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Top 10 Places for Fun Dining

by Adrian Mourby

Once upon a time Britain’s pubs and hotels were places where you stayed the night if you lacked friends or relatives nearby. But you certainly didn’t go to a pub or hotel to eat. That’s what cafés and restaurants were for. But then in 1890 César Ritz arrived at London’s Savoy and, with his chef Escoffier, proved that the hotel dining-room was not just a place to eat well, it was also a place to be seen. It took a lot longer for British public houses to gain culinary respectability. When I was growing up in the 1970s the best you could hope for at a British pub was the dreaded ploughman’s lunch, or chicken in a basket or maybe scampi and chips.

How things have changed! Nowadays most pubs are gastro and many hotels offer a seven-course tasting menu so the chef can show off and the sommelier surprise you with their unusual wine pairings.

So here are eight contemporary British hotels and two contemporary pubs that I’d definitely recommend for food. They’re places to stay where the dining experience is not just fine but fun as well.


Showing below are all 10 records in "Top 10 Places for Fun Dining"

The Dunstane Houses (Hotel)

4 West Coates/5 Hampton Terrace, Haymarket, Edinburgh

The Dunstane Houses, 4 West Coates/5 Hampton Terrace, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh

Dunstane House is located on the road to Edinburgh airport just a mile and a half outside the city centre. It’s actually one of two rather grand houses owned by Shirley and Derek Mowat from Orkney, and the couple have put their mark on both. Photos of Orkney abound as do images of vintage cars and aeroplanes (Derek’s twin passions) and there is a lot of Orkney on the menu too. A “Wee Taste of Orkney” denotes the hotel’s sharing board of salmon, mackerel paté and Grimbister – my favourite name for a Scottish cheese. And in the “Wee Bites” section of the menu you can have haggis bonbons as well as hand-dived Orkney scallops and smoked Orkney mackerel pate on special oatcakes made in the Orkney seaport of Stromness.

The word “wee” crops up a lot at Dunstane House too. The three categories of bedroom include the “Luxury Wee Doubles”. But there is nothing at all wee about the height of the Ba’Bar, the all-day dining lounge where you can help yourself to a wee dram from the decanter. The Ba’Bar is where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. It’s a lofty room with an ornate ceiling and was originally the drawing room of Thomas Gill who built Dunstane House in 1852. Surprisingly Gill lived in the house all on his own – apart from a few servants - for the rest of his life which is odd as it has the feel of a gracious mid-Victorian family home. When Gill’s sister came to join him in later life she lived across the road in Hampton House, which is the second part of Shirley and Derek’s Dunstane Houses wee hotel complex.

The Ba’Bar gets its name from Ba’, a game of rough football played on Orkney. There is an actual ba’ (ball) hanging over the bar, which makes for an interesting talking point. The height of the room has also been used to stack more than 30 whiskeys in a floor to ceiling glass cabinet that has to be accessed by steps. The nicest touch of all is that decanter of blended whisky on a table to which guests are able to help themselves.

The Ba’Bar’s own wine list has its impressive moments too, including a Jim Barry Assyrtiko made in Australia from grapes grown in Nemea on the Greek mainland. Now that’s not something you encounter very often. Certainly not in this country.

The Manor House Hotel (Hotel)

High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh

The Manor House Hotel, High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire

The Manor House Hotel used to be named Creswyke House after the family that lived in it up until 1752. When they sold it, there were rumours of Dame Creswyke's ghost haunted the house. This dissuaded a few buyers, but since it’s been a hotel the Manor House has witnessed fewer sightings. The grey lady’s last manifestation was in 1987. Were she to come back today, Dame Creswyke would find the building much changed. It has a whole new wing along Church Street, trendy sisal carpets everywhere, a smattering of tartan rugs on the landings and some colourfully painted panelled rooms. Goodness, the old gardener’s cottage is now the most expensive suite at the Manor House Hotel!

The dame would recognise the ancient mulberry tree however. It’s still there in the garden – 350 years old and counting - and its fruit is used by the hotel staff to make mulberry jam. That jam is also the key ingredient in a cocktail that the hotel invented back in 2006. It's called “The Mulberry” and it uses Pimms and Bombay Sapphire as a base, but literally flavours it with the hotel’s jam. The Mulberry is available in the hotel’s Beagle Bar and costs £12. You’ll find it at other cocktails bars too around the world as it has now been included in The Bartender’s Bible.

Dining at the Manor House takes place next door to the bar in the Beagle Brasserie or in the Mulberry Restaurant, which overlooks what the hotel calls its Secret Garden. The dinner menu has some great staples of contemporary British dining – seared scallops with black pudding, cannon of lamb, carpaccio of Cotswold venison. There is also a six-course tasting menu at £65 with wine pairings adding £35 to the bill the menu and pairings a very good use of £100 per person should you be in that kind of budget.

Burley Manor Restaurant & Rooms (Hotel)

Ringwood Road, Burley, Ringwood

Burley Manor Restaurant & Rooms, Ringwood Road, Ringwood, Hampshire

Burley Manor sits in the New Forest, which means you’ll pass plenty of New Forest ponies on your way there. They graze on common land, wander along the roads and even wait absent-mindedly at bus stops. After such an arcadian introduction to this corner of Hampshire, the historic home of the Burley family doesn’t disappoint. A “royal manor” or crown property from 1388 until 1551, the Burley estate passed through many subsequent families down the centuries before being bought by Colonel William Eisdale in 1852. Eisdale, a local JP, pulled down the old ramshackle manor house and built his own neo-Elizabethan pile to replace it. Eighty years later in 1932 this new Burley Manor became a hotel but a lot of William Eisdale’s personality can still be found in the building. His family motto, “Courage is my protection and my glory”, is emblazoned on a coat of arms at the top of the main staircase while over the lobby fireplace is carved a more personal motto: “When Friends Meet, Hearts Warm”. These days the hotel’s civil ceremony room is named after Colonel Eisdale and it sports the family coat of arms on its stained glass windows.

When Burley Manor was turned into a hotel in the 1930s a new wing was added with bedrooms over a new oak-panelled dining room. More recently this room has had a conservatory tacked on, making a bright and welcoming venue for lunch and dinner.

Ben Johnson, Head Chef at Burley Manor is an advocate of slow food. “The beauty of running a kitchen in the New Forest,” he says, “is the ability to source produce from forest to coast.” Suppliers include Lyburn Cheese (actually based in the Forest), Wild Island, a supplier of dressings and oils from the Isle of Wight, and Dan Tanner whose deer herd can be seen grazing just beyond the hotel’s lawns.

The menu mixes a range of enjoyable influences. Burley venison comes with pistachio dukkah, an Egyptian condiment. Local lamb can be enjoyed either as a Moroccan lamb and lentil stew or finely ground as lamb kibbeh, a Levantine dish with bulgur and minced onions.

For more private dining the hotel also offers a Butler’s Pantry where guests can choose from a range of menus including Spanish, Lebanese, Turkish, French, Italian, Moroccan and Greek food.

Bedrooms at Burley Manor are either in the main house or around the main lawn in a series of brick-built garden suites that look out across the grassland to those grazing deer. The suites have a feel of South African safari lodges and on warm days you’ll see guests sitting out with the binoculars gazing at the wild life – and maybe wondering how tasty it will prove to be.

The Sheep on Sheep Street (Pub with Rooms)

The Sheep on Sheep Street, Stow-on-the-Wold

The Sheep on Sheep Street, The Sheep on Sheep Street, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire

The Sheep on Sheep Street only gained its current ruminant moniker in 2016 when it reopened under new management. Before that it was known as the Grapevine after an ancient vine that stood in the hotel’s garden. That was uprooted in the early years of the twenty-first century when a big conservatory dining room was added on, but a cutting from that vine is now growing up a trellis in the outdoor seating area.

The Sheep clearly takes its name from Sheep Street on which it stands, although this road has also changed its name a few times along the way. In 1457, during the Wars of the Roses this straight new road running east-west through the southern edge of Stow was known as the New Road. Later, in the seventeenth century, it was known as Back Street. (Most English streets have changed their surnames surprisingly often).

Sheep Street was a fairly obvious name for a town involved in the Cotswold’s lucrative wool trade. It’s a good name for a pub too and you’ll find the odd lamb motif around the three old townhouses from which this pub-hotel was formed. The building is faced by honey-coloured Cotswold stone and linked internally in that slightly zany way you get when doorways are cut between houses and the floor next door turns out to be two feet lower. There are twelve bedrooms up and down a mass of staircases above the old part of the pub - and an additional ten in more modern buildings in the garden. There’s a reception with flame-effect gas fire and a few corners to sit in, but most of the Sheep is comprised of a big bar-cum-dining room that occupies the old conservatory. This is a fun, colourful place that’s been well fitted out with seating along the lengthy countertop, tiled walls and a mix of comfy armchairs and banquettes. The furniture gives the impression of eclecticism and pays homage to the Victorian public house with all that tiling. In reality it’s a skilful contemporary design for the 2016 relaunch.

All-day dining at the Sheep comes from a menu divided up into “Morsels” (like pork crackling) and “Small Plates” (like buffalo chicken wings), “Pizzas” and “Mains”. The extensive list of main courses includes a lot of locally-sourced meat but also a vegan burger and two vegetarian salads.

As a Brakspear pub, the Sheep works from a menu designed by the company’s Executive Chef Arthur Knights but customised to suit the tastes of Stow. Because of its impressive woodfired pizza oven the Sheep specialises in Panuozzos, baked bread sandwiches cooked in the 300 degree oven and filled while hot. The oven is visible from the restaurant and adds a certain sense of theatre to the dining experience.

Killingworth Castle (Pub with Rooms)

Glympton Road, Woodstock

Killingworth Castle, Glympton Road, Woodstock, Oxfordshire

Jim and Claire Alexander recently restored Killingworth Castle, a Cotswold stone pub standing in the picturesque village of Wooton. Guests stay in eight cosy suites that have been carved out of four old cottages sharing the inn’s forecourt. Complementary decanters of sherry and homemade biscuits greet guests on arrival, and don’t be surprised to hear barking. This pub is popular with locals and their dogs, and there are dog-friendly bedrooms too.

Inside the bar a log-burning stove is very welcoming. The two public dining rooms lie at the back of the pub, sharing a view of the open kitchen. (Open kitchens do add a welcome touch of theatre to the dining experience.) With a policy of sourcing its ingredients as close to home as possible and/or finding the best organic suppliers, Killingworth Castle has a fine reputation for its food. Pub dining classics include a range of burgers with hand cut chips – including a delicious venison burger when in season. There is also a flat iron steak on the menu, beef bourguignon with greens and mash, and fish and chips, featuring Yubby - the beer that Claire and Jim designed themselves - in the beer-batter.

Main courses include organic venison and beef from Coombe Farm in Somerset, hake or a similar meaty fish for the pescatarians and a few dishes for vegetarians including Jerusalem artichoke with wild mushroom. The desserts are traditional pub fare but include organic ice cream and three organic cheeses, Godminster cheddar from Somerset, Trevarrian brie from Cornwall and Perl Las from West Wales.

Even the coffee is ethically sourced, Killingworth’s own organic espresso blend from local micro roastery in Stow on the Wold. This is all good Foodie Fun – but with a heart.

The Eastbury Hotel (Hotel)

Long Street, Sherborne

The Eastbury Hotel, Long Street, Sherborne, Dorset

The tranquil Eastbury Hotel consists of listed a Georgian townhouse from 1740 and a number of new buildings constructed in its beautiful walled garden. This calm, old Sherborne property was recently acquired by Peter de Savary, the entrepreneur who once owned John O'Groats and Land's End. His wife Lana has since attractively redesigned and rethought the hotel.

The staff are enthusiastic and they’re very proud of improvements being made around the Eastbury, especially the new Potting Shed Garden Suites that will open this summer.

The hotel’s restaurant, Seasons lies down a long corridor decorated with art from the de Savarys’ personal collection. There is a fascinating display of original art work commissioned for the New Yorker magazine during the Golden Age of Illustration (1880-1920). For instructive comparison the final magazine covers are displayed alongside the artists’ originals.

Once you arrive it is clear that Seasons is a garden-room extension on the back of the hotel with views of the extensive garden and its changing colours throughout the year.

As the name suggests, menus are designed to reflect the shift in local produce as the year moves round changing with the seasons. Executive chef Matt Street and head chef Richard Street work together to serve traditional dishes in an innovative way. The seven-course tasting menu dinner – exceptional value at £45 – includes such surprises as Vale of Camelot cheese brûlée, Devon crab with cucumber & horseradish, and rump of lamb with caramelised red onions and Greek yoghurt. For preprandials, I’d particularly recommend the range of local gins, which include Lilliput and Pothecary from Dorset and Newton House Gin from Somerset.

Guests can also dine in splendid isolation in The Pod, by arrangement. This circular glass and wood structure on the edge of the croquet lawn looks like one of the gondolas from the London Eye. It is in fact a small summer house and can also be used for weddings, should your dining experience turn out to be more romantic than you expected.

Ettington Park (Hotel)

Alderminster, Stratford-upon-Avon

Ettington Park, Alderminster, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

Food is one of many pleasures to be had at Ettington Park near Stratford Upon Avon. There’s also a helicopter pad if you want to land in style and if you’re very lucky you may get to stay in the Victorian Garden Suite or the Shakespeare Suite, both of which overlook the picturesque ruins of Ettington’s church. But all guests to take tea in the Great Drawing Room or dinner in the Oak Room Restaurant. Or indeed breakfast in the book-lined Library with its Strawberry Hill Gothic chimney place copied from Windsor Castle, plus a secret butler’s door, disguised as library shelving so servants can come and go unseen.

Dinner in the 2 AA Rosette Oak Restaurant means being surrounded by panels of beautiful inlaid coats of arms. When the Shirley family gave Ettington Park its neo-gothic makeover in the early nineteenth century the coats of arms of all the families who had married into the Shirleys were used as decorative motifs. Given that the Shirleys of Ettington had been in situ since time Norman Conquest it’s not surprising so many noble in-laws are thus commemorated.

The menu makes good use of local products and is littered with local dishes like Cotswold Lamb and Cotswold Blue Cheesecake. The wine list has an attractive range of French and New World wines but also a red, Raccolto A Mano Rosso and white, Terre Forti Trebbiano Chardonnay that are made at Villa Saletta in Tuscany which, like Ettington Park is owned by Hand Picked Hotels.

Ettington is also a splendid place to work up a healthy appetite for all that food. There’s a “Kingfisher Walk” following the River Stour as it flows through the park’s 40-acre grounds. And longer walking routes available on sheets of A4 from reception. Wellington boots for the adventurous are also to be found at reception and there are bicycles available if you want to go further afield. But in good weather it’s also just pleasant to sit on the terrace and watch the park’s herd of deer keeping their distance.

Langshott Manor (Hotel)

Langshott Lane, Langshott, Horley

Langshott Manor, Langshott Lane, Horley, Surrey

Just five miles from Gatwick airport there’s a Tudor manor house that once upon a time was moated for defensive purposes. Five hundred years ago this part of Surrey was divided up between a number of fortified manor houses including Haroldsea Manor, Langshott Manor, and of course Gatwick Manor. Langshott was owned by many families over the centuries, including the Aubreys (close relatives of John Aubrey the antiquarian who was the first to draw Stonehenge and who also discovered the Avebury Circle). Other owners included the Bridges family who “restored” the building to a Victorian approximation of Elizabethan style back in the days before historic houses were protected by listed status. The ambitious Canon Alexander Bridges died in 1891 which was when nd his son John Henry Bridges inherited Langshott. John Henry was one of those very energetic Victorians, both a champion archer and champion cattle breeder but no respecter of old buildings. In 1923 he sold the house for £14,000 and thereafter it quickly became a hotel.

Langhsott Manor still retains its open fireplaces in some of the bedrooms -quite an anomally these days - but its moat has shrunk to a duckpond. Nevertheless it remains a little time capsule of historic charm as twenty-first century jets take off and land overhead.

Dinner at Langshott is served in the Mulberry Restaurant which has mullioned windows and wooden beams. Here you can dine on signature dishes like the Langshott Manor Atlantic prawn cocktail with Melba toast, the duo of Creedy Carver Duck (using free range birds reared slowly in Devon) and the dark chocolate and caramel delice. It’s a whole other world - and several centuries away from Gatwick South Terminal.

Nira Caledonia (Hotel)

6-10 Gloucester Place, Edinburgh

Nira Caledonia, 6-10 Gloucester Place, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh

In Edinburgh’s eighteenth-century New Town two august neoclassical houses have been knocked together to create a very stylish, rather unexpected 28-room boutique hotel. New Town is so special architecturally that everything is protected. Even the railings outside Nira Caledonia can only be painted one of two colours. The only area where the hotel is allowed to let rip is in its wallpapers, drapes and throws – and its menu.

Blackwood’s Bar & Grill is the hotel’s ground floor dining room. It’s a restrained space with a complete lack of tartan or highland antlers in the décor. A joke doing the rounds suggests that it takes its name from the Josper Grill which uses charcoal (black wood....) to cook meat, fish poultry and game but while this is trie the name actually derives from a man called John Wilson who back in 1817 owned one of the houses now occupied by Blackwood’s Grill. Wilson was a major contributor of satirical articles to Blackwood’s Magazine under the pseudonym of Christopher North. Blackwood’s – later known as Maga (for Magazine) - was a vehemently Tory magazine which, for all its conservative credentials, published the works of radicals like Shelley and Coleridge. It also supported William Wordsworth and angered Keats, Leigh Hunt and Hazlitt by referring to their works as the "Cockney School of Poetry".

Famous satirists aside, there’s a lot to be said about dining at Blackwood’s. Scotland is well represented by west coast rope-grown mussels, Scottish seafood platters and a mixed dish of Scottish and Continental charcuterie to share. The braised highland venison doesn’t have to travel many food miles and the Catch of the Day is from Eddie’s famous Seafood Market just two miles away in Marchmont.

Given that Charlie MacLean, Master of the Quaich is a next-door neighbour, Nira Caledonia keeps its whisky credentials well-honed. It offers 25 single malts including an 8-year-old from Caol Ila on Islay, which is bottled exclusively for the hotel by Adelphi Distillery near Dunfermline. There was just enough whisky for 24 bottles and when that is gone, says Chris Lynch the manager, it is gone.

The Cottage in the Wood (Hotel)

Holywell Road, Malvern Wells

The Cottage in the Wood, Holywell Road, Malvern Wells, Worcestershire

1919 is the name of the restaurant at the Cottage in the Woods. This was the year that a Georgian dower house, high on the side of the Malvern Hills, opened as a hotel and public tea room. Up until then, this small stately building standing on seven acres of woodland had been part of the massive 3,226 acre Blackmoor Park Estate. Blackwood Park, before World War I stretched as far as the eye could see across the Severn Valley. In 1921 the main Victorian mansion in the park later burned down, but the view over its estate can still be enjoyed from the hotel’s terrace and dining room, all the way to the Cotswolds and Vale of Evesham.

Today guests at The Cottage in the Woods stay in the old dower house itself - which has seven bedrooms - or in the modern Coach House where there are 19 rooms with individual patios and balconies. There’s also Beech Cottage which was built as a woodman’s abode in the 1700s and was later a scrumpy house for making cider. Beech Cottage has just four rooms and is the actual cottage from which the hotel took its name in 1919.

The Cottage in the Woods has two AA Rosettes for its dining room and describes the menu at 1919 as offering the best from “Forest and Coast” so you will find plenty of local Hereford rib-eye steak and braised pig head as well as roast Cornish cod in a shellfish sauce and Zarzuela Spiced Spanish fish stew. Vegetarians are also well catered for: ask for the roast cauliflower with confit egg purée or the goat's curd mousse with salt baked heritage beetroot. Not surprisingly 1919 also offers its own Cottage Pie featuring black treacle braised oxtail and beef shin, celeriac crumb and truffle mash.

The hotel is popular with walkers come to enjoy the Malvern Hills and its menu sufficiently inviting for many to book in on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis.

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