There is no hospitality like understanding
A big city boy finds a perfect countryside break at the Eastbury hotel in the north west Dorset town of Sherborne
Review by Andy Barnham
I’m a self confessed big city boy. Restaurants, cinemas, theatres and bars of all shapes and tastes on my doorstep; the biggest contributory factor for me is the sheer convenience. It’s all here and easily reachable. However even this city boy needs a countryside break from time to time, to breathe in fresh air and escape from the daily hustle and bustle of being surrounded by millions of strangers, which is how my wife and I found ourselves in the market town of Sherborne in north west Dorset staying at the Eastbury Hotel.
If you’re asking why Sherborne, why not? If you need a reason to escape, here are a few reasons to escape to this market town. Named in the Doomsday book, the town has an Abbey as well as two castles. The Old Castle, built in the 12th century, withstood two sieges during the English Civil War before being forced to surrender in 1645 whence the defences were dismantled by General Fairfax and it fell into disrepair; the ruins today are owned by British Heritage and are open to the public. The moniker Sherborne Castle was then applied to the newer 16th century Tudor mansion built by Sir Walter Raleigh which is Grade I listed with the gardens open to the public for much of the year.
At just over two hours by train from London Waterloo, Sherborne is easily accessible with the train station just a few minutes walk to the hotel and from there, the town centre. With the two guest living rooms visible from the exterior and the entrance marked by a classic car, the hotel is deceptively large. Opened in the 1930s, the estate originally stretched to 27 acres much which has now been scaled back. However since the purchase of the hotel by the De Savary family in 2017, the hotel has undergone transformation as it seeks to move away from business travellers checking in for one night, looking to provide accommodation and hospitality to those after more luxury relaxation. Transformation to the hotel has seen redecoration, merging of single rooms to create doubles, new rooms and also the addition of a spa which has a planned September 2019 opening.
In total the hotel now has 26 rooms including a disabled room and nine dog friendly rooms of which the five Victorian potting shed rooms are the latest addition, opened to the public just this month. Built on what were flower beds, the new rooms are in keeping with their location at the garden end of the grounds, next to the car park and lawn, and accessorised with flourishes such as watering cans and balls of string. Internally the sheds have almost a beach hut vide with a large double bed and reclaimed wood furnishings such as the TV frame hiding the TV behind, what on first appearance is, a mirror. Large patio doors, leading to a private terrace, and a skylight offer an abundance of natural light. However for the all the rustic charm the rooms offer they also include mod cons such as power sockets including USB charge points and Smeg fridge and kettle. My shed also featured a modern bathroom with large walk in shower, perfect to wake up to in the mornings. Final touches like umbrellas for guests and sloe gin to sip while getting familiar with the space are much appreciated.
Outside the potting sheds are the hotel gardens with games such as croquet, badminton and table tennis laid out and available for guests. There is also a ‘pod’; a cosy snug in the shape of a glass sphere furnished with cushions and blankets and available for both tea and for dining. It is also the perfect escape from any summer rains while still being able to enjoy the feeling of being outdoors allowing guests to enjoy the well maintained gardens and lawn even in inclement weather.
For those looking to dine at the Eastbury, the hotel has their Seasons restaurant, winner of 2 AA Rosettes. With windows looking over the lawn, Seasons is open to residents and non residents alike, with the first meal of the day, breakfast, including a variety of fresh fruits, cereals, croissant and muffins as well as cooked options. For those who may be picky about their coffee, like myself, guests are served with a cafetière of coffee and not run of the mill filter. At lunch and dinner, Seasons offers two different styles of menu. For those after more traditional fare such as beer battered fish, rib eye steak, a ploughman’s or a burger, you need not look any further than the brasserie menu. Twinned with this is the fine dining menu featuring culinary delights such as venison tartare, carpaccio of octopus amongst the starters and blowtorched sea trout and butternut squash rotolo included in the mains. There is also a seven course tasting menu, which clocks in at just over two hours starting with the amuse bouche and continues with items such as whipped goat’s cheese, Devonshire crab before ending with the valrhona chocolate cremeux (please note that due to cooking times, it is required for all diners at a table to order this menu).
Presentation throughout all meals during my stay at the Eastbury was immaculate, with breakfast, brasserie or fine dining options all receiving care and attention. Certainly the food winner from the fine dining menu was the roast lamb with tandoori spice, cauliflower, cucumber yogurt, black dal and curry leaf. For our sins, my wife and I were too full to attempt the deserts though my eye was certainly on the mango and vanilla cheese cake. Good service by friendly staff make the experience of dining at Seasons memorable.
A stone’s throw from the train station and the town centre make the Eastbury a wonderfully convenient location to stay in Sherborne. Explore the town and the sights or should you prefer, just put your feet up and unwind. You deserve it.