DORSET is blessed with great food, gorgeous scenery and some wonderful hotels and restaurants where you can enjoy the best of both.
There are few that can compare with Summer Lodge at Evershot, an 18th country house which is one of the region’s finest hotels, set in one of the loveliest parts of West Dorset, with a restaurant that is justly famed for the quality of its food, under the inspiring leadership of executive head chef Steven Titman.
The hotel, part of the international Red Carnation group of outstanding and luxurious hotels, has recently lost its popular and highly respected general manager, Charles Lotter, who died late last year.
But the new team didn’t need long to get to know the ropes – it was only a short nostalgic walk for Alex and Jack Mackenzie. The couple who have been managing Red Carnation’s pub The Acorn, just a few yards across and up Evershot’s historic Fore Street, actually met at Summer Lodge, where Alex first worked 14 years ago.
Alex grew up in a small village deep in the West Dorset valleys just a few miles from Evershot. She went to Sherborne School for Girls and then to London where she studied photography and the history of art. When she had completed her degree course she returned to Rampisham to be with her mother, and got a job as receptionist at Summer Lodge.
She already knew the hotel because her mother had taken her there for her 18th birthday. “I knew how wonderful it was. I applied for the job and it was my first proper full time job,” she recalls.
“I started at 7am and I used to walk the two miles (over the hills). I changed just before I got there, putting on my high heels and hiding my wellies.”
She worked there for more than two years, and then moved to Kingston Maurward where she was the hospitality and weddings manager.
Before he came to Dorset, Jack had a restaurant in South Africa. When he and Alex met, he was the chef at The Acorn, the picturesque Evershot village pub which won literary fame as The Sow and Acorn, in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
Evershot is a gorgeous place to live and work, but it takes more than a picturesque village to keep staff in what is a fairly remote rural area.
Summer Lodge’s key staff have all been there for years – chef Steve has been in the kitchen for more than 14 years, sommelier Eric Zwiebel – regularly voted the world’s greatest sommelier – has been looking after the enviable wine cellar for 13 years, the ridiculously young looking restaurant manager Maxime Tribot has been there for 14 years and Charles Lotter had been at the hotel for 10 years.
“People feel valued by Red Carnation,” says Alex. “They are great employers.”
Alex and Jack are making a few changes, and have introduced a florist who cuts flowers from the garden for the hotel’s public rooms and guest rooms.
They are restoring the Victorian kitchen garden, planting vegetables, salads and herbs for Steve, and expanding the range of local produce in the village shop, which is owned by the hotel. Steve and the kitchen team are providing food for the shop, including biscuits, fudge and preserves.
“We are all about local,” says Alex.
The menu changes regularly with the seasons, but you are sure to find a mouthwatering selection of fresh and local produce, including sustainably caught fish and seafood, the famous selection of 27 farmhouse cheeses, of which only the Stilton is not from the South West. Look out for Steve’s signature “shepherd’s pie” – your humble minced lamb and mashed potato will never taste (or look) quite the same again!
Our lunchtime menu included a pea and mint risotto which was a true taste of summer – light, bright and delicious. And the puddings are simply glorious – our recommendation is the Valrhona Chocolate and Hazelnut Brownie with Maple Anglaise and White Chocolate Chantilly.
This is a country house hotel where you feel truly spoiled – whether you are simply there for lunch or one of the famous Dorset cream teas, enjoying the full theatrical dinner experience in the elegant restaurant, being pampered in the spa, or relaxing in the beautiful rooms or on one of the deckchairs in the gardens.
Pictured: Seasonal tastes – chicken with summer vegetables and a strawberry dessert; part of the kitchen garden; a detail of the memorial to Charles Lotter; the box sundial in the front garden and Alex and Jack Mackenzie.