Beena takes time out to sample the Dorset Autumn Food Fortnight and try a Dorset Knob. Which is not as shocking as it sounds
There are no motorways in Dorset, mainly because whole swathes of land is still owned by a few moneyed landowners Ã¢â‚¬â€œ including its many castles, abbeys and even whole villages. It’s a country where cows probably outnumber people and the landscape is outstandingly beautiful.
Its cuisine is a mixture of tradition, with its cream teas and amusingly named biscuits: the Dorset Knob, while embracing locally sourced foods in somewhat quirky ways Ã¢â‚¬â€œ think of vodka created from milk or beetroot caviar.
We were here to sample one of Dorset’s many food festivals, in this case the late autumn Food Fortnight, and coinciding with half term, I bring seven-year-old Little L along to sample some of the county’s fare.
Winding round the winsome surroundings, there are plentiful sinuous routes laced through undulating mounds which dip in and out of the countryside, hiding tales of smugglers, toil and dark brooding affairs. No wonder Hardy found so much to write about here.
We make it down a cavernous road, bumpy and potholed road, to arrive at Downhouse Farm where its outdoor cafÃƒÂ© serves organic meats and sausages reared from a 380 acre Dorset Farm.
We arrive here armed with information about the sausage festival, only to be told by puzzled owner Nikki, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I’d hardly call it a festival, but we do sausagesÃ¢â‚¬Â.
We choose for farm-reared pork and leak sausages, which arrive in fat fingers, along with mountains of buttery mash, and sweet potato mash. It’s nothing short of what bangers and mash should be: a comforting hug of a meal. The setting itself overlooks the furrowed blue sea of West Beach with a foreground of velvet greens and luminous haystacks, though the weather is biting cold. It is worth attending this little gem when the weather is perkier, in the Spring.
On day two, we take in the White Post for Sunday lunch: a restaurant and bar famed for its Sunday lunches and straddling two counties: Dorset and Somerset in one go.
The Eastbury, Sherborne
Day three takes us to my favourite so far, The Eastbury Hotel in historic Sherborne,which happens to boast two castles, an abbey, an old school, and cottages-a-plenty.
Little L prances on our four-poster bed calling orders of’me lady, I need the royal bottom wiper’ and other things well brought up children do.
The beautiful setting of the conservatory restaurant overlooks its sizable walled garden Ã¢â‚¬â€œ complete with tucked away beehives. Food is locally sourced and one of Dorset’s most talented chefs and former Master Chef Professionals contestant, Matt Street, conjurors them into something special. In the past two years, Street has earned the Eastbury a set of accolades, including Dorset Food and Drink’s best hotel restaurant award
We soon discover why. One evening as the rain stamps outside and the shadows grow long, we sample the alchemy that takes place in his kitchen to produce a very memorable seven-course flight menu.
Firstly, I should say it helps, when undertaking a seven-course menu, having a child who eats at a glacial speed. As we start our fourth course, Little L is just finishing her first (of two), to which she shrills: Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is the best meal I’ve ever hadÃ¢â‚¬Â.
We have pork belly with a barbecue glaze. Now, with some trepidation, this is my first try of taste of anything porcine or indeed, abdomen. It is delicious: delicate and a flaky; a light texture with a hint of sweetness.
I only really get to try the bit Little L doesn’t devour. Least she left me with smoked sweet corn and picked cabbage to myself. It is paired with a full-bodied wine, normally associated with red a white Rioja Blanco Manopole, which was pleasant enough, though did not leave me hankering for more.
Next was a lovely juxtaposition of flavours and colours: tomatoes and ewes curd roulade engineered into perfect Catherine Wheel, served with cubes of watermelon, and garnished with lovage and basil. It was a fun course to eat, and the flavours happily bounced off one another.
The next course comes with a Ã¢â‚¬Å“not another mealÃ¢â‚¬Â sigh from Little L and features Conker Gin (from Dorset) and Beetroot cured salmon, along with horseradish and balanced with a dill crÃƒÂ¨me fraiche. This came with the curious and very delicious beetroot caviar, and, fennel pollen. Now these last two words are hard for me to say without a snigger Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I’m a Yorkshire woman, and we don’t do pollens, foams or anything which has the audacity to call itself an’essence’. Saying that, whatever it was, it was marvellous and well balanced. This is served with a Pinot Grigio, which gave a subtle sweetness to contrast with the slight tartness of goats’ cheese.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Oh not another meal,Ã¢â‚¬Â she sighs. This, in a crowded field of courses I love, is my favourite. Tender rump of lamb, served with just the right pinkness is served alongside roasted onion and spring greens and a warm potato salad. My fork slides into the lamb and the bed of veggies has the perfect subtle crunch. Paired with a Slow Wine Pinotage, from South Africa, which, is descried as having’deep red leathery tones’. I can not muster why anyone would find the description of a cow hide tempting. That wouldn’t happen in Yorkshire, either.
We moved towards a spritely serving of Pimms and Street’s own creation of a Pimms-like punch jelly, which tastes every bit like running down a green hill in summertime. Perhaps I had a little too much of it?
Next course did in fact have Little L, shuffling around a bit now, though she is far less restless than the raucous septuagenarians behind, so it’s all fine. She devours creamy ice cream and home made honeycomb Ã¢â‚¬â€œ in what could be described to the uninitiated as a thinking chef’s Crunchie Bar.
Dessert is Apricot panna cotta, poached apricots, almond profiteroles, white chocolate & honeycomb and like everything served this evening, is sublime. And although by this point, life is about as hard as it gets: this is paired with a very good and not overly sweet dessert wine: an Australian Rutherglen Muscat.
All in all, this food should not be missed. With friendly and knowledgeable staff, a wonderful wizardry in the kitchen, the menu would not be too highfalutin for one of London’s more sumptuous eateries. Equally, it is certainly not too pretentious, with lots of fun in the menu, making this whole evening, delicious.