34 East Street
DT6 3LF01308 422878
Seductive décor, enticing environs and irresistible fodder – Charlie Lyon throws her West Country roots to the wind for this Dorset favourite.
It’s June: it’s grey, it’s rainy – it’s not a surprise. The A37 that winds sleepily from Bristol to deepest Dorset is plagued with dawdling Micras, and my limp windscreen wipers do little to optimise the view that Me Babber and I have ample time to admire.
I’m a Somerset girl born and bred, so often find it quite needless to cross the county border to discover beautiful stays and delicious local produce – but with recommendations from Condé Nast, The Observer and Alastair Sawday, I’m keen to discover whether boutique inn The Bull Hotel lives up to the hype.
As I steer the Fiesta (my other car, the racing green convertible, having been left in the garage due to wet weather) onto Bridport high street, everything changes. Huzzah! As if by magic the first rays of sunshine stretch out warmly through the clouds and post-jubilee bunting feels like a welcoming party for us gallant travellers.
Taking pride of place on the bustling high street (it’s market day) is our destination. The Bull Hotel prides itself on its glamorous Regency-style interiors replete with statement wallpaper, Farrow and Ball painted walls, lovingly sourced furnishings and accessories and roll-top baths. Our deluxe double, named Nandi, had all of the above, and while the bath could have been better placed in the bathroom rather than the corner of the bedroom (I’m close friends with Me Babber, but we are still British), we both agreed it was pretty stupendous and provided ample talking points at dinner.
The cosy restaurant and bar downstairs make up the heart of The Bull and the dinner menu is reassuringly short, oozing confidence in the three land, sea and field choices it usually offers, as well as a selection of steaks.
We raced through starters of seared Lyme Bay scallops, pea purée and pancetta crisps, and creamy truffled mushrooms on toast – although the homemade tomato bread truly stole the limelight.
For mains, it was difficult to ignore the special 26oz rib of beef to share, but our close proximity to the coast made the fish offerings even more appealing. I plumped for the lemon sole with spinach and new potatoes, while Me Babber picked a childhood favourite – the truncheon of brill with samphire and chive butter.
My sole was soft and flavourful – cooked to perfection, while the tangy spinach still held the perfect bite. Me Babber, overly enchanted with her choice, had little time to comment, save sporadic “oohs” and “aahs”, and a deliciously floral Australian Sauvignon Blanc, picked from the colourful wine list, only heightened her excitement.
So huge was my main that we had to take time out before dessert, but in the name of investigative journalism, we powered on. The perfectly sweet raspberry parfait with hazelnut praline and enormous crème brûlée rounded off a delightful dinner in homemade style.
Yet no trip to The Bull Hotel is complete without a stop in The Stable – the hotel’s onsite pub which specialises in pizzas, pies and ciders – so we stopped in for a nightcap.
I often deny the fact that ciders that originate outside the West Country borders are worth trying, but dared the genial barman to find one suitable for my picky palate: “Not too sweet, not too dry, not sparkling but still with a hint of liveliness – and something that goes well after a big meal,” I asked.
He wasn’t fazed, and in an instant poured a small glass of the Lulworth Skipper brewed in a cognac cask. It was infuriatingly perfect.
The next morning, a brisk walk to the nearby harbour town of West Bay helped further with digestion. The Golden Gateway to the Jurassic coast, as it’s known, is spectacular with its sandstone cliffs and spectacular coastal walks and only goes to cement in my mind that Bridport is definitely a piece of Dorset worth discovering, and definitely warrants the drive.