Room service - Paddy Burt stays at The Dashwood Hotel, Kirtlington, Oxfordshire

Tasteful dining at the Dashwood...
until breakfast, that is


The reader who suggested I should try The Dashwood Hotel tells me that the previous owners had wanted to make their pile by building flats and houses on the site, which resulted in the “Save Our Dashwood Arms” campaign by the locals. As a result, along came a new owner who spotted its potential. Now this scruffy old pub is scruffy no more: it has been completely renovated and renamed The Dashwood Hotel.

Arriving, we admire this stylish looking place, where we are taken to our attic room by Gaynor, the manager. Some attic! Its high, sloping ceiling is criss-crossed with ancient timbers, to which spotlights have been attached. Beautifully furnished — and including two brown leather armchairs presumably because there’s no residents’ lounge, it is decorated in shades of beige, gold and brown and kitted out with what they say is specially-made furniture. The flat-screen TV mounted on the wall is so slim that it looks like a picture frame without a picture. This mixture of ancient and modem works perfectly. Surprisingly, there’s no tea and coffee-making equipment.
Making our way downstairs, we see that most of the floor area is filled with dining tables and, although there’s a bar, it’s not the cosy, beer-stained sort that’s propped up by regulars with pints and elderly dogs. “We threw a party for the locals on opening night, but hardly one of them has been here since,” says Gaynor.
We can see why. They thought they were campaigning for a local pub, but what they have got is more like a cocktail bar with no draught beer. It’s just not their cosy old local any more.

Dining is bistro-style - in other words, sitting at a modem polished table then ordering dinner. The staff, mostly pony tailed young women, wear black waistcoats; all of them are enthusiastic and friendly without being over-familiar. In some restaurants, when there’s no waiting to be done, they disappear behind the scenes. Not here, though: there isn’t a behind-the-scenes. The waiting staff line up next to a large serving hatch, and they watch the customers.
The kitchen is in full view. While we wait, we have fun watching the chefs, about five of them, all wearing little black caps. Among the waitresses is a charismatic young man, who looks like a laid-back Lord Byron. When we ask, he tells us that his name is Tom. “I’m studying religion, philosophy and English, and this is my first night here.”

I order Thai crab cakes, spinach and hoi sin sauce; my husband has the Cornish fish soup with flat parsley, rouille and croutons. Then, for me, it’s seared scallops, avocado, cherry tomatoes, with bacon salad and garlic croutons. My husband chooses Hugh’s Stew, but who’s Hugh, he wonders. “Er, we don’t have a Hugh in the kitchen,” says one of the waitresses. Gaynor knows, though: “He’s Hugo, an old Etonian. He used to work here. I believe he was given the recipe by an uncle who’s a chef.”

Hugh’s Stew turns out to be shank of lamb, slow-cooked in Moroccan spices, served with couscous. “The meat falls off the bone, just as it should,” says my husband. My scallops are decoratively arranged around the edge of the plate and are as good they look.

Now that we know the Old Etonian connection, we reckon that Fruits of the Forest Eton Mess should, be authentic. And it is: bits of meringue mixed with fruit and cream. “Glad I didn’t choose that Much too messy,” I say. “This caramelised lemon tart is much easier to eat”

And so to bed — very comfortable it is too. In the morning, we realise three things: that the dining room is built on two levels and that breakfast is served on the smaller and cosier upper level.’ The second is that the self-servicetable is boring: vast quantities of Coco Pops and little jars of honey and jam... and no marmalade? And the third? I take a sip of my suspiciously pale coffee. “What’s yours like?” I ask my husband. “Gnat’s,” he replies.

January 2006

The Dashwood Hotel,
South Green,

Tel: 01869 352707

12 rooms.

Paddy Burt paid:

£120 for b&b

£10.20 for drinks

£16.95 for wine

£47.65 for dinner for two

Total: £194.80.

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