Lunch at The Acorn at Evershot

The first in an occasional series of suggestions for dining out in the region

EVERSHOT might be seen as the quintessential Dorset village, with its history writ large on the main street and the rolling countryside that surrounds it.

Eight miles south of the sprawling commercialism of Yeovil and the second highest village in the county, it is the source of the River Frome, has a wooden village hall, a traditional bakery, a village shop, one of the UK’s leading hotels and a street scene that includes grand houses and tiny terraced cottages full of character.

There is also the village pub … but it’s a pub with a difference. Now called The Acorn after years as The King’s Arms, the “new” name harks back to Thomas Hardy, who named it The Sow and Acorn in his famous novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and referred to it in two of his other short stories.

It is also the only pub in the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, the small international chain with properties in South Africa, Guernsey, Ireland, Florida and Switzerland as well as boutique hotels in London. Red Carnation already owned Summer Lodge, across the main street, built as the dower house for the Earl of Ilchester in 1798 and enlarged in 1893, when Hardy, whose “day job” was as an architect, designed the new second floor.

The 16th century inn is now run by Jack and Alex Mackenzie, and they seem to have succeeded in that most difficult balancing act – retaining a village pub that is eagerly and loyally supported by the locals AND creating an establishment that attracts holidaymakers and diners from a wide area.

The link with Summer Lodge means a constant crossover of patrons. People staying at Summer Lodge visit The Acorn for a lighter meal, and visitors to the pub dine in the award winning and theatrical splendour of Summer Lodge for a special treat.

Dog lovers are welcome at The Acorn, where there is a welcome pack for dogs staying with their owners, and lists of local walks in reception.

The chefs at both the hotel and the pub have developed a special relationship with the food producers of the West Dorset area, and both revel in the depth and range of high quality meat, fish, cheese, vegetables, fruit and other produce available on the doorstep.

Jack and Alex have a food philosophy to create dishes using seasonal produce from local and sustainable sources. This is best demonstrated on the specials board where the catch of the day will be listed – there are very few seafood dishes on the menu. On the day we visited the freshly landed specials included scallops, sea bass and brill.

The commitment to ethical sourcing was recognised when they were named Sustainability Champions 2012 by the Sustainable Restaurant Association.

Menus for lunch and dinner, in the bar or the restaurant, give details of the provenance of many of the ingredients. Evershot Bakery provides the bread, and even makes a special mini version of its famous Cobber exclusively for the pub. Other local suppliers include Samways fishmonger at West Bay, Longmans in South Somerset for cheese and dairy products, and Capreolus Fine Foods of Rampisham for charcuterie and cured meats.

The menus are a mouthwatering blend of classic “pub grub” and fine dining, often using recipes created by Mrs Bea Tollman, who owns the Red Carnation group with her husband Stanley. Mrs Tollman is a gifted and creative cook, who put some of her favourite recipes in a book, Bea Tollman: A Life in Food, which has raised large sums for two children’s health charities, Starlight Children’s Foundation and Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Starters include smooth chicken liver parfait with apple chutney and granary toast and twice baked Dorset blue cheese soufflé with a fig and pomegranate salad (pictured) – a marriage made in heaven, according to one happy diner.

The early autumn main course choices include roast free range chicken with cheddar potato cake, wild mushrooms and a mustard and tarragon sauce, roast rump of Dorset lamb with celeriac mash, confit duck cottage pie with rich red wine jus and minted greens, and an unusual and delicious vegetarian dish of honey and soy glazed tofu with toasted sesame seeds and mange tout and asparagus egg noodle stir fry.

Top of the pudding choices on an unseasonably cold September day was the walnut and date tipsy tart with honeycomb ice cream and cognac foam, but the treacle tart with salted caramel and pecan nut ice cream also produced satisfied sighs.

If you have room – or can resist the puddings – there is a good choice of West Country cheeses, including the smoked Dorset Red, Sharpham Brie, Vale of Camelot Blue and Driftwood Goats Cheese.

The wine list is a joy. Summer Lodge has a world-famous wine cellar, overseen by Eric Zwiebel, one of the world’s top sommeliers. The Acorn is a country inn and the wine selections are less expensive, but still well-chosen, while the witty notes by Jack Mackenzie add to the pleasure of choosing. A “quaffable” South African Blanc de Mer lived up to its description as “deliciously fragrant with lush fruits, kiwi and peach undertones,” while the “serious red” Fairvalley Pinotage (2012) is only made in South Africa “and its character reflects the nature of the country – earthy, complex and surprising.”

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