We love a weekend getaway (check out our favourite bed and breakfasts for couples here), especially when there’s great food involved, too. We check out Langford Fivehead in the Somerset countryside. Here’s our review of the farm-to-table restaurant and luxurious bedrooms…
A gorgeous pre-Tudor manor, on the Somerset Levels, Langford Fivehead oozes history from every one of its flint- and fudge-coloured stones. Inside are vast Ham-stone fireplaces, four-poster beds and an ancient staircase of oak and elm. But if all of this smacks of stuffy country house hotel, it’s anything but. Thanks to Olly and Rebecca Jackson, the dynamic couple who run it (he in the kitchen, she front of house), Langford Fivehead is friendly rather than fusty, and intimate and indulgent rather than intimidating. And contemporary touches, such as the swanky bathrooms and artworks by local artists, mean it pleases young urban-based foodies and local retirees alike.
This is very definitely a relaxed restaurant with rooms (six of them) and not a hotel. Rebecca is a natural and diligent hostess with a knack for making you feel instantly at home, while Olly is so chilled he’s happy for you to watch him cook if you wish.
Having previously manned the stoves at Suffolk’s Crown and Castle and Cornwall’s Trelowarren Estate, Olly understands plot-to-plate eating. Here, the couple have put their seven acres of grounds to productive use so much of the vegetables and fruit come fresh from the kitchen gardens and orchard. But while ingredients are local, Olly’s techniques are firmly classical French, so expect braises, sauces and confits rather than techie tomfoolery.
Dinner is available Tuesday to Saturday, lunch Wednesday to Friday, and guests eat in one of two intimate dining rooms (one a library housing Olly’s amazing collection of cookery books), choosing from a menu that’s pleasingly concise with three choices per course. Olly’s cooking is confident, creative and beautifully presented. The highlight of my dinner is a dish of pan-fried Dorset hake fillet with garden peas, pancetta, and home-grown hispi cabbage – a play on petits pois a la francaise – around which dinky potato towers stand to attention. It’s all parked on a bath of beurre blanc that’s rich and buttery yet also citrusy and light.
Carnivorous dishes generally juxtapose a prime and a cheap cut, the meat sourced from Bonners in nearby Ilminster. Olly is a wow with desserts too – I try both the home-grown strawberry soufflé with strawberry sorbet, and the smooth dark chocolate delice with honeycomb, and it’s impossible to choose between them (the chocolate fondant with salted caramel ice cream is another firm menu fixture). If you want to be close to the action, choose the Kitchen Table option and watch your five-course meal being cooked from your table in the heart of the kitchen.
Navigate your way around the drinks list while enjoying pre-prandials and canapes by the fire or, if it’s fine, on the terrace. Most of the soft drinks, beers and ciders are local, as are many of the spirits, including Newton House gin, and Somerset Cider brandy crafted up the road by Julian Temperley. I go with a Funkin Bramble, a syrupy yet pleasingly punchy blend of Newton House gin and blackberry liqueur.
The wine list, by contrast, is unashamedly French – to match the food – and refreshingly, arranged by price rather than country of origin. It opens at £20 and top-end wines are particularly well priced – a bottle of Volnay Premier Cru, for instance, will set you back £50, a fraction of what you’d pay in London. You can buy most of the wines by the glass, which is great if you want to test-drive some new ones.
The six en-suite rooms are traditionally furnished, with heavy curtains and antique furniture, but there are contemporary touches too, such as the Ruark digital radios and iPod docks. Honeymooners make a beeline for Nathaniel Barnard (named after the local chap who bought the house in 1649 – spot his name graffitied into the fireplace), with its super-king four-poster, roll-top bath, Jacuzzi shower and ornate plasterwork ceiling.
I also like Sybilla de Gundvill (named after the property’s first owner) which, although smaller and shower-only, has fabulously ancient elm-wood paneling. There are no TVs – which makes it extra peaceful – but if you need a telly fix there’s a burgundy-walled snug with a television downstairs.
I kick off with local apple juice and Olly’s homemade granola (nice and cinnamony) with yoghurt and mixed berries. Porridge, toast and croissants are on offer too. Hot made-to-order dishes include Full English (including Somerset sausages made by The Sausage Shed), home-cured salmon with scrambled eggs, and American-style pancakes with maple syrup.
Double room at Langford Fivehead start from £195, accommodation, 3-course dinner and full English breakfast langfordfivehead.co.uk
Words | Clare Hargreaves
Photographs | Clare Hargreaves