets contemporary chic style of The Bull, it felt so relaxed that we forgot our unkempt appearance until the vintage mirror in our room offered a reminder.

Bull Front Gold


It had felt very indulgent walking the coast-path on our own. Ruby was having great fun staying with her grandparents and cousin in a caravan nearby and we were having a lovely treat on our way to collecting her. Child-free, we walked at our own pace, enjoying the views of the crashing waves and not having to think about offering encouragement/food bribes. Although after a few steep climbs, I dd need the lure of tea at the lovely Hive Beach cafe and ice-cream from the equally tempting Watch-house cafe on the way back.

At first it also felt quite liberating not having to fill my pockets full of the pebbles, shells, sticks and feathers that I’m normally begged to transport home – towards the end of the walk of course I was starting to feel that something was missing and had to stash a few treasures to give my waterproof its more naturally weighed down feel.

A long, peaceful soak in the wonderfully deep, roll-top bath in our room at The Bull was of course perfect afterwards, especially with some restorative Neals Yard seaweed bath soak.   There are several lovely complimentary Neals Yard products left for guests and they’re in refillable bottles, which fits in nicely with The Bull’s enthusiasm for recycling.

Each of the bedrooms at The Bull is unique in feel and style, furnished with an eclectic mix of Designers Guild wallpaper, local antiques, Parisian flea market finds, Farrow and Ball paints and contemporary art by local artists. Lovely Egyptian cotton bed linen too.

104 Red Four Poster the bull

207 Rooftops Double bed the bull

Our room felt like the boudoir of an Indian princess. An Indian princess who had moved to Bridport and been influenced by its bohemian Georgian charm. The Fuscia Flock room has a 6ft mahogany poster bed, a carved armoire and gorgeous flock wallpaper. Double doors open onto a decadent large bathroom with a rolltop bath in the centre of the room and a.chaise.

A Grade 11 listed landmark, this old coaching inn has been welcoming guests since the 16th century. The Venner bar, a cool place for pre-dinner cocktails or opulent den for drinking into the early hours, was named after an accident at The Bull in 1685, when Colonel Venner shot a Mr Coker through the window. Something about the opulent colours, Georgian meets shabby chic style and lavish  furnishings (the Venner bar is decorated in walnut with gold-plated furniture and vintage mirrors) is crying out for rakish behaviour.

Venner Lloyd Mixing


Venner Dirty Cow sign

Instead we opted for pre-dinner table football. In the Ostler Room, a cosy den with lots of board games and a wood-burning stove for colder months. I was thrashed, but with lovely food beckoning from The Bull’s restaurant, I didn’t mind. Well, not too much.

The restaurant has a more muted decor, but the same great combination of laid-back feel and excellent service that I loved about The Bull generally. Lots of the food options are bistro type favourites and the emphasis is on making the most of excellent seasonal ingredients from the local countryside and the sea. We tried both: scallops with spinach and hollandaise followed by West Bay plaice with seafood sauce and samphire for me, while Guy had salt and pepper squid followed by Rib Eye steak with red wine sauce. Everything was delicious so we were glad that our hunger after coast path walking meant we had room for desert. An oozingly decadent chocolate fondant with clotted cream ice-cream for me, the local cheese board for Guy.

Good, local ingredients cooked simply but with flair in the sort of environment where you could choose to dress up but feel equally comfortable in jeans after a day at the coast – my favourite sort of eating out.

A wander around Bridport was definitely needed after our meal, but I have to admit we managed to find room after a walk for a Somerset Cider brandy, sipped in the courtyard at the back of the Bull. In the evening, fairylights entwined with the bunting add to its charm. During the day, I loved the flowers:



Ruby and my niece Gracie were keen on this area the next morning; they were also quite partial to Bridport’s very charming pet shop.


The wonderful grandparents deserved a couple of hours of coast path walking too. I felt that our roles had reversed when, after a leisurely breakfast I enjoyed the grandparent style treat bits with the girls (hot chocolates and bus ride to West Bay, where I can recommend the harbour for crabbing) knowing that I was going to have more selfish time later.

After the breakfast I’d had, my selfish time was definitely going to be more coast path walking.

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My eggs benedict were lovely but faced with the sort of breakfast sideboard that is meant to give you variety from which to choose, I’d foolishly seen it as an invitation to try lots. Well, the bread was warm, freshly baked, the apple juice local and the raspberry jam home-made – how could I not sample them?

The coast path walking was also very necessary given that we wanted to try The Stable in the evening too. An award-winning cider house at the back of the Bull (across the courtyard garden, which is the original stable yard), ‘Dorset style pizzas’ are served here and, on the evening we ate and drank here, the atmosphere is great. It seemed to be the sort of place where locals gather around the refectory style tables over a local cider or two to share a pizza or tuck into a pie.

The Stable

We were unsure about the idea of scoffing pizza without red wine and also quizzical about the idea of a Dorset pizza. I was soon a convert. According to The Stable, Dorset style seems to mean using organic British flour and a sourdough base and using great local ingredients such as artisan cheeses, smoked ham, great bacon, smoked mackerel. Not all at once of course.

My slow-cooked onion and local goats cheese was yummy, especially with the cider tasting board we shared. Well, there are 50 types of cider, perry, apple and pear based drinks here, surely we would’ve been foolish not to sample a few.

Cider Tasting Board 2 the bull


And although a hawaiian would never normally be a pizza I’d consider, the fresh pineapple and good, local ham did tempt me.

Hawaiin on board the stable pizzas


Believe it or not, there are lots of other things to do here as well as eat though. Bridport is such a vibrant place – a great mix of properly rural little market town (and it’s a great market, lots of local produce but vintage goodies too) with a great arty, bohemian vibe too. Second-hand bookshops, near enough for me to pay a pilgrimage to River Cottage, lots going on but just behind the bustling streets there are wooded areas. Very close to both the sea and wonderful rural valleys too. How appealling!

Bridport MarketDSC05536DSC05538


Guy caught 17 mackerel during our short stay here too, so he obviously had favourable feelings about the place. And of course The Bull, just to confirm the feelings we already had about the friendliness and service here, immediately offered to put them in their fridge for us until we left and added lots of ice when we did.

Definitely keen to return here, and would love to bring Ruby next time. The hot chocolates were rated highly by Ruby and Gracie and I have a feeling that although The Bull is a wonderful place to stay for a couple, it would be fabulous for a family stay too. The owners have 2 small children of their own and have made lots of efforts in the details (organic baby food and biodegradable nappies are available) but also in their general approach to make this a welcoming sanctuary for children as well as parents. There are colouring things available at mealtimes (we managed to amuse ourselves without them) and flexible dinner times. I imagine Ruby wouldn’t let me have quite as much time in that gorgeous roll-top bath though.

Thanks so much to The Bull for our very lovely stay.


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