Lost in degustation

Map in hand, Andrew Purvis goes in search of Britain's best out-of-the-way nosh — and a place to sleep it off.

When I ask for directions to the Crown at Whitebrook, James Sommerin's Michelin-starred restaurant in the Wye Valley, they fill two pages of my notebook. "You drive along one side of the valley, go over a bridge, turn right and go back along the other side," says the consultant editor of Britain's Good Food Guide, Elizabeth Carter. "You go up and up along a single-track road and after several miles think, 'Where is this place?' It's all part of the adventure."

So, too, is the journey to Gidleigh Park, deep in darkest Devon. "It's an extraordinary drive," Carter says, "down a squiggly little lane, past a few houses and on and on and on until you get there." Not surprisingly, both places - like all mentioned here - are restaurants with rooms where diners can stay the night.

"They go for the food," Carter says, "but also for the fabulous rooms."

At the Inn at Whitewell, in Lancashire, Jamie Cadman is reeling in customers with his "top-notch north country" cooking but what must they endure to get there? On the website, instead of a section called "How to get there", I find one titled "How not to get lost".

However, the restaurants themselves are full every night and accommodation has to be booked weeks in advance. While these places may appear remote, it is merely an illusion of remoteness. With just one exception, they are close to motorways or major roads, so the "Am I lost?" part of the journey is a short one.


THE FARMER'S INN, Higher West Hatch, Somerset

This 16th-century inn near Taunton is so far off the beaten track it doesn't have an address - though its website gives an Ordnance Survey grid reference for walkers. Motorists leave the M5 and take the A358 for a mile uphill, looking for a right turn marked "RSPCA".


Following country lanes and brown inn signs for three kilometres, they should spot the white-fronted building on their left. Once there, guests find long views of the Somerset Levels and the sound of lambs in the fields. The inn's five rooms are so luxurious that it is one of only 19 hotels in the country with a five-star rating from Visit Britain. However, this is very much a country pub and the menu and prices reflect that.

Beer-battered fish and chips are £10.95 ($18) and the home-made beef burger with Montgomery's cheddar, bacon and chips is £9.95. But some dishes display haute-cuisine flair: Cornish scallops with fennel salad, orange and vanilla (£8.50 starter, £11.95 main); wild mushroom risotto, parmesan crisps and truffle essence (£10.95); and warm dark chocolate fondant with vanilla ice-cream (£5.95).

Double rooms from £125; +44 01823 480480; see farmersinnwesthatch.co.uk.

THE INN AT WHITEWELL, near Clitheroe, Lancashire

This is the place with a website section "How not to get lost", using such landmarks as "the Old Oak Pub" and "a sharp left-hand bend with white railings where you turn right".

With 23 rooms stuffed with old prints, antique rugs, four-poster beds and Victorian bathroom fittings, this 14th-century former manor house in the Forest of Bowland is part of the Duchy of Lancaster estate. Sitting on the banks of the River Hodder, it has four "rods", or licences, available to residents for fishing for trout, sea trout, salmon and grayling.

Bar and lunch menus are available but the evening a la carte is where chef Jamie Cadman excels. A typical starter might be pan-seared king scallops with a Thai fish cake, bean sprouts, coriander and sweet chilli jam (£8.75) or toasted brioche topped with Lancashire cheese rarebit and roast vine tomatoes (£6.50). Mains include market fish (from £18) or fillet of beef for two with roast garlic, game chips, beef tomato and horseradish sauce (£50).

Double B&B rooms from £113 Sunday to Thursday, £139 Fridays, Saturdays and bank holidays; +44 01200 448222; see innatwhitewell.com.

GIDLEIGH PARK, Chagford, Devon

If its 43 hectares of grounds are not enough to tire you out, explore the wild, poetically bleak Dartmoor National Park in which the 24-room hotel is set. Walking, fishing, horse riding and shooting are on the menu of activities but it is the faultless cooking - albeit at a price - that keeps guests coming back.

For 11 years, Michael Caines has retained two Michelin stars with ambitious, complex dishes that sound like a Selfridges Food Hall shopping list. The eight-course tasting menu (£115), available at lunch and dinner, might feature tartar of marinated tuna, scallops and lime with oscietra caviar, soused turnip and beetroot, wasabi cream, honey and soy vinaigrette; or Brixham turbot with crisp belly pork, pea puree and a veloute of smoked bacon and shallots.

A vegetarian tasting menu is also available, as is an la carte option (£95).

Double rooms from £310; two-night Gourmet Getaways from £1125 a couple, with a la carte dinner, tasting menu, picnic and breakfasts included; +44 01647 432367; see gidleigh.com.

THE OLD PASSAGE INN, Arlingham, Gloucestershire

Set at the end of a peninsula on a great oxbow bend in the River Severn, this is an ideal spot for watching the Severn Bore - the six-foot wave that surges upstream in certain tidal conditions. There are three rooms overlooking the river and the Forest of Dean beyond. In the restaurant, Mark Redwood's River Menu (£20 for three courses) shows off the seafood for which it is renowned: Colchester oysters; roast cod with fennel, tomato and chorizo; smoked haddock with saute potatoes, wilted spinach and mustard foam.

A la carte choices include fresh Cornish lobster from the seawater tank and a six-course shellfish tasting menu (£50). Doubles from £110 weekdays, £130 weekends; +44 01452 740547; see theoldpassage.com.

THE SAMLING, Windermere, Cumbria

It may be in the teeming heart of the Lake District but the only thing marking the Samling's presence is a road sign indicating a sharp bend. Turn right and you ascend a steep driveway to this luxury hotel high above Lake Windermere. Set in 27 hectares of grounds dotted with sculptures, it was once the home of Wordsworth's landlord and the poet often trudged his way uphill to pay his rent.

Guests can stay in the main house or in one of five cottages in the grounds. Nigel Mendham's tasting menu (£67 for seven courses, plus £31.50 for wines throughout) might feature fillet of John Dory with kipper tortellini and caper berries, or Herdwick mutton, langoustines and jerusalem artichoke.

Double B&B rooms from £95; dinner, bed and breakfast for two £140; +44 01539 431922; see thesamlinghotel.co.uk.


DOUNE DINING ROOM, Knoydart, near Mallaig, Inverness-shire

Located on the Knoydart peninsula, opposite the Isle of Skye, this qualifies as Britain's most remote restaurant serving decent food. It is so wild there is no road, so guests are collected from nearby Mallaig by boat, or take a two-day hike through an area of great natural beauty.

Accommodation is available in three stone lodges or a larger property sleeping 14 but it is the food - "more home cooking than fine dining", says one of the chefs, Martin Davies - that has put Doune on the map. A starter of home-made soup, smoked venison pate or Doune Bay crab might be followed by locally reared roast lamb, herb-crusted haddock or a generous seafood buffet featuring creel-caught prawns. Dessert often draws upon soft fruit or peppermint picked fresh from the garden.

Open April to September only. Three courses plus cheese board £28. Dinner, bed, breakfast and packed lunch £72 an adult, £28 a child; +44 01687 462667; see doune-knoydart.co.uk.

THE THREE CHIMNEYS, Colbost, Isle of Skye

For 25 years, Eddie and Shirley Spear have delighted diners at this former crofter's cottage, off a single-track road five miles from Dunvegan in the north-west corner of Skye. The journey, via the Skye Bridge, ranks among the most spectacular in Britain. Apart from the views, the reason for going is the food.

An a la carte menu is available (£55 for three courses) but the Seven Courses of Skye tasting menu (£70 a person) best reflects head chef Michael Smith's commitment to sourcing from Skye and Lochalsh. Expect such dishes as Sconser king scallop with hazelnut crust, pickled winkles, split pea and ham hough purry (ham hock puree to Sassenachs) and claret jus, followed by Highland cheeses with oatcakes.

Next door to the restaurant is the House Over-by, with six simple rooms.

Double B&B rooms £285; dinner, bed and breakfast £405 a couple; +44 01470 511258; see threechimneys.co.uk.



This should really be the Crown near Whitebrook, since you leave the village and follow a lane for two miles before seeing the eight-room hotel and restaurant to your left.

Guests describe this as "a romantic auberge", with its Michelin star. James Sommerin's dishes combine unexpected ingredients - braised tongue with langoustine, poached trout with skate, Gressingham duck with dates and capers - but the robust flavours are beautifully balanced. The same innovation is evident in desserts such as spiced pineapple, tonka bean, coconut and sherry.

A three-course set dinner costs £48; a two-course lunch £25 (excluding wine); a six-course tasting menu £90 with wine.

Double rooms from £90 (Sunday only), including Welsh breakfast; £115 Monday to Saturday. Dinner, bed and breakfast start at £180 a couple; +44 01600 860254; see crownatwhitebrook.co.uk.