VISITORS and locals all love The Grange at Oborne, a tiny village on the outskirts of Sherborne. It’s a beautiful old building, with a warm atmosphere that is reflected in the welcome from the owners and their staff.
The Grange at Oborne has been a country house hotel for many years, with a great reputation for comfort, good food, friendly service and a lovely garden.
That reputation has now been endorsed by a top 2015 Dorset Tourism award presented at the Tank Museum at Bovington, where owners Jonathan and Jenny Fletcher and some of their team were thrilled to receive the gold award for Best Small Hotel.
The Grange, built around 200 years ago as the principal farmhouse of Oborne, continued to be a working farm until it was sold for residential use in the early 20th century. In 1976, it was bought by Mauro Lupi, an Italian looking for a suitable site for a new restaurant. It opened later that year, serving traditional Italian cuisine and gaining an enviable reputation. Mauro realised the tremendous potential for a hotel in the area and in the early 1980s converted the first floor of the house to four hotel bedrooms – now it has 18.
We have been going to The Grange for many years – an American friend who had previously never been beyond London was so taken with it that we go there on the rare occasions she gets over and she tells her friends how much she loves it and how wonderful Dorset is!
Arriving for lunch on the day after they won their Dorset Tourism gold, Jonathan and Jenny were still over the moon, showing off the elegant glass trophy, (made by Stuart Wiltshire Glass of Weymouth), and genuinely amazed at their success.
The Grange, which has been part of the Best Western group for several years, is committed to local sourcing and the menu has plenty of information about the provenance of the food and many of the drinks.
Lunch for people who are working and driving is usually a fairly non-alcoholic affair, so we chose two refreshing Orchard Pig drinks from the Somerset orchard company – Flower Power (sparkling apple and elderflower) and Totally Minted (sparkling pink grapefruit and mint with a kick of lime). Although we didn’t do it justice, we admired the wine menu and enjoyed the quote from Basil Fawlty about the importance of knowing your Bordeaux from your Claret!
The menu changes regularly – on the day we were there, the starters included a deliciously smooth duck liver parfait with toasted brioche, and a delicate goats cheese with confit tomatoes and roasted pine nuts.
For main courses, I opted for the confit Creedy Carver duck with creamed potatoes, braised red cabbage and port and redcurrant sauce. These are flavours that work so well together, all enhancing the richness of the perfectly prepared duck.
Cooking a good steak exactly to the customer’s requirements is one of those basic skills that seem to elude many restaurant kitchens – if you want it well-cooked, you really don’t want it oozing blood, but if you say “blue,” the chances are you want a perfectly seared outside and an interior that is deep pink and tender. G opted for the steak and green peppercorn sauce and was delighted with the succulent and flavoursome steak, cooked to her exacting requirements.
The pudding course included a choice of traditional Dorset apple cake with berries and clotted cream, a citrus cheesecake with blueberry glaze and black pepper ice cream or dark chocolate torte with mango coulis and raspberry chantilly.
G is allergic to vinegar in all its forms, and the chef, realising she could not have the blueberry glaze, prepared an alternative mango glaze, which she said was gorgeous. And the citrus and black pepper ice cream combination was an unusual idea that worked brilliantly . I went for the torte which tasted as delightful as it looked. The fruit flavours were zingingly fresh in the coulis and chantilly.
The food, prepared by head chef Simon Clewlow and his team, is beautifully presented without being fussy, and the flavours are clear and distinctive. Whether it’s retro, like the green peppercorn sauce with G’s fabulous steak or contemporary and original, like the citrus cheesecake with black pepper ice cream, the quality of the ingredients is complemented by the skill in preparation. It looks good, it tastes good – and we reckon that does you good!
Jenny and Jonathan Fletcher with their Dorset Tourism gold award for Best Small Hotel, and views of our meal