Michael Edwards reviews Seasons Restaurant during his stay in Dorset at the Eastbury Hotel and Spa
As the winner of the recently announced Conde Nast Johansen Best Value Experience award even more shrewd foodies will now be heading for this quiet corner of Dorset.
The judges enthused over, “Warm smiles and fine meals in the quaint, historic town of Sherborne.” Going on to add, “We love the homely atmosphere and great food.”
This is another accolade for chef Matthew Street, a former MasterChef: The Professionals contestant whose menus have already collected a number of Taste of the West accolades for this two AA rosette restaurant.
Alfresco drinks on the terrace, overlooked by sculpted red-berried pyracantha framing the hotel’s rear entrance, is the way to start. Even in late autumn and early spring, this is a sheltered courtyard. Extensions to the original 1740 house make it so sheltered that the geraniums often see in the New Year and daffodils bloom long before St David’s day.
The seven-course taster menu takes pride of place. If you are staying a few nights at The Eastbury it serves as an introduction to the a la carte menu.
A delicate golden filigree place mat adorns the table for taster menu diners. But it is soon whisked away for the arrival of an expresso sized cup of cauliflower soup decadently drizzled with truffle oil. Hot plates would melt the gold leaf.
This is a set taster menu but there is still a decision to be made. Do you opt for the drinks flight? Wise diners do, usually booked in for the night at the Eastbury Hotel. The closest room, just steps across the courtyard is the ground floor Yew featuring an 18th-century four-poster bed and private walled garden. More contemporary are the recently added Victorian Potting Shed Suites on the hotel’s grounds.
Note that it is a “drinks” and not a “wine” flight. Orchard Pig Cider is the first to be poured marrying perfectly with a pig cheek starter. Though after that, it is a run of three wines before the arrival of a Chilean Moscatel for the dessert wine.
Although sourcing is local, with meat and poultry from Sherborne butchers Parsons, there are oriental hints: the pig’s cheek rests in a slightly salty miso broth.
Then it is a flit to Italy for tiny flat agnolotti pasta featuring ricotta cheese. This time the broth is porcini, topped with toasted pine nuts introducing a nutty crispness.
In his early days, Matthew Street was nicknamed “Beetroot Boy” by his cooking contemporaries for his creative use of the vegetable. A chilled beetroot soup, with a truly soupy viscosity, hosting islands of whipped goats cheese, show that his beetroot skills have only developed over the years.
Many guests so enjoy the taster of harissa roasted lamb – along with the spicy Middle Eastern influences of tahini, labneh, chermoula and pomegranate – that they order a full-sized portion from the a la carte menu on subsequent evenings. Usually, they keep to the drinks flight’s recommendation of an Argentinian Zapa Malbec.
This is a light, balanced taster menu and most diners are still hungry when the first dessert arrives, a light pre-dessert of coconut and lime leaf with crunchy dark chocolate. A reminder of the richly authentic taste of dark chocolate so rarely enjoyed. Finally, a delicate coffee and pecan financier is accompanied by a cool Frangelico gelato and almost ethereal caramel mousse.
Overlooking the gardens and croquet lawn framed by towering elms and yews, The Seasons is a serene fine-dining spot. Run by experienced hotelier Peter de Savary, a few framed samples from his collection of magazine covers from the 1920s Age of the Great Illustrators add to the aura of calm elegance.
Tell Me More About Seasons Restaurant at The Eastbury Hotel and Spa, Sherborne, Dorset
The Eastbury Hotel, Long Street, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 3BY. England
The seven-course tasting menu is £70 per head and the drinks flight is £28.
A Victorian Garden Potting Shed Suite begins from £206 per night.