In the early Roman occupation a Governor decided that to conquer the whole of England at once would be too big a task. To take things in stages he ordered a road now know as the Fosse Way to be the border between west and east, running from Exeter to Lincoln. In Roman style, the 200 mile road deviates from being truly straight by only 6 miles.
Bourton-on-the-Water is roughly half way and there are, on the outskirts of the village, remains of a huge posting camp to provide food, rest and baths to soldiers using the Roman M1. Effectively, an AD 43 service station, it lasted for the reigns of 35 emperors and almost 300 years. The village that is the subject of this month's review was thus the centre of the known England.
Today's visitors conquer through tourism. My wife and I sat for 20 minutes to watch every hue of skin and seemingly hear every language under the sun, each drawn to Bourton for, apart from ice cream eating, the simple pleasure of wandering around aim-lessly in the 'Venice of the Cotswolds'.
The clear, troutless, River Windrush that meanders through the village and the elegant stone bridges are a delight, albeit one that is impossible to photograph because of the wall to wall people, children paddling and a background of retail and afternoon tea therapy.
In all this cacophony of sights and sounds, a haven is needed. Up a short cul-de-sac there is The Dial House, possibly one of the oldest (1698) Cotswold stone houses locally but certainly a joy of architectural symmetry that so pleases the eye , well mine, anyway. And it has successfully operated as a good hotel for many years.
After our Tower of Babel experience we were checked in to the hotel by a charming Jess, who with great grace showed us our room on the ground floor, a room with a private gar-den (for our dog Delphi of course).
Dinner was preceded by the usual Campari for Sandie, but I struck out for once, with a generous Pimms. It just seemed to be a Pimmsy evening.
The menu format, to some, might be unfamiliar. Main ingredient followed by constituents of the dish followed by a slight indication of cooking methods.
As an ex-chef I loved it for its air of secrecy, but in fact there were some very innovative combinations.
Good firm welcome from Timothy (career path England, South Africa, England), the res-taurant manager; a positive start!
Pre dinner 'amuse' were hot blue cheese beignets - we could have eaten half a dozen each they were so perfect.
Timothy than showed us to a table under a bold mullioned window, In the dining room, little altered for 300 years, a pre-supper soup was presented. There was much good-humoured banter between us and Cosmin, (career path Romania to England) our waiter about the main ingredient. We thought he said 'beet' when what he was saying was 'pea' and a wonderful straight out of the pod pea veloute appeared, it was exquisite and again more could have been eaten but one has to save oneself! Good homemade light bread.
Sandie's Crab in Three Ways was a work of art with apple balancing the 'richness' of the Portland white and brown meat, so summery.
Pauls Nicholson who has been here five years is a most unusual cook with firm views, good skills, training policy and an eye for detail that cannot be faulted.
From the five main courses my wife had seared turbot with walnut puree, truffled samphire and pomme fondant - declared 'perfect' - and I, loin of Anjou rabbit with foie gras and thigh sausages with tiny morels. A1.
Wild strawberries are not known a great deal here in England but are farmed (although that sounds a contradiction in terms) a great deal on the continent. They are wonderfully concentrated strawberry in flavour, and here, summery perfection in a parfait with elder-flower sorbet and a mint jel.
There are so many good English cheeses, so weak me had cheese again. Stinking Bishop form Charles Martell in Gloucestershire, Wigmore from Berkshire and Barkham Blue - served with good chutney, bread and membrillo and none of the usual (in my view old fashioned and not appropriate today) celery and grapes.
Our wine choice was a 2013 Ribbonwood, Marlborough… these Kiwis make stunning Sauvignon Blancs and in this case, a charming and very approachable Pinot Noir. Good to see our favourite water San Pellegrino.
I hope that our enthusiasm for Paul's food comes over in bucketfuls, he is star quality. The Dial House is not cheap but lasting memories are hard to buy and we had some on this visit.
Breakfast was of a similar standards to dinner with those wonderfully yellowy, rich Burford eggs, fine bacon and perfect sausages - morning skills!
Dial The Dial House soon.
The Dial House,
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 01451 822244