THE forecast for the next couple of weeks is cold, cold, cold – snow in some places, and bitter winds everywhere. Definitely batten-down-the-hatches weather. But as soon as the sun comes out, the depths of winter are a wonderful time to go for a walk, and there are few parts of the world more beautiful than West Dorset. So put the dog and your walking boots in the car and head off to Evershot, for a good walk and a well-earned and delicious lunch.
We did it the other way round – lunch then walk – but whichever way you work it, the Acorn Inn and the ancient deer park at the nearby Melbury Estate make a winning combination.
The Acorn Inn, like the famous and luxurious Summer Lodge Country House Hotel on the other side of Evershot’s main Fore Street, is part of the prestigious Red Carnation group, but unique in that it is the only traditional village pub in this international hotel group. It is an ancient and beautiful traditional coaching inn, much visited by fans of Thomas Hardy, whose tragic heroine Tess D’Urberville passes through the village on her doomed trek to see Angel Clare’s parents and definitely does not get the warm welcome offered to 21st century visitors.
On a cold day, there are few sights more appealing than a blazing fire and when you follow that first rush of hand-rubbing comfort with the appetising prospect of the lunch menu, you can just sit back, get warm and feel thoroughly spoiled.
The Acorn, under the management of Alex Mackenzie and her husband Jack, manages to be a proper village pub, with three home skittles teams and plenty of regular customers, as well as a good place to eat (and to stay – according to guests in the restaurant while we were having lunch), without falling into any sort of gastropub trendiness.
You can do the light bar meal and well-kept beer option in the dog-friendly bar, or you can spoil yourselves and go for the lunch menu, where locally sourced, seasonal food, including fresh and sustainably caught seafood, is offered at reasonable prices.
Head chef Guy Horley is committed to local sourcing, and his local suppliers include Childhay Manor, Dorset Blue Vinny cheese, Capreolus charcuterie, Samways (fish), Longmans (cheese) and local shoots and gamekeepers. Malt whisky fans can indulge their passion with more than 100 to choose from. For locals and visitors alike, Tuesday is the affordable burger and pint night (£10) and Friday is “Fizz and chips” with beer-battered local fish of the day, triple-cooked chips and a glass of Prosecco (£14).
As well as the main menu there are always specials and I went for one of that day’s fresh fish choices, oven-roasted sea trout, while G indulged her passion for duck with a pan-seared breast in a deliciously rich sauce. The pudding selection is mouth-watering (hence our nobly resisting the starter menu) and we went for a double dose of caramel – melt-in-the-middle chocolate pudding with salted caramel icecream, and caramel and vanilla pannacotta with caramel sauce, chocolate fudge and cream (the theory being that you really can’t have too much of a good thing – and besides, we were going to walk it off with Pippin the wire-haired fox terrier who was patiently waiting in the car).
The Acorn has won many awards over the year, but Alex is particularly proud of the pub’s recognition as a Sustainability Champion, awarded by the Sustainable Restaurants Association, last year.
Encouraging a link between food and healthy exercise is part of that commitment to sustainability. You can leave your car in the hotel car park and head off down Fore Street to the gates of the estate from where you can take your pick of two beautiful walks through the ancient 900-acre deer park. The longer 4.6 mile route takes you past streams, through woods, over bridges, past Melbury House and back across the park to the gates and the village.
The Acorn is open daily, from 9am to 11pm with food served every day from noon to 2pm and 7 to 9pm.
The Acorn Inn, 28 Fore Street, Evershot, Dorset, DT2 0JW; telephone 01935 83228; website www.acorn-inn.co.uk
Pictured are pan-seared duck with plum jam, chantenay carrots and fondant potatoes; oven-roasted sea trout with herb crushed potatoes, and leek and mushroom ragout; two puddings – melt-in-the-middle chocolate pudding with salted caramel icecream, and caramel and vanilla pannacotta with caramel sauce, chocolate fudge and cream; and two views of the deer park at Melbury Estate.