So it was a natural progression for him to devise a tasting menu, so that diners could not only sample small quantities of a dozen cheeses they might not otherwise know, but also a selection of the inventive and delicious food on La Fosse’s frequently changing menu.
Former oil industry geologist Mark met his German-born wife Emmanuelle at the famed Chewton Glen where both were working, and, seven years ago bought the long-established restaurant in the square at Cranborne. Since then they have been steadily building up a loyal and regular customer base from the immediate locality and further afield.
Bedrooms have been modernised and each has its own individual character, combining comfort with quirky style, and each named after one of Mark’s favourite local cheeses.
In the restaurant, local sourcing and taste are paramount. The menus include not only details of the dishes but information about the ingredients and suppliers – and their distance from the restaurant, so there’s no excuse to complain about food miles.
Bread is home-made, herbs, red fruit, elderflower, rhubarb and courgettes come from the Hartstone allotment. Seasonal fruit and vegetables are grown in gardens around the village and Chalke Valley Cheese, Horton Honey, Sixpenny Handley beers and Rockbourne trout are all from the immediate area.
The furthest local supplier is Clipper Teas from Beaminster, 52 miles away in West Dorset.
Mark and Emmanuelle have always been committed to supporting local food producers, serving produce in season and to staying small – no plans here for extensions to the old building with its 20-seater restaurant.
Dinner is served from Monday to Saturday and the restaurant is open to private parties for lunch. Diners can chose between a two or three course a la carte menu and the newly introduced tasting menu, for which notice must be given.
First dish on the table was potted fly-caught Rockbourne trout with Sopley asparagus, with a glass of Remy Massin cru rosé.
Next came the wonderful combination of monkfish and pork belly with apple salad and an intense tomato dressing, complemented by a glass of Les Argelieres oak-aged chardonnay.
Mark smokes his own mussels, and the next course included these with baked hake in a light chowder jus, and the wine was an estate riesling.
A trio of veal from Marleycombe near Salisbury was served with pan haggerty and greens and a glass of The Ruins pinotage.
Dorset’s Best Cheeseboard (a title Mark has won on two occasions) included Dorset Blue Vinny, several Lyburn cheeses and the Camembert-style international award winning Hampshire Cheeses’ Tunworth among the 12 cheeses on the slate.
The tasting menu dishes were all available on the a la carte menu, which also offered other choices for the diners.
The style of La Fosse is informal and Mark is often available at the end of the evening to discuss his dishes. For those who are more interested, he frequently demonstrates his skills at local food festivals. See him at Shaftesbury on Saturday 7th June and the Dorset Food and Arts Festival at Poundbury, Dorchester, on Saturday 2nd August.
He will also come and give cooking lessons in your home.
“That’s often a better alternative to cookery schools, where the students use all sorts of professional kit they don’t have at home. This way I can see what they have and show them how to use it to its full advantage,” he says.
For those staying, there is a hearty Dorset breakfast on offer, including traditional choices of bacon, eggs, mushrooms etc, smoked salmon, eggs and soldiers.
The rooms are not only comfortable but equipped with a selection of teas, coffees and hot chocolate, (with fresh milk) and of course televisions.
Wi Fi is not strong in Cranborne, but it is available with luck. Better to regard a visit to La Fosse as a time to turn your back on the world of social media and listen to the bird song. The best tweets come from the blackbird.
La Fosse at Cranborne, London House, The Square. www.la-fosse.com 01725 517604