What's So Haute About Ludlow?

R.W. Apple Jr. finds gastronomic bliss in Shropshire's thriving Michelin kitchens

"The greatest attraction of Shropshire is that it does not attract too many," the late architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner wrote in his volume on this lovely but out-of-the-way English county, tucked between Wales and the vast urban sprawl that surrounds Birmingham. "It is not a county of crowds."

These days, however, Shropshire is starting to attract more, and for a surprising reason: good food. In the last few years a crop of unusually gifted chefs have set up shop in the handsome old market town of Ludlow (pop. 10,000), which now boasts no fewer than three restaurants starred in the Michelin guide. No place in England has more, except London (pop. 7,187,300).

How could that be? For all the beauty of its architecture and its setting, for all its rich history, Ludlow lies far off the well-traveled tracks to Wordsworth's Lake District, Shakespeare's Stratford-Upon-Avon and Jane Austen's Bath. It has no direct rail service to London. The nearest motorway is nearly an hour away. For years it was a run-down backwater noted for not much.

The revolution began with Shaun Hill, a witty, well-read, curly-haired Irishman who made his name cooking at Gidleigh Park in Devon, one of my favorite British country-house hotels. Looking for someplace that was "less of an endless treadmill," he hit upon Shropshire, drawn at first by memories of a stanza in A.E. Housman's collection of poems, "A Shropshire Lad:"

Come you home of Monday
When Ludlow market hums
And Ludlow chimes are playing
'The conquering hero comes.'

There were more prosaic reasons, too, notably the availability of fine raw materials, including prime fruit and vegetables, renowned local lamb and beef, game and grain-fed chickens. Plus pork from increasingly rare breeds of hogs like Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spot raised at nearby Richards Castle. "They're the Thoroughbred horses of the pork world," Hill told me.

Ludlow itself was an attraction, with its mixture of elegant Georgian town houses and Jacobean half-timbered buildings (in one of which, a modest old house, Hill and his wife, Anja, installed their restaurant). Unlike many provincial towns whose business districts are shadows of their former selves, full of boarded-up storefronts, Ludlow remains lively, with lots of locally owned shops, among them six butchers and four bakers, spreading out from Ludlow Castle and the parish church. It is all center and no outskirts.

Within a few blocks of each other are the Hills' restaurant, called Merchant House; a more formal place named Hibiscus, and a delightful riverside hotel and restaurant, Mr. Underhill's. Merchant House is already one of the dozen best restaurants in the country, and Hibiscus may soon be; Hill expects its French chef, Claude Bosi, to get his second star before long.

"Restaurants benefit from the cluster effect," Hill told me. "Ludlow is a phenomenon, and people travel here for the weekend to dine out."

Intrigued by these developments, my wife, Betsey, and I recently spent a long, sun-blessed spring weekend in and around Ludlow. Between meals at the three heralded feederies, we did some sightseeing in town and took a couple of rewarding trips into the countryside, visiting pretty rural hamlets, the valley where the industrial revolution was born, the ruins of a Roman town, a church where Robert E. Lee's ancestors worshiped and one of the priories trashed by Henry VIII. We also ate lunch in a couple of nearby restaurants that have won Michelin stars—one a jolly little place in Shrewsbury, the black-and-white county town, and the other an atmospheric pub just across the county line in Herefordshire, the very first pub ever so honored by Michelin. More of all that later. But first, let's get to table.

We started at Hibiscus, a sophisticated space full of oak panels and stained glass, which is the product of a love story. The pony-tailed chef Bosi, who is only 30, is from Lyon. After a rigorous apprenticeship, he found himself cooking at Overton Grange, a Ludlow hotel. One night he went to Merchant House to check out the competition. A young English woman named Claire Crosby waited on him. Upshot: Marriage, and a new restaurant.

As one would expect from someone who once worked at L'Arpège in Paris, Bosi knows how to give food a lot of oomph without making it heavy.

I especially admired a crackling mille-feuille, light as a cloud, filled with tomato confit, tomato butter and orange zest. An inventive tartare of langoustine or scampi, served on a velouté of palm hearts and showered with black truffles, had a lyrical texture and vividly briny taste. Micro-mini lamb chops with baby fava beans—springtime epitomized—demonstrated what a resourceful European chef can do when his usual suppliers let him down. The lambing season in Britain was late, so Bosi turned to the Rungis market near Paris for Pyrenees lamb to satisfy his clients' Easter wants. Having played to such classic tastes, he next catered to zanier likings, perhaps left over from childhood, first in a daring dish of sautéed foie gras skewered on a licorice stick and dusted with powdered licorice, then with a subtle peanut-butter soufflé accompanied by banana ice cream.

When those two dishes were announced, there were groans of apprehension at our table, but they were soon replaced by grins of satisfaction. If we—my wife and I and our friend Bill Baker, a leading English wine merchant—found any flaw in Bosi's cooking, it was a certain tendency to overelaborate.

The lamb was served with a garlic purée to which lemon juice had needlessly been added, and the combination masked some of the mild flavor of the chops. Roast scallops with avocado purée and smoky beurre blanc were then topped with a superfluous dollop of caviar, which seemed to me a rather-too-obvious lure for the passing Michelin inspector. A postprandial stroll was clearly indicated. So off we went, past the lavishly decorated black-and-white Feathers Hotel of 1603, which Pevsner termed "the prodigy of timber-framed houses," down narrow streets with overhanging houses adorned with brackets bearing carved grotesques, and into St. Laurence's, the Perpendicular Gothic parish church. On the scale of a cathedral, with a soaring square tower, it is crammed onto a tiny hilltop site.

Established in 1199, St. Laurence's was greatly enriched by the Palmers Guild, a group of prominent local citizens who undertook pilgrimages to Jerusalem and hired priests to sing masses for themselves and their colleagues who did not return. Stained glass is one of the glories of the church. One panel of the chapel's great east window portrays the Palmers in blue costume on such a pilgrimage. Another depicts the legend of King Edward the Confessor giving a ring to St. John the Evangelist.

The remarkable luminosity of the glass, some of the best in England, is rivaled by the heart-wounding expressiveness of some of the 15th-century wood-carving, notably a tiny Pietà on a pew-end and several sculptured misericords or choir seats depicting the failings of women, including a barmaid shown upside down, entering the jaws of Hell. "She probably gave short measure at the pub," explained the helpful verger, Keith Goode, who showed us around.

No better behavior was exhibited by some of the men in old-time Ludlow. I was relieved, given my own feckless habits, to learn in a church history that in 1608-1609 one William Crumpe had been disciplined "for his usuall [sic] departure out of church in sermon time."

A few steps past the church, at the end of King Street, stands the 18th-century Butter Cross, a sturdy stone building with a dainty cupola and small Tuscan portico. This is the town's focal point. Behind you, of course, is the church. Sloping downhill to the left is Broad Street, lined with glamorous red-brick Georgian town houses, each sporting a crisp white doorway. Up ahead loom the rugged sandstone battlements of Ludlow Castle, which was built in 1086 above the River Teme.

The castle reeks of history. It was the seat of Roger Mortimer, then the most powerful and probably the richest man in England,who pushed Edward II from the throne in 1326. In 1502, Arthur, Prince of Wales, died in the castle, having brought his bride, Catherine of Aragon, to Ludlow for an extended honeymoon; that event altered the course of English history, opening the path to the throne for his brother, who became Henry VIII and later married Catherine (among many others). And for two centuries the castle was the administrative headquarters for Wales, which ensured the prosperity of the town.

In our time, the castle's Inner Bailey hosts the centerpiece of the Ludlow Festival of drama and music, which takes place every year in late June and early July. It is always a Shakespearean production—in 2002, The Merry Wives of Windsor, directed by Michael Bogdanov. (In addition, Ludlow holds a food and drink festival, the foremost in Britain, every September.) Just downstream from the castle, the Teme crosses a weir, or low dam, and its rushing waters provide sound effects for Mr. Underhill's, which stands nearby. Once a corn mill, it has been appealingly converted into a long, airy restaurant and hotel with six attractive rooms next door (No. 6, which overlooks both the weir and a terrace brightened in spring by daffodils and tulips, is the best). Like all of the top Ludlow restaurants, this is essentially a two-person show. Chris Bradley, a shy Scot, runs the kitchen, and his ebullient wife, Judy, a veteran of London restaurants, runs the dining room, with minimal help.

Neither, you will have noticed, is named Underhill. The Bradleys have a British Blue cat, which they call Frodo, after a hobbit in The Lord of the Rings. Frodo often used the alias "Mr. Underhill." Bada bing!

Bradley, a self-taught chef, confines himself to a single—and,on our visit, well-conceived—set menu each night. After a flaky tartlet or two for openers, a perfectly timed piece of brill appeared on Savoy cabbage encircled by a cardamom-lime sauce: a simple idea, distinguished by the choice of seasonings. A fillet of beef (uniformly pink right through, with a peppery tang) rode in on a carriage of mashed celeriac and spinach (smooth, not too creamy), with mushrooms, carrots and a few currants soaked in Armagnac for company: very British, nicely presented, classic, uncontrived.

The cellar, more international than many in Britain, yielded two of our favorites from Australia—a fragrant, mineral-rich Cape Mentelle Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc with the brill, and a spicy Turkey Flat Grenache Noir, made from 80-year-old dry-farmed vines, with the beef—both under $30.

Bradley's skill was on display again in his devilishly delicious bread-and-butter pudding, made from panettone and studded with raisins and candied peel. Heading north out of town the next day, we had our pick of epochs in British history. Boring into the mist, which washed out colors and made every shape mysterious, we spotted Caer Caradoc, a long hill near Church Stretton, 15 miles north. This is said to be the spot where the Romans defeated Caractacus, the last British chieftain, in A.D. 51—an engagement described by Tacitus. About 15 miles northeast of there are the ruins of the Roman city of Viroconium or Wroxeter, once the fourth-largest in Britain (after London, Cirencester and St. Albans). An imposing portion of the stone basilica wall, built A.D. 121, remains intact, having stood there, upright, for 1,881 years.

After that, the nearby valley of Coalbrookdale hardly seemed historic. But it is, for there a Quaker ironmaster by the name of Abraham Darby launched the Industrial Revolution and sparked the growth of the modern world.

In 1709, as the nascent iron industry began to run out of wood to fire its blast furnaces, he succeeded in smelting ore with coke made from local coal. Within 80 years, Coalbrookdale was filled with Britain's first "dark, satanic mills," and the iron that they produced was used in the first steam-engine cylinders, first iron rails, first steam locomotive and first iron bridge.

That bridge, across the Severn a few miles away, gave its name to the chasm through which the river runs—Ironbridge Gorge. It opened in 1781, not long after the American Revolution, and remains in daily use by pedestrians today, a remarkably sturdy if not altogether graceful humpbacked span. A small museum near the north end tells its story, and another in Coalbrookdale illustrates the iron-making process.

Lunch at Sol Restaurant, a small bistro in Shrewsbury, was all a country lunch should be: a veal terrine with homemade chutney, a piece of wild Shetland salmon crusted brown on one side, served with salsify, spinach and a slightly gingered butter sauce, and first-of-the-season rhubarb—not the usual stringy, slimy stuff, but slightly chewy, a perfect foil for a silky vanilla-bean panna cotta. Everything was cooked with care and without pretense.

On the way back to Ludlow, we filled in the blanks between the first and the 18th centuries. At Wenlock Priory, which predated the Norman Conquest in 1066, a number of walls—some pierced by Gothic and Romanesque windows, some supported by Gothic arches—still tower above green lawns filled with grazing sheep.

The south transept is 70 feet high, which gives some idea of the enormous extent of the church, destroyed by Henry VIII's minions. But the prettiest feature, we thought, was the pie-crust decoration on the arches leading to the chapter house.

The much smaller St. Mary's church at Acton Burnell, farther south, holds special interest for Americans, Southerners in particular. Its main feature is the exquisite alabaster tomb of Sir Richard Lee (died May 27, 1591), which shows him lying down, feet on a lion, hands clasped in prayer, sword and gauntlets at his side, with a tiny puppy crawling out of one of them. Lee's nine daughters stand along the back of the tomb.

It could not have been more beautiful, but what intrigued us most was the thought that Robert E. Lee, the revered Civil War commander, was descended from this Lee. Sure enough, a modest sign hung a few feet away. St. Mary's church had been repaired in 1960, it declared, "through the generosity of the Society of the Lees of Virginia."

We made a brief stop at Stokesay Castle, a fortified manor house, hardly altered since the late 13th century, with a timber-trussed great hall unchanged since the days of baronial feasts. We would have liked to tarry, but we pressed on to Ludlow nevertheless; it was almost dinnertime, and we had saved the best for last: Merchant House. Shaun Hill, a friend for a decade or more, did not let us down. His is a severely pared-down operation, with undressed wood tables, indifferent-to-nonexistent decor, only his wife and one helper in the dining room, and only a domestic refrigerator back in the kitchen ("It's a blessing and a curse," he said. "Can't keep leftovers."). But he made a better mousetrap, and in the last year it has been full every night except for one wintry week in January.

The menus, with four choices at each stage, are built around whatever looks best in the market on a given day, which is easier in a restaurant with just a few tables. ("Buy rubbish," Hill says with typical tartness,"and you need more skill than most chefs possess to produce something worth getting fat for.") Every dish is cooked by the boss, in a direct, approachable style that never loses its focus on maximizing the taste of the raw materials. Even the Parker House rolls are house-made.

Sweetbreads, poached and then briefly fried, crisp outside and unctuous inside, neither flabby nor compacted into a leathery lump, came atop a brightly flavored cake of mashed potatoes and chopped green olives. A few spoonfuls of a mild mustard dressing accented the meat's richness. That dish spoke eloquently, with complete professionalism, as did the herb-laden risotto that came with perfect spears of young asparagus from the Vale of Evesham, England's market garden, which is not far away.

Racks of lamb—when in England in springtime, do as the English do, and order lamb—came with simple juices from the roasting pan. They were served with an offbeat array of masterfully cooked vegetables—runner beans, Kenya beans, sea kale, and broccolini—which have always been a Hill specialty.

A mature and spectacularly full-flavored cheddar from the Isle of Mull, in northwestern Scotland, set the stage for a traditional Hereford apple tart with caramel sauce (for Betsey) and a scoop of cardamom ice cream (for me). The wines, many of them supplied by Bill Baker, come from the world's best producers; the roll-call includes Dujac, Felton Road, Gaja, Zind-Humbrecht, Oremus and Au Bon Climat, and we indulged ourselves a little.That boosted the bill, but the dinner itself, at $45 a head, no tip expected, was a real steal. We left Shropshire by way of the Clun Valley, celebrated by Housman in another famous verse. "Clunton and Clunbury/Clungunford and Clun," he wrote, "Are the quietest places/Under the sun," and I am here to testify that they still are. Smoke lazed from many chimneys, but scarcely a soul was stirring as we passed through the riverside villages late on a Sunday morning.

Across the county line in Herefordshire, at the crossroads hamlet of Titley, we found some action. There, too, the draw was good food. At the Stagg Inn, a genuine, no-fooling old roadside pub with mismatched tables and chairs, located less than a mile from the Welsh border (and maybe 25 miles from Ludlow), Steve Reynolds, who formerly cooked at Le Gavroche, London's grandest French restaurant, unpacked his pots and pans in 1998 and established a loyal following. His meats are brought in from local farms, which are listed on a blackboard; his fried foie gras is accompanied by apples from nearby Pembridge, and his cheeseboard is loaded with local cheeses. Among them: Finn, named for the dog of Charlie Westhead, who makes it; a buttery item called Monkland, and an aged Caerphilly that arrives in the mail because the lane leading to the farm where it's made is impassable. The fish travels a long way to the plate—from Cornwall—but my roast wild sea bass with braised fennel and coriander tasted ocean-fresh.

No wonder Michelin liked this place. You can still walk in and order only a pint, but Reynolds can also take you well beyond that. He fits the gustatory pattern that is so evident in Ludlow, where substance triumphs over show.


Farther Afield: 9 Restaurants Outside London

Ludlow may be the most famous, but there's a quiet gastronomic revolution going on in many other small villages and towns across the U.K. While not every part of the country can claim an establishment worthy of a detour, some of the most interesting cooking is to be found outside London. You just have to know where to go.
—MATTHEW FORT

1 The Fat Duck
BERKSHIRE
This is the hottest and most exciting restaurant in the country. Self-taught chef Heston Blumenthal introduces what he calls "molecular gastronomy"—but don't be put off by the title. It simply means understanding the science of cooking and experiencing its varied results, from contrasting mash potato with lime jelly to slow-cooking saddle of lamb to combining crab risotto with crab ice cream. This is wholly original and taste bud-ravishing cuisine, although it involves a level of originality that may not be for everyone, and a few critics have said that it doesn't quite live up to its billing. Still, it is notably relaxed and cheerful for a place with two Michelin stars.

RECOMMENDED cauliflower risotto, caramelized cauliflower cream and "carpaccio" of cauliflower; crab biscuit with roast foie gras, crystallized seaweed, marinated salmon and oyster vinaigrette; sweetbreads cooked in a salt crust with hay, crusted with pollen and cockles à la plancha and parsnip purée; mille-feuille of pain d'épices, pineapple and chili jelly. $180-$235. High Street, Bray, Berkshire; 44-1628-580-333.

2 Blinis
SOMERSET
This jewel box of a restaurant near Pultney Bridge—Bath's homage to Florence's Ponte Vecchio—is a gastrodome in miniature, with a classy wine bar on the street level and dining room downstairs, looking out over the river and its arcaded walks. Chef Martin Blunos, an old Michelin hand, has wedded classic French cooking with his own Latvian roots, creating notes of real originality and character. The service is very French and too formal for real comfort, but the food is beautifully crafted, with proper weight given to matters like stocks and sauces.

RECOMMENDED scrambled duck eggs topped with beluga caviar and served with buckwheat blinis and a glass of chilled vodka; seared scallops on parsnip purée with the reduced juices of roast chicken and sage; slow-braised belly of pork with apple tortellini and cider cream; kirsch and caraway parfait with cherry sorbet. $ $45-$95. At 16 Argyle Street, Bath, Somerset; 44-1225-422-510.

3 Star Inn
YORKSHIRE
Tucked away in a rural corner of Yorkshire, the Star Inn is a restaurant de famille in the French mold, remade to English specification by Andrew and Jacquie Pern. Outside it's a thatched 14th-century pub. Inside it's cheerfully cluttered, with a wood-beamed ceiling and walls. There are proper fires in season, and children are made welcome. The Perns' Michelin-starred, stylish English cooking balances grand flavors with surprising delicacy. Simpler dishes like freshly steamed mussels with dark beer and bacon tend to work better than the fancier offerings such as grilled black pudding (blood sausage) with pan-fried foie gras, scrumpy (cider) reduction, apple and vanilla chutney. And save room for these puddings from heaven: baked ginger parkin with rhubarb ripple ice cream; poached winter fruits in rum and vanilla syrup with oatmeal shortbread; sticky plum pudding with cognac custard and apple brandy compote. There's a clever beer and wine list. Eat surrounded by the amber glow of the bar or in the slightly more formal dining room. A delightful small shop across the road sells produce from the kitchen and the surrounding countryside.

RECOMMENDED pressed terrine of gammon with fried quail's egg, spiced pineapple pickle and a mustardseed dressing; risotto of local forest mushrooms with wilted wild garlic, shavings of Lincolnshire Poacher cheese, and white-truffle oil; braised oxtails in Theakston's beer with stockpot carrots, horseradish mash and honey-roast roots. $ $80-$95. Harome (2.5 miles southeast of Helmsley), Yorkshire; 44-1439-770-397.

4 Juniper
GREATER MANCHESTER
It's pyrotechnics on the plate at Juniper, in the Manchester suburb of Altrincham. Nothing seems to inhibit the imagination of chef Paul Kitching. Eight, 14, and 20-course tasting menus flow out of him like a stream, although the standard three courses are just as satisfying. The cooking is highly inventive, sometimes downright subversive, always interesting and usually delicious. Kitching specializes in fruit and vegetable purées, combined with fish or meat in casual but precise presentations. He has an unusual feel for textures, and his cuisine is second only to The Fat Duck for individuality and flair (although if you don't happen to be in the mood for the kitchen's ceaseless, restless invention, it may seem a bit wearing).

The restaurant, with room for 34 diners, is small, comfortable, and personable, decorated with a large mural on one wall, a copy of the well-known Renaissance masterpiece The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello. The staff is as youthful, knowledgeable, and as charming as the man in the kitchen.

RECOMMENDED poached and roasted breasts of Cumbrian quail, sautéed calf's sweetbreads, assiette of corned beef, dried leeks, spicy chocolate powder, creamy chicory purée, double espresso coffee glaze; poached, sliced monkfish tail, sautéed baby artichokes, sweet ginger butter, dried lavender flowers, chive oil; roasted breast of duck, warm spicy tomato vinaigrette, parsley, capers, new season rhubarb purée and rosewater, hot olive beignet, enoki mushrooms, cinnamon syrup sauce; dark-chocolate soufflé, white-chocolate soufflé, Nouilly Prat, milk-chocolate pot, white-chocolate shavings. $125. At 21 The Downs, Altrincham, Great Manchester; 44-161-929-4008.

5 Lough Pool Inn
HEREFORDSHIRE
A fine example of the gastropub (a traditional drinking place with an untraditional emphasis on original and well-prepared food), the Lough Pool Inn is a jumble of red tiled, whitewash-and-black-timber buildings in an unspoiled corner of rural England. The dining room is agreeably unpretentious, with solid tables and comfortable chairs, and the menu changes daily. Proprietor Stephen Bull's cooking features a highly tempting range of dishes based on his distinctive feel for various European traditions. The beer is exemplary, there's a challenging range of apple ciders and perry (a cider made with pears), and a short but intelligently selected wine list. The well-meaning service can seem a little on the amateurish side, although one is made to feel welcome.

RECOMMENDED goat-cheese soufflé with walnut sauce; terrine of Jerusalem artichoke and Serrano ham with orange and hazelnut salad; crêpinette of lamb with olives and garlic-seasoned flageolet beans; warm ginger cake with treacle toffee ice cream. $ $70. Sellack, near Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire; 44-1989-730-236.

6 Walnut Tree Inn
WALES
For decades the gastro-glory of Wales when Franco and Ann Taruschio ran the show, the Walnut Tree Inn was taken over last year by the talented Stephen Terry and Francesco Mattioli. They maintain the Italian traditions of the Taruschios to such good effect that the Walnut Tree serves up some of the best Italian food in the country. Very few British chefs can do Italian food properly, with understanding and respect for its essential restraint, but Stephen Terry is one of them. The dining rooms at The Walnut Tree Inn retain the original cheerful, unpretentious style, though the waitstaff's no-nonsense approach verges on the brusque.

RECOMMENDED slices of home-cured bresaola with celeriac remoulade and bruschetta; potato gnocchi with braised rabbit sauce; roast rack of local lamb with cannellini and borlotti beans, Parmesan and marjoram; roast white peach with amaretto and toasted-almond ice cream. $ $80. Llandewi Skirrid, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales; 44-1873-852-797.

7 Priory House Restaurant
SOMERSET
Chef-proprietor Martin Hadden and his wife, Michele, bring a culinary refinement to Stoke sub Hamdon, a pretty, elongated kind of village not far from Yeovil, in Somerset. The small Priory House is attractive, well-lit, and comfortable—if a bit short on character. Hadden is a master craftsman, cooking with classic French principles and techniques. His dishes are thoughtful and beautifully composed, the elements firmly disciplined, the principle features quietly integrated. He is not a fussy or showy, flashy or fantastical chef, and his handling of top-class ingredients is respectful, indeed exemplary. This may not be the most exciting food in the country, but it is certainly among the most intelligent. Michele Hadden controls the dining room with good humor.

RECOMMENDED Brixham fish soup with fromage blanc and dill; Crottin goat-cheese raviolo with red-pepper coulis; grilled chicken breast with hot foie gras and potato purée; burnt lemon cream and passionfruit sorbet. $ $75-$95. At 1 High Street, Stoke sub Hamdon, Somerset; 44-1935-822-826.

8 JSW
HAMPSHIRE
JSW stands for Jacob Saul Watkins, who is in the kitchen while his wife, Riekie, lights up the dining room. Their restaurant is personal, exact and far removed from the world of the million-dollar design makeover. The room is long and light, with large and striking pencil drawings hanging on pale-beige walls. Even so, it's a bit short on character and atmosphere. The former is in the distinctly and highly flavored cooking. Not over-the-top in, say, the vulgar chili-lemongrass-and-balsamic-vinegar mold but instead in the carefully balanced roast-scallops-herb-risotto-and-red-wine-sauce mold. Handsome puddings, like feuillantine of rhubarb or assiette of Valrhona chocolate, are about as showy as JSW gets, but the pedigree is in the eating.

RECOMMENDED langoustine ravioli and asparagus; roast scallops, herb risotto, and red-wine sauce; rabbit two ways with bacon; feuillantine of rhubarb. $ $80. At 1 Heath Road, Petersfield, Hants; 44-1730-262-030.

9 Winteringham Fields
NORTH LINCOLNSHIRE
A haven of civility and great cooking on the flat reaches of the Humber estuary, Winteringham Fields is a top-class watering hole. Germain and Annie Schwab have spent 15 years gradually growing this mass of small rooms, decorating along the way with plants, flowers and selected bric-a-brac (albeit veering toward kitsch at times). The staff are as kindly and well-ordered as you would expect from a Michelin-two-star establishment. Germain Schwab's cooking is classically French in its foundations, sophisticated, and full of clever variety. It is made rich with wonderful meat and fish sourced from the surrounding area and subtly colored with herbs from the Schwabs' gardens.

RECOMMENDED duo of foie gras terrine and pan-fried foie gras, pear-and-licorice aspic; spiced-pear chutney; ragout of scallops and cèpes, crispy pancetta; pan-fried fillet of halibut with crusted potato scales on a cushion of leek and halibut mousse, Avruga caviar velouté; classic crème brûlée with red-fruit compote and brandy snaps. $115-$210. Winteringham, North Lincolnshire; 44-1724-733-096.


Ludlow Restaurants

Hibiscus Recommended: foie gras with licorice, mille-feuille with tomato, baby lamb chops. Closed three weeks in January and one week in August, all day Sunday, and Monday and Tuesday lunch. 1 $100. At 17 Corve Street, Ludlow; 44-1584-872-325.

Mr. Underhill's Menu changes daily, but try the turbot or the brill with cardamom-lime sauce. Local beef and bread-and-butter pudding frequently make an appearance. Dinner only. Closed Tuesday, one week in January, one week in early summer, and on Christmas Day. $ $100. Dinham Weir, Ludlow; 44-1584-874-431.

Merchant House Recommended: bourride of turbot, monkfish and prawn; sweetbreads; squab with saffron risotto. Lunch Friday and Saturday, dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Closed one week in spring and one week at Christmas. $100. Lower Corve Street, Ludlow; 44-1584-875-438.

Sol Restaurant Order salmon with gingered butter sauce, duck breast with mustard jus, panna cotta with rhubarb. Closed Sunday and Monday. $ $65-$95. At 82 Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury; 44-1743-340-560.

Stagg Inn Best dishes include scallops with Swiss chard and black-pepper oil, fillet of beef with morels, trio of crème brûlées. Closed Mondays except bank holidays, two weeks in November and at Christmas. $ $80. Titley; 44-1544-230-221.

$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.