Daily Telegraph Travel Critic - Paddy Burt
Paddy Burt is in the pink in more ways than one
AS we drive into the one-garage, two-shop, three-inn village of Fownhope, in the Welsh Marches, the first thing we see is the spire of its handsome parish church and, second, Bowens Country House - a delectable grey stone, wisteria-clad retreat with a sloping lawned garden surrounded by ancient trees. There's a putting green and a tennis court. How peaceful it looks and, even better, this is where we've booked a room for the night.
But have we blown it? We're late. It is a familiar enough story in this column, but this time we have an impeccable excuse. Accident on the M4. Huge hold-up. So annoying when we've left in good time. Dinner's served at 7.30 and it's now nearly eight.
So will we get any? Standing in the hallway we listen to a babble of voices in the dining room. A harassed-looking waitress in mid-rush, clutching plates, says a brief hello before dashing full pelt into the kitchen to consult the boss. Returning, she says: "Dinner will take a few minutes because we cook it all fresh . . ." She suggests we take our bags to our room and then have a look at the menu over a drink in the lounge. We're forgiven. They'd heard about the M4 hold-up on the radio.
The lounge is very pink . . . and comfy's the word. Pink Dralon buttoned sofas and armchairs, a pinkish carpet, pale pink walls and - you've guessed - pink shaded wall sconces. There's a 1980s feel to it in spite of the ancient inglenook fireplace. The good news is that the wine list, along with dinner, which costs only £15, is inexpensive. I mean: £9.50 for a bottle of Sauvignon isn't bad is it? And we're so pleased to have got here we don't even mind what it tastes like.
Plus point. The wine is brought straightaway (there seems no point in indulging in gin or vodka tonics or even a beer) and slips down a treat. It's the sort of wine that's exactly right when drunk in a small country house hotel - especially in odd glasses, an endearing touch - situated in the "Wye Valley of Outstanding Natural Beauty".
The menu's simple. We choose salmon mousse with salad (me), cheese watercress roulade with sun-dried tomatoes and crËme fraÓche (him), followed by roast cod with a herb and cheese topping and loin of pork normandie.
Ooh. The small restaurant's almost full. Tablecloths are pink. Everyone smiles and nods hello when we come in. What a cosy little place. Warm bread is brought - another nice touch. Starters are good. Mine - exactly as described - suits the "thin" mood I'm in perfectly, while my husband's intrigued by the eggy tasting roulade. "Can't make out what it is," he grumbles. "Are you saying you don't like it?" I demand crisply, my eye on what to write in my notebook. "No, no, just curious," he says quickly.
The cod is slightly overcooked and therefore dry, inevitable perhaps when the topping must look attractively browned. My husband is enjoying his pork, though he says he could have done without so much dark brown gravy. "But these potatoes are really creamy and cheesy . . ."
As we ponder over puds, there's an exodus at the next table - a quartet of the sort of ladies Beryl Cook paints. One of them pauses.
"The sticky date pudding was absolutely wonderful," she says. "Ooh, I shouldn't have told you that . . . there's none left!"
We laugh and go for bread-and-butter pudding and a lemony creamy thing. "Very nice bread-and-butter pudding," declares my husband. "Light, eggy and flavoursome."
Mine, as described, is so lemony and creamy I can't finish it . . . but that's a woman's prerogative. He would have wolfed the lot.
Our room is not just comfortable but very comfortable with the bonus of a view of the garden and church and two velvety pale blue chairs should we have time to sit and read. Everything's pale blue. No. I'm wrong. The bathroom has splashed out with a startling royal blue bath and loo seat.
Come breakfast time, I ask for a boiled egg. "How would you like it?" asks the waitress - the same one as last night. "Lightly boiled, please." "Would you like the white set and the yoke runny?" Oh, this is getting technical. It's one of the best boiled eggs ever. Next time I'll know exactly what to ask for. My husband, not to be outdone, declares his fry-up also to be the best. The young chef/owner here is Carol Hart.
The Bowens Country House, Fownhope, Hereford HR1 4PS (01432 860430), has 10 rooms. Paddy Burt paid £65 for an en-suite double room; £11.50 for a bottle of wine; £30 for dinner for two. Total: £106.50.