Jo Rees discovers exquisite cooking and quiet fabulousness hidden in Dorset farmland. Consider this your tip-off on something very special
There’s magic in the air. Maybe it’s the soft shushing from the surrounding wheat fields. Maybe it’s the quiet unfurling of pin-neat rows of beetroot tops in the walled kitchen garden. Could it be the gentle puff of air that accompanies sinking through the marble-cool linen of a marshmallow bed? Whatever the source, Abbots Court murmurs with hushed tidings of ‘paradise found’.
Jez and Niki Barfoot’s new (it opened in February) country house retreat with its beehive, piglets in the wood and Farrow & Ball sponsored decor has been carefully cultivated to provide quiet moments away from the madness.
The couple polished their hospitality trotters at their successful Tickled Pig restaurant in Wimborne and Jez is also a MasterChef semifinalist. In their new venture they’ve created the kind of assured experience that is bestowed only by those who’ve served time in the trenches.
VISIT for a taste of the terroir. Veggies and herbs plucked from the large walled garden will soon be accompanied by own-reared pork, while a breakfast of greek yogurt and granola is drizzled with honey from the garden hive. Everything’s made in house and local producers supply the cornucopia of seasonal finds.
The cooking’s also blinding. The two young head chefs, Alex Naik and Mike Parry, are creative and hungry for success, crafting light, complex (and often plant-based) dishes to invigorate the most jaded of palates. From pre-dessert pineapple weed granita to the house fave Isle of Wight tomato salad with chutney, pickles and oils, it’s refreshing and innovative.
DON’T VISIT in a rush. Give the magic time to seep into your soul. Breeeathe.
WE LIKED the exceptional attention to detail in each vibrant dish, the diligence to keeping sugar and fat levels low, and the trance-like state induced by spooning cool and silky strawberry and basil pannacotta down your throat.
INSIDER’S TIP All hail the house olives which are knockout: luscious, fragrant and huge. Arrive for dinner early so you’ve plenty of time to pay appropriate homage.
What we ate (dinner)
Starter Cured trout, sorrel cheesecake, kale
Main Stone bass, crab tortellini, rouille, spinach, bisque
Pud Vanilla pannacotta, oat crumble, strawberries, lavender
Three courses from £31 B&B from £90 per person
If the term "dining carriage" elicits Proustian memories of lurching down a British Rail aisle clutching a soggy tuna sarnie, you need to timetable a visit to West Bay, suggests Jo Rees