In a town steeped in history, Alison Smith experiences a destination with eyes firmly on the future
Set within the enchanting Eastbury Hotel, Seasons is the newly reborn restaurant, headed by talented chef Matt Street, keen to prove its credentials as a stand-alone restaurant in its own right.
Viewed from the street, the hotel is a perfectly proportioned example of early Georgian architecture. Entering the walled gardens from behind, diners enjoy an entirely different façade. Paths meander amongst mature shrubs and box hedges, through extensive mature gardens. A kitchen garden is beginning to take root, providing sweet young radishes, edible flowers and vibrant rhubarb for the menu. An artichoke topped water fountain reveals a hint of what is to come.
In the dining room giant ceramic artichokes stand proudly, mere vegetables elevated to regal status. Elsewhere cabbage leaves and asparagus bundles become vases. As the evening unfolds, it is clear that the ingredients paraded from the kitchen are treated with this same reverence. With a conservatory-like feel and a palette of white and lilac, light floods the space. Outside there is an inviting terrace, ideal for afternoon dining. We are in the centre of town, yet the experience is that of a country house.
The wine list, as one might expect for a restaurant of this calibre, features a bottle for every occasion. Divided by character, the list is easily approachable, as is the price, with the majority being in the £20- £30 range.
Alongside the bar and lounge menu and the a la carte offering – featuring the market fish plate and salt chamber aged steak- is an evening-only seven-course tasting menu. It is this that we are here to experience today. We are greeted with personalised menus, reflecting our differing dietary needs.
First in the line- up is an amuse bouche of vibrant heritage tomatoes with bread crisps. A fairly classic Mediterranean premise is here lifted with the addition of yuzu and green chilli, drawing out the citric qualities of the tomatoes.
Then, a dish of confit duck, hoisin, pomegranate and cashew. Watermelon and citrus bring sweetness, while the duck, deeply threaded with hoisin fruitiness, is lean and light – the hoisin appears as a flavour current, not the oversweet, sticky sauce so beloved of English imitation Chinese. There is an intricate play of textures and a freshness to the dish that is inspired.
At this point our menus deviate – I enjoy a dish of New Forest mushrooms on hand cut pasta, while my companion waxes lyrical about a dream of a brûlée, featuring Vale of Camelot cheese, from North Leeze Farm, Yeovil – light, fluffy and melting on the tongue, with a mellow blue cheese undercurrent. Next up is ravioli of squash, with deep liquorice flavoured Dorset black garlic and the most heavenly of silken Buratta – an inner of a molten marshmallow, the outer of a picture book cloud. For the other half of the party, a delicate crab dish, an array of minty garden greens and pastels.
For the closing savoury offering, we enjoy moist thyme roasted chicken with wild garlic mash and asparagus, a sprinkle of toasted grain adding a malty dimension.
A coffee pannacotta, more latte than espresso, is topped with a bitter granita and caramel biscuit cream. It’s clever, well balanced and a joy to eat. Here is a chef with real class and ambition, using tried and tested flavours and presenting them with a modern touch and a sympathetic hand.
Finally “Exotic Fruits” – a texturally exciting dish, where herbal lemongrass, coconut and bitter black sesame interplay with sweet white chocolate and fruits, all on a bed of creamy tapioca pearls. We end the night with perfect pink macarons and a genius take on the famous gold foil wrapped praline chocolate in the restaurant bar.
Seasons seeks to step out of the traditional hotel restaurant template and to draw an audience on its own merit. With cuisine of this calibre on offer, Seasons fully deserves commendation on the local scene and beyond.
Bookings: The Eastbury Hotel, Long Street, Sherborne, Dorset, DT9 3BY
www.theeastburyhotel.co.uk 01935 813131
Breakfast: Monday to Friday: 7am- 9:30 am, Saturday & Sunday: 8am- 10am
Lunch: Monday to Sunday 12pm- 2pm
Afternoon tea: Monday to Sunday 2pm – 6pm
Dinner Monday to Sunday 6:30pm – 9pm
Bar snacks: £3.50 – £9; Afternoon tea from £8.50; A La Carte Menu- Starters: £8-£10, Main Courses: £16- £22, Desserts: £8; 7 course Tasting Menu: £55