We're all friends of Dorothy's here...

Dorothy Goodbody's ale, that is - which is only one example of the quality fare on offer at this upgraded Shropshire pub. But will posh food win over the locals who've always drunk there?
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Indy Lifestyle Online

In what might be the first instance of Ludlow's cup brimming over, the town has lost one of its chefs; a village15 miles further west has gained a restaurant that promises to become one of the best in the county. Even before they'd visited The Waterdine, two panellists in The Information's recent 50 Best Restaurants Outside London nominated this newcomer.

In what might be the first instance of Ludlow's cup brimming over, the town has lost one of its chefs; a village15 miles further west has gained a restaurant that promises to become one of the best in the county. Even before they'd visited The Waterdine, two panellists in The Information's recent 50 Best Restaurants Outside London nominated this newcomer.

Ken Adams's Oaks restaurant in Ludlow earned a reputation, against intense competition, for painstaking cooking with vegetables and herbs grown to his specifications, and even his own-smoked fish and shellfish. Hibiscus, Ludlow's latest arrival, has taken Oaks' place.

A couple of months ago, Adams took over a pub in the village of Llanfair Waterdine, way out on the wild western edge of Shropshire, where the remains of Offa's Dyke mark the border with Wales and a path for walkers to stride along. He's renamed it The Waterdine, signalling with a few strokes of the signwriter's brush his intention to turn it into a restaurant, not just another pub.

In its first few weeks, before even Directory Enquiries knew of its existence, the snug at the front was providing a very elevated take on bar food. So much so, it must have had some of the locals hurrumphing into their bitter, while pleasing visitors prepared to spend the £10 or so you'd expect on ploughman's lunches and beer.

For this was the most unexpected ploughman's lunch and unusually good beer. A blue-and-red medallioned pub carpet remains, but an alcove beside the fireplace has been turned into a display of wine bottles; behind the bar, hand pumps serve, among other local ales, the lovely Dorothy Goodbody's from the Wye Valley Brewery.

On the first of two visits to The Waterdine, we joined a few couples quietly appreciating bar food of extraordinary refinement. Three types of home-baked rolls arrived, almost finger-tremblingly hot. A flat, flaky-pastry base bearing fragrant, skinned tomatoes and whole basil leaves with melted mozzarella on top was possibly the most delicious tart I've ever had, in or out of a pub, and a ploughman's featuring the local delicacy, Shropshire Blue, and dainty salads - including celeriac instead of coleslaw - was an elegant and delectable plateful. Admittedly it was absurdly unrustic: the plate it came on was glass fitted into a flat wicker tray; not your typical meal in a basket, nor a ploughman's lunch that any son of the soil would recognise, but better for it.

After such a successful recce, we returned to try out what Adams has really moved to Llanfair for - to bring his serious and original cooking to a rural area with a growing number of tourists.

This time we enlisted our own friend of Dorothy from the Wye Valley, a rosé drinker and author of children's books and the country-camp classic Two Gentlemen Sharing. William had come, as do most arrivals to The Waterdine, through Knighton, "the town on the dyke".

"Where are they all?" he asked, noting the absence of anyone in hiking boots.

We left a solitary rheumy-eyed farmer at the bar and were encouraged to closet ourselves in a small lounge overlooking the garden, the tumbling river Teme, and steeply rising pastures beyond for pre-lunch drinks. Our guest's approval of the pretty, distinctly unpubby conservatory dining room was then momentarily spoiled when he caught sight of the chef's display of awards; Chef & Potter - a contest which attaches great importance to how the food looks - was the offending plate.

"As if I need another reminder of that bloody JK Rowling," he wailed before being consoled by the bread. His tidy square of smoked salmon on samphire with a cream sauce also impressed him. The other starter, scallops and red peppers baked in a filo pastry parcel, showed how, with the right number of sheets of filo, it needn't be soggy inside. But where the pastry should seal, retaining a little of the scallops' raw succulence, these had been cooked right through and lost it.

As the prices - around £7 for starters, £15 for mains - on a menu which changes regularly lead you to expect, the cooking is ambitious and elaborate, though not excessively so. Dishes are meticulously planned; in practice saucing was occasionally more intrusive than complementary. But when so many others are derivative, Adams brings an original approach to the Michelin-pleasing advanced Anglo-French class. Superb loin of veal - real, tender meat, not tragically pale - precariously and generously balanced on a rosti potato cake, with leeks, carrots, onions, and morels adding an almost overpowering woodiness.

"It's drenched," lamented the friend of Dorothy, of the forceful red wine sauce which permeated everything on the plate. Duck, so lightly cooked it wasn't so much pink as purple, came with a profusion of carrots, leeks, green beans, celery and celeriac and intensely concentrated blackcurranty jus. Subtlest of all was brill with fennel, the fish crispy-skinned, and encircled by two vegetable pureés of different stages of creaminess.

Most rewarding are Adams's intelligent variations on dishes commonly found on other menus. Proof of this, for pudding, was his divine chocolate pithiviers instead of the usual chocolate tart. A little dome of flaky pastry, the top sparkling with crystallised sugar, protected a dense, smooth, dark chocolate interior. The seasonal juicy pleasure of a fresh peach was rather masked by a coating of runny toffee and toasted nuts; blackcurrant sorbet in a tuile basket celebrated the essence of the fruit rather better. "Lovely lunch," said the friend of Dorothy, "but a little too made-up for me," he concluded, frowning slightly.

Though The Waterdine sets out to be more than just a pub with a dining room, I was also most impressed by the bar food. Lunch in the restaurant cost the same as dinner would - ours was £33 for each adult, including wine, but without service.

No allowances are made for chidren - yes, I know, why should they be - but we were the only customers that day, and yet had to order a £14 main course (of lamb cutlets, with sun-dried tomatoes and chanterelles which they objected to) to be divided between two unsuitably vast plates. As The Waterdine becomes more relaxed and flexible, it should win over the locals and Dorothy Goodbody's drinkers, as well as Adams' existing fans.

The Waterdine, Llanfair Waterdine, near Knighton, Shropshire (01547 528214) Tue-Sun 12-2pm, 7-9.30pm. All cards except American Express and Diners. Limited disabled access.

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