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Starting life as Flowers Brewery over 200 years ago, The Fontmell near Shaftesbury is a Grade II listed building with, according to Holly Aurelius-Haddock, a very interesting architectural twist…
At the rear of The Fontmell’s cosy, traditional bar area, an ingenious extension straddles the Collyer’s Brook stream and houses the pub’s dining area. “I initially wanted to build a glass floor over the stream, but increasing our current blueprint made planning permission tricky”, explains owner Rob Clarke. “Instead, we built over it and fitted large concertina windows so guests would be able to hear the babbling of the brook during their meal.”
Idiosyncratic flourishes seem to characterise the whole Fontmell experience. Pre-loved furniture and rich fabrics are thoughtfully mismatched throughout the pub, including an open-fronted piano and Vivienne Westwood wall hanging that are impossible not to covet.
The pub’s six luxury bedrooms have been subject to a vibrant transformation too, each room name even translating as the word ‘butterfly’ in a different language or dialect. The Master Bedroom Mallyshag – a colloquialism used on the Isle of Wight where owner Rob grew up – is undoubtedly the show-stopper, boasting exposed wooden beams and a free-standing roll-top bath. That said, ask for Babochka (Russian) and you won’t be disappointed either.
Chef Patron Tom Shaw uses his Michelin training to run The Fontmell’s kitchen with a steady hand, known for his close relationship with local suppliers and exacting standards when it comes to their deliveries. “Everything we do here has to be best it can be, so if I’m not totally happy with what turns up in the kitchen, it will go straight back,” he says.
Tom still likes to inject what he calls ‘a necessary sense of theatre’ into the dining experience while keeping it real with a peppering of pub classics. That’s why you’re as likely to find beer-battered fish and chips on his menus as you are filo- wrapped goat’s cheese and blossom honey (as good as it sounds). His signature dish of fois gras crème brûlée, Muscavado jelly and bitter apple also shows his more playful side, a light and well-constructed version of a French staple that any gourmande would be foolish to pass by.
The main courses that arrived during supper were testament to a delightfully diverse menu – a plate of linguine pasta served with nutmeg, pecorino and black truffle pitted against a roast pork belly, bubble and squeak and wholegrain mustard. In both cases, the end result was cooked to perfection, seasoned with good taste and served with a smile.
Wine buffs needn’t fret if the pub’s specially brewed beer is not their thing either; instead they can choose from a tightly edited selection that sees boutique producers from Europe and the New World represented in equal measure. Try a glass of the 2009 Gewurtztraminer with its spice notes for something a little different.
Large leather armchairs and an open fire make post-dinner lounging obligatory, while upstairs a good night’s sleep awaits as soon as your head hits the goose down pillow.
Just six months after opening, The Fontmell is already attracting all the right kinds of attention, being listed in The Times’ Top 30 Sexy Places to Eat earlier this month. Just think, if the pub’s dedicated and amicable team can achieve such praise in their first chapter, what might the next hold for them?