Paddy Burt, the Daily Telegraph hotel reviewer, stays at Pen-y-Dyffryn Country Hotel near Oswestry in Shropshire
“ON the last hill in Shropshire, facing the Welsh mountains, is a rather special country hotel.” Pen-y-Dyffryn really is special. It’s in a tiny village, Rhydycroesau; if that isn’t Welsh, what is? Yet Pen-y-Dyffryn is actually in Shropshire, so we’re in border country here, where the hills get big ideas and think they’re mountains.
As we walk up a flight of steps into this old stone house there really is a feeling of comfort and joy. We are greeted by Jacky, who explains that the owners, Miles and Audrey Hunter, aren’t around this evening because “we’re just not busy enough.” They’ll be here tomorrow, though, because a lot of people are coming.
She takes us to a large room that’s homely rather than smart. In a corner is a single bed, useful for a child if only we’d brought one. There’s also a large canopied bed with a padded headboard, covered with a bedspread that’s pretty rather than elegant.
Pen-y-Dyffryn was once a rectory, though I doubt if the drawing-room and what’s now the restaurant were painted strawberry pink in the Rector’s day.
These adjoining rooms are sumptuous and comfortable – both have large fireplaces and elaborate overmantels and, in the restaurant, grandpa and grandma look down approvingly from oval frames.
There are also faded wall tapestries, paintings, dimmed chandeliers and lots of candles. A vase of freesias sits on each table. Yes, these are tranquil rooms, so maybe the Rector’s presence still lingers – I suspect he wasn’t the fire and brimstone type.
We like the fact that there’s a dated menu, unusual in a small restaurant. We order a bottle of their reasonably priced NZ wine and are given an Optrex-blue bottle of tap water and Optrex-blue glasses to drink from – a nice change from being pushed into paying for fancy water with a fancy name.
Each plate has the word Pleasure written on top of it and is presented so that the word faces the diner. A lot of thought has gone into this restaurant.
We’re brought tiny appetisers consisting of tomato and feta cheese, oregano and chilli. Just because Nicola, the blonde waitress, looks so young, we could be fooled into thinking she’s inexperienced. Wrong. She knows each dish by heart, reciting its ingredients with assurance.
I choose a terrine of pheasant, barbary duck fillet and wood pigeon for my starter because it’s accompanied by irresistible onion marmalade. Husband makes approving noises between mouthfuls of Scotch salmon and button mushroom risotto.
For my main course I’ve got poached fillet of plaice with white wine sauce on a mound of spinach with spicy bits mixed in and Tuscan vegetables – why Tuscan, I wonder? – which are perfectly cooked, with a bit of bite to them. The sauce is pretty good as well, not too rich. My husband’s chicken breast is huge – a Jayne Mansfield of the poultry world – accompanied by deep-fried Savoy cabbage that doesn’t look like cabbage at all, much too elaborate. Here’s a chef with an original turn of mind.
After delish puddings, we retreat to the prettily decorated drawing-room arranged for comfort and lounging about in. Back in our room, we read of the owners’ interest in all things organic – pork, venison, even Earl Grey tea. Next morning, sustained by a brilliant breakfast, served with as much attention as dinner, we go outside and stand on the look-out platform. The land slopes steeply beneath us to a valley and a rushing stream, beyond which is Wales. We can’t help thinking that if we stayed here for a few days we’d return to London as two much less stressed people.
Pen-y-Dyffryn Country Hotel, Rhydycroesau, nr Oswestry, Shropshire SY10 7JD (01691 653700), has 10 rooms. Paddy Burt paid £106 for b & b; £45 for dinner for two; £5.20 for coffee; £11.50 for wine.
£32.00 for three courses
£27.00 for two courses