Backwell House Revisited
North Somerset's Bridehead revisited
It was with some trepidation we rocked up to Backwell House for dinner on Saturday night as reports of inconsistent service had filtered as far as Nailsea.
I had already enjoyed a delightful afternoon tea some months before but as our fellow diners were foodies used to the very best, I was nervous the hotel and restaurant wouldn’t live up to expectations.
Well I can say everything was consistently fabulous from the greetings on arrival to the late-night cognac coffees at the end of the evening.
We began with a drink in the sitting room next to the bar which was almost standing room only.
This place is popular.
Here we perused the à la carte menu which although limited was more than adequate and after 30-40 unhurried minutes were shown into the elegant dining room as befits a Georgian country home where Jeremy Hobbs, of the quarry dynasty, and his siblings spent their childhood.
According to the history books back in 1982 the Hobbs Group operated 16 quarries, 10 ready-mixed concrete and four pre-cast concrete plants in Somerset.
When the founder, their father Robert Hobbs died in 1982 part was sold to Wimpey's and operates out of Nailsea as Wimpey Hobbs Ltd, while Hobbs Holdings is based at nearby Flax Bourton.
The old family swimming pool is now a sunken kitchen garden growing fresh vegetables for the house.
It was with some glee the businessman now in his in his mid-70s recanted his delight at being able as a grown-up to use the main winding marble staircase to its nine bedrooms.
In his early years, Jeremy told me, the children along with the servants were confined to using the backstairs.
“Father’s orders,” he said.
Please note the house has no lift so disabled access is limited.
On this visit Jeremy was not at home - he lives next door with wife Ann but spends much of his retirement on a boat in Spain, we are told, but on the afternoon tea visit he gave me and my daughter ‘the tour’ which included a peep at his childhood bedroom.
He did apologise profusely to the shocked occupants who had forgot to put a ‘do not disturb’ notice on the unlocked door.
We learned that ‘health and safety’ ordered the lights on the haw haw for fear someone would fall into the abyss and he replaced the pre-loved shabby chic sofas chosen by his interior designer for contemporary leather Chesterfields in the drawing room.
This was due to the latter suffering from a few broken springs and dubious previous inhabitants nesting in the horsehair fillings, he said.
Backwell House was originally built by Victorian lawyer Thomas Keedwell around 1813 which once boasted an estate of some 120 acres.
But a year after being finished, the house was bought by the Sparrow family, and used as a rental property for different people for many years.
In 1861 a cricketing family called Robinson who are related by marriage to the great sportsman WG Grace moved in.
The house has been updated and restored and the boutique bedrooms have been named after prominent surnames from the history of the house.
One of the front-facing bedrooms with views across to the Somerset countryside has an unusual quirk in that its en suite has plain glass in its window. A loo with a view both looking in and out perhaps?
For the foodies
Back to the food…the men plumped for the vegetarian creamy cauliflower soup with truffle oil and parmesan, there was an order the warm puff pastry tart filled with shallot puree, goat’s cheese and drizzled with olive and thyme and another for the deep-fried calamari served on a bed of baby gem lettuce and topped with lime garlic aioli for starters.
The other alternatives were ham hock terrine with piccalilli, capers and toasted ciabatta or poached duck egg, English asparagus and local cured ham.
The puff pastry tart which was lovely if tricky to eat tidily and my dish of calamari topped with garlic and lemon sauce was melt-in-the-mouth delicious, so I can only surmise previous servings in other establishments had been squid which is cheaper and tougher.
For the main course three of us ordered the chicken breast served on a bed of asparagus, broad beans, wild mushrooms cooked in cider and Pomme Annapommes, a classic French dish of sliced, layered potatoes cooked in a very large amount of melted butter.
One of our diners chose the fish dish.
This came with grilled chorizo, samphire (edible flowers) and an avocado salsa.
She said: "The fillet of cod was very easy to eat, no bones."
Also on the menu was sirloin steak with grilled field mushroom, plum tomato, chips, peppercorn sauce; West Country rump of lamb, crushed jersey royals, confit fennel; roasted duck leg, crispy leg croquettes, beetroot and sweet potato or garlic buttermilk pork steak, spring onion mash and corn salsa; or wild potato gnocchi with sun dried tomato (not Fried Green Tomatoes From Whistle Stop Café haha), baby spinach and mozzarella cheese.
We had side orders of extra vegetables which were cooked to perfection and a generous helping of crispy chips.
Everyone wanted the orange and cardamom crème brûlѐe for pudding, but it had sold out, so we settled for vanilla and strawberry cheesecake and lemon meringue pie and reluctantly passed on the cheese board although it sounded yummy.
For the chocoholics it was white chocolate and pear mouse with hazelnut praline or a triple chocolate brownie with honeycomb and vanilla ice cream.
By now the alcohol was beginning to kick-in so no one can remember what pink fruit was in the cheesecake – see photo – except it wasn’t cherry as one of our party doesn’t like them.
One slight disappointment was the limited fruit juices on offer for the meringue-eating designated driver and the questionable sell-by-date of the ‘fizzy’ orange which was initially served and quickly replaced.
Our bill came to a little more than £170 with no obligatory service charge for the four of us which included two bottles of wine, Bath Ales and the liqueur coffees which was a lot less than we were expecting.
Top marks to the attentive staff, surroundings and chef – we have already booked to return in November to take advantage of an early bird offer of £22.50 from 5-6.45pm for three courses.
The website is about to be relaunched so to book call 01275 794502 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.