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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair