The Bower House, Shipston-on-Stour
My grandfather used to run The George Hotel in Shipston-on-Stour. I remember tobacco-stained, yellow walls in a dark dining room with a piano in one corner. I remember the kitchen where my grandfather used to cook the family a Sunday lunch. I remember the occasional passerby through Shipston who might ask if they were serving food, “Afraid the chef’s on holiday this week” the staff might reply. My grandmother had a swear jar, which ended up making quite a bit of money. I remember the rooms upstairs: barely utilised except by my grandparents to sleep, and me to have as a playground. The George was a hotel in name only.
The Shipston I remember growing up was a simple and humble town. Unfussy and unstuffy – unlike nearby Stratford which was a bit posh and full of tourists. Fast forward twenty years, and The Times* seems to features the small market town every six months as a true hotspot “on the edge of the Cotswolds.” A descriptor which I guarantee is alien to everyone there except the local estate agents.
The George, long since sold off by my grandfather was refurbed well over a decade ago and started a bit of the town’s reimagination. Yet while The George – at least to someone whose lived in London for a decade now – is one of the better places to drink, a decent restaurant has still been missing.
The Bower House has had a rocky start opening twice this year after a small hiatus just weeks into launch. Since its September relaunch its been full steam ahead. So when we planned to visit my mother over Christmas, I was definitely keen to try it out.
The menu at the Bower House is one of the best you’ll see in the area and looked so appealing I wanted to eat four courses.
The starters all packed great punch. LA chose the beetroot and leek vinagrette with goat curd (£7.50), which was incredibly refreshing and finely balanced. Quite the opposite, to my crottin, green salad (£8) which was rich and powerful in only the way that warmed crottin can be. It was the second time I’d had the cheese since MB and CM made it for us during a Wankers’ Supper Club and was reminded of their dish as I devoured this one. The shallot crumble, horseradish cream (£8.5) – chosen by Mum – combined richly, caramelised shallots with warm mushrooms and horseradish, proving to be my favourite starter of the three.
The huge breast of Brailes Hill pheasant (£17.50) was served with a light veloute sauce. It’s a simple and delicious dish that would well suit the unadventurous. The duck breast (£19.50): perfectly rare with knockout black pudding crumbled throughout the dish was another delight. Yet the standout for me was the roe deer (£18). Big, earthy flavours from the mushrooms, rich & soft texture of the venison, and a wonderful red wine sauce.
Desserts measured up equally well, with Delice Jaconde (“our chocolately dish”) the perfect way to end a meal, and their TBH tarte tatin (both £7.50) not a bad shout either.
The menu design, wine list and cooking at the Bower House is a triumph and a standout in Shipston. Which makes it all the more sad that it was almost empty just three days before Christmas, while all the nearby pubs were packed out.
While I’m more than happy that I know I’ll always be able to get a table there, the last thing I want it to do is go out of business because it’s so quiet.
There’s no doubt about it, The Bower House is different for Shipston. It lends itself more to being ‘on the edge of the Cotswolds’ than it does the humble, West Midlands town I grew up in as a child.
There’s a fear that that is putting people off. And yet, it shouldn’t. The food is reasonably priced. You can get a three course lunch for £18, which is fantastic. If you go ala carte, the prices are similar to other local establishments, but the quality is in a league of its own. And, like the town I remember cycling and running around as a boy, the food is unfussy and simple. Simple British, French, and Italian inspired dishes combined with local ingredients. If you’re ever in the area, I wholeheartedly recommend you pay it a visit, there’s even some rooms upstairs too.
*Incidentally, The Times’ Andrew Knight is the owner of The Bower House.