18 November 2019
"Where's M.O. please?” I pronounce it Em Oh, hesitantly. The passing concierge smiles at me. I try again. “The MO?” He corrects me, as politely as he can – it’s just MO, as in Farah – and shows us to the restaurant. We’re staying at Dormy House Hotel in one of the prettiest parts of the Cotswolds (I’m from round here, so I can vouch for this) and we’re about to have supper at its fine dining restaurant, which opened earlier this year.
It’s an intimate room, with pineapple-print wallpaper and a curved table around the cooking and prep stations that seats 12. Head chef Sam Bowser, who has earned his stripes at places such as The Square, Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons and The Arts Club, is so at ease with guests being close enough to reach out and touch what he’s preparing that the resulting atmosphere is as relaxed as it is fun. I ask Sam about the restaurant’s name, now that I know how to say it, and he explains that they already have the Back Garden restaurant – more formal than the gastropub Potting Shed – so MO came from mow the lawn. Yes, really. “Chefs can’t spell!” he jokes, and he’s already won us over.
It takes a certain calibre of chef to handle this level of interaction while preparing a total of 96 dishes plus some ‘surprises’; there’s a full house the evening we visit. Eight of the diners are staying at Dormy House, two at The Fish (its sister hotel), two are locals and the mood is lively; among us we are celebrating two birthdays, two pregnancies and one couple enjoying a first night away from their young children.
We all take our seats and order our drinks at 7.30pm, ready to enjoy MO's eight-course tasting menu (£110 per person, £55 wine pairing), although this doesn’t give much away with its one-ingredient dish descriptions. Duck egg. Lobster. Tomato. Turbot. Lamb. (Most intriguingly) Billy mooo cheese. Bilberry. Chocolate. Although it’s a set menu, Sam and able sous-chef Harry can adapt it as necessary; impressively they once catered for five different dietary requirements in one sitting. Do give the hotel a heads up before your visit though, to avoid giving the chefs palpitations on the night.
We start not with the duck egg but with a mini ‘hot dog’ designed to be eaten in one bite, comprising brioche and sausage, and small, oven-warm miso and rosemary loaves. Both are the best kind of more-ish and set the tone for what’s to follow. It’s testament to the standard of every dish that my husband and I had three entirely different favourite courses, each of which champions a special element of preparation. Zain favours the turbot (cooked slow and low in seaweed butter), tomato (served with parmesan ice cream and tomato consommé in a champagne flute) and cheese (billy mooo = goat plus cows’ milk, made on site). I love the duck egg with its top sliced off immaculately, the lamb, which had been cooked in salted pastry casing, and the bilberry pudding, created from local fruit collected by Dormy’s foraging company.
We all think it's come to an end with the chocolate course but no – there's more, and you will just have to find room. Sam finishes with flair; out come mini pineapple ice creams (I am still not sure it was a coincidence that If You Like Pina Coladas came on as they were served) then rich chocolates with plum wine and crystallised ginger. After each course, (momentary) silence had been reflecting our appreciation, but we end with a round of applause for Sam and Harry. What a decadent, delicious meal, and a treat of an evening.
The rest of our break, although only 24 hours, doesn’t let us down. Rest & Relaxation are of paramount importance here and catered for impeccably; not only are Dormy’s beds blissfully soft and the bed linen freshly-laundered crisp but the curtains are also thick enough to block out daylight. Until you choose to invite it in, that is; when the thought of breakfast eventually provides enough motivation to rise, we throw open the curtains and sunlight streams in, brightening our Attic suite. We take tea and read the papers in bed on what’s turning into a glorious day.
Thanks to the room’s iPad version of an information book – very easy to use, and it makes perfect sense to me to ditch the paper version – we can order fresh milk at the touch of a button. The tea station features a Nespresso machine and WiFi is speedy, slightly hampering my decision to switch off as much as possible. However, phone signal is more reluctant and countryside charm is reinstated by the little glass hinged bottle in which the milk arrives. There are 40 rooms, including six suite options, and the hotel has bought into the trend of bestowing more unusual names on them; choose Intimate, Comfy, Splendid or Top Notch.
These rooms are mostly housed within the 17th century farmhouse which underwent its multi-million pound refurbishment in 2013. Dormy has been a family-owned hotel for the last 40 years and my grandparents have been friends with this family for decades too. This connection has even more resonance than I expect it to; I can see signs of the family’s strong sense of style everywhere I look. Traditional elements are pleasingly present throughout the open-plan ground floor – oak-panelled walls, wooden beams, Cotswold stone and log fires – and it has a laidback communal feel. The Back Garden is a particularly lovely place to eat; its large glass windows overlook a beautiful garden landscaped by designer Chris Beardshaw.
The House Spa is seriously impressive too, in an understatedly un-spa-like fashion, and it’s one of my favourite parts of the hotel. The bright and warm Skandi-chic dining area has a neutral, natural colour palette, as does the outdoor terrace, with an array of wicker furniture just begging to be lounged on. And the layout downstairs is perfect; although the infinity pool is technically underground, it’s flooded with light. It's just big enough for lengths but I mainly float around before hopping outside into the Jacuzzi.
Do explore the local area too if you have time: head to Broadway, just five minutes in the car, to enjoy its famed deli, quaint cafés, homeware shops and local pubs, or drive a bit further to visit some of the prettiest villages and market towns in the Cotswolds, including Chipping Campden and Stow-on-the-Wold. Alternatively head out on foot in wellies for a glorious walk, go for a bike ride or enjoy a mildly competitive round of golf. If you ate at MO last night, you'll certainly be full of energy for it.
Rates start from £230 per room, per night, based on two sharing and including breakfast. Dormy House Hotel, Willersey Hill, Broadway, Worcestershire, WR12 7LF, 01386 852711; dormyhouse.co.uk