Summer Lodge Country House Hotel, 9 Fore Street, Evershot, Dorset

 

Evershot, in West Dorset, reeks with literary association. It turns up in Tess of the D'Urbevilles as "the small town or village of Evershead" where Tess pauses on her way to call on Angel Clare's parents: "She made a halt here and breakfasted a second time, heartily enough – not at the Sow and Acorn, for she avoided inns, but at a cottage by the church." The church is St Basil's (patron saint of hoteliers, I expect) and the poet George Crabbe was rector there. Had poor Ms D'Urbeville lived a century later, she could have had her breakfast at Summer Lodge, a former dower-house whose grounds were part-designed by Thomas Hardy, when he was the local architect.

It's now a country house hotel of sumptuous, indeed fabulous, excess: its décor and furnishings so plumped and primped, so louche and luxuriant, that you find a tut-tutting puritan lurking in your conscience, muttering: "This is too much." The lounge in which we sat before dinner is full of plush fat sofas. The ruched gold ball-skirted curtains are the kind of thing that used to be seen on the shoulders of the Duchess of York. On two tables, left there as though by an eccentric ducal host, are at least 100 bottles of whisky, gin, brandy, rum and Armagnac. There's a huge fire in the grate – unlit on this warm night – and a big portrait on the wall of a troubled Hispanic beauty in a frock, from the school of post-operation Frieda Kahlo.

As we took all this in, along with our (huge) G&Ts, the amuses-bouches arrived: delicious tiny arancini, a miniature Waldorf salad with the blue cheese heftily predominant, and a mini-burger, with tomato relish. A plate of enormous green olives added to the general air of opulent over-stuffed-ness.

The dining-room offered a whole new arena of excess. Chintz floral prints on a cream background ran up the curtains, or protruded from the white walls as button-back banquettes. The non-matching carpet was a riot of pink-patterned diamond shapes. A brace of South American china horses stood around at the far end, looking faintly embarrassed to be trapped in this Colefax & Fowler whirlwind.

The décor is very distracting, but you get used to it: like listening to a surfeit of light-orchestral music. The food, however, is far less fussy. My Dorset Downs breast of partridge was an honest-to-God lump of game whose earthy pong was sweetened by glazed pears and celeriac purée, and given a final rough kiss by crunchy bacon. The Lodge's chef, the pleasingly named Steven Titman, is admirably straightforward about his flavours. Angie's sweetcorn soup, lovingly served over two braised ham hock fritters, was a touch bland and oversalted but saved by the hocks in their deep-fried shrouds.

On the small table d'hôte menu (£40 for three courses) there was a limited quartet of mains: lamb, sole, calves' liver and polenta. My roast rump of Dorset lamb came in four soft tranches laid across a rectangular slab of potato: like my pheasant, it was simple and effective, a little undercooked but happily finished with a jus of black olives and, miraculously, nothing else. What a good idea that is, occasionally. It was delicious, and the accompanying vegetables attractively charred and toothsome. Angie's Cornish sole fillet with herb risotto was almost perfect: the fish deliciously buttery, the risotto creamy and rich – but again, the salt had been added by a heavy hand. A bottle of wonderfully savoury (black plum and beef gravy flavours, with a touch of cherry) Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine de Ferraud '05 went brilliantly with the lamb, and sang in unexpected harmony with the fish. It was recommended and presented with a flourish by our charming wine waiter Eric Zweibel from Alsace. But I couldn't fault any of the hotel's staff for attentiveness – it was a touch disconcerting to find that, as in the bar in Cheers, everybody in the Lodge knows your name, and calls you (well, me anyway) "Mr Walsh" when serving you.

The hotel's reinterpretation of a classic Eton mess offered a formal arrangement of berries, unbroken roundels of meringue and a blackcurrant sorbet. They sat in the glass a little stiffly, like guests who haven't been introduced. The berries were a little tart, and the sorbet too icy on the spoon: how one longed for the bashed-up creamy-crunchy chaos of the real thing. But I forgot my disappointment when faced with a selection of the 27 cheeses on the tray, each fluently described by the charming waiter. The highlights were Ogleshield from Jersey, Winscombe from north Somerset, Yarg from Cornwall (did you know it's "Gray" spelt backwards, after the couple who invented the recipe in the 1970s?) and Cashel Blue from Ireland. A blissful selection.

This was a slightly hit-and-miss meal from a chef with bags of skill who will go far (provided he has a word with the salt cellar sous-chef.) How Tess would have been comforted by the partridge-with-pears after being dumped by the awful Mr Clare.

Summer Lodge Country House Hotel, 9 Fore Street, Evershot, Dorset (01935 482000)

Food 3 stars
Ambience 3 stars
Service 4 stars

About £120 for two, with wine

Tipping policy: "No service charge for groups of fewer than 10 people. All tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: Delicious Dorset

Fishy Fishy

Yes, Dermot O'Leary's on 'X Factor' – but he's also the man behind the second branch of this sustainably-sourced seafood restaurant.

18 Dolphin Quay, Poole (01202 680793)

Sienna

Award-winning modern Brit-style eaterie serving dishes including collar of local pork with potato purée & baby leeks.

36 High West Street, Dorchester (01305 250022)

Hix Oyster and Fish House

High above Lyme Regis is Mark Hix's compact seafood restaurant – try the Torbay megrim sole with green sauce.

Cobb House, Lyme Regis, Dorset (01297 446910)

VIDEO
News
news
Life & Style
tech
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Arts & Entertainment
film
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal