And it’s not only the diners who keep on coming back to the property, built in 1623 alongside the babbling chalk stream that gives Teffont its name.
The complicated ownership of the hotel proves the point. It used to be owned by Paul Firmin, who sold it to Noele Thompson and her husband. After his death, Noele continued running Howards House with her son-in-law and chef Nick Wentworth, who was already running the kitchen.
Three years ago, back came Paul Firmin to share the cooking duties with Nick, and then, when the hotel was bought by a regular guest and fisherman Mr Senior, Noele stayed on as general manager.
With Nick and Paul leading the kitchen team, and Simon Greenwood as restaurant manager, the continuity and welcoming sense of ownership reassures regulars and delights new customers.
It has allowed Nick to create a menu that is both exciting and different, using locally- sourced ingredients wherever possible, and especially the vegetables, herbs and fruit grown in the kitchen garden – just part of the beautiful gardens that adjoin Howard’s House.
Paul’s reappearance in the kitchen brought with it a new inventiveness.
“It’s extraordinary what he can do to bring out the flavours,” says Nick.
One of Paul’s innovations has been the conversion of a filing cabinet into a smokehouse, and the results – hot and cold smoked fish, meat and cheese – fly off the menus as soon as they are introduced.
There can be few more romantic settings than the garden terrace at Howard’s House, in its peaceful valley. The lounge is comfortable and welcoming and the dining room stylishly combines contemporary with traditional.
Confronted with a menu, your choice of meal usually leaps out, but it’s not so easy at Howard’s House, where every single dish offers some delight you don’t get at home.
With an extensive kitchen garden and a full- time gardener to care for it, Nick and his team can offer the freshest seasonal produce to their diners, and local suppliers of meat, fish and dairy products mean that food miles are kept to a minimum while taste is the premium consideration.
The presentation is appetising, the portions satisfying and the dishes avoid fussy and faddish “cheffiness.”
On the day we went, we grabbed the Spring sunshine for an outdoor drink on the terrace.
We ordered Roquefort, Pear and Walnut Salad with Balsamic Syrup and King Prawns in Lemonade Batter with Guacamole and lime for starters, followed by Lamb and Apricot Tagine with Minted Couscous and Chilli Yogurt, and Breast of Guinea Fowl with Pommes Anna, Caramelised Chicory and Roasted Shallots with a Redcurrant Jus, and all of them tasted as scrumptious as they sounded on the menu.
Puddings were a Selection of Sorbets and a Poached Apricot Pavlova – the meringue from which might have looked as perfect as those bright white prepacked supermarket numbers, but had a melting consistency that can only come direct from a skillful kitchen.
Howard’s House doesn’t go in for gimmicky promotions, but creates an occasion in a perfect setting, while offering the sort of value for money that will have its customers returning time after time, for lunch, tea or dinner.
Vegetarians can rely on interesting choices, and Sunday lunch is the traditional deal, with those added extras you are unlikely to create at home.
Drawing its regular diners from a wide swathe of Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset, Howard’s House is also the weekend getaway choice of customers from across the UK and further afield. There are occasional “gourmet getaway” weekends, and tasting menus so you don’t have to make those tantalising choices.
And it has been named, year after year, as the most romantic country house hotel in the UK.
Spring and summer are the perfect time to discover its enchantment, and you’ll be back in autumn and winter for the comfort of the roaring fires.
Have a look at the website for more information – www.howardshousehotel.co.uk, and don’t be deterred by the bizarre description in one of our leading national newspapers.
FAC and GP-W