Review by Fiona Duncan, published 11th May 2008.
There was a brief period when Ludlow, of all places, could boast more Michelin stars in one spot than any similar-sized town in Europe. Between Merchant House, Hibiscus and Mr Underhill, it accumulated four stars and became an outpost for lip-licking gourmets who weren’t sure where Ludlow was but knew they would find artfully arranged platefuls of fine food within its ancient precincts.
No longer. Merchant House closed in 2005 and Hibiscus has decamped to Mayfair. Mr Underhill now holds the town’s one remaining Michelin star, although Hibiscus’ replacement, La Becasse, has definite ambitions.
Not that the good folk of Ludlow are perturbed. Over-fancy and overpriced was the blunt verdict of old (and cultured) friends who live there, Londoners who fell in love with Ludlow, not for its fine dining but for its old-fashioned charm: friendly, slow-paced and engaging, with some of the best food shops and markets in the country.
Our friends, I suspect, will not be seduced by Fishmore Hall, a new “boutique” hotel on the semi-rural outskirts of town, and if the truth be told, nor were my mother and I. Impressed, but not seduced.
In unspoilt, rural Shropshire we’d feel more in tune with traditional simplicity rather than slick and shiny modernity, and the hotel’s urban veneer, and its expense, is at odds with the genuine, historic nature of the town in which it stands. Maybe that’s why Ludlow’s upmarket gourmet restaurants come – and then go.
But mine is, as always, a personal opinion. The crop of rave reviews on Tripadvisor attest to the fact that plenty of other guests, undoubtedly younger than us, think Fishmore Hall is terrific.
And indeed, personal preference apart, there is very little to fault, and standards are high. An imposing Georgian building, previously derelict, has been superbly converted, with brand new everything inside. It’s the venture of Laura Penman, who cut her teeth as a manager at Cotswold House, a brilliant marketing exercise of a hotel that gives the rich urban young what they want, delivered with panache, great design and a hefty bill.
Fishmore Hall is quieter and safer. Too safe. The sitting room has walls that are unadorned save for a large plasma-TV screen, and the bedroom furniture and curtains (in four different colourways) are the same throughout.
More appealing is the clever ground-floor lighting that casts dancing patterns on the walls and the calm dining room with its snow-white tablecloths and sparkling glass. The individually designed bathrooms are also a highlight, and there’s a separate walk-in shower. My favourite rooms, Nos 8 and 9, were the smallest and the least expensive, but they offered uninterrupted views of Clee Hill.
High standards in the kitchen, too: far better cooking than you might expect in such a place, thanks to the talent of young chef Marc Hardiman. Including the canapés, the pre-starter and the two pre-desserts, it was deftly cooked, locally sourced and swiftly served, but also, to our minds, somewhat over-fancy (served on irritating high-sided plates) and definitely overpriced.
Fishmore Road, Ludlow (01584 875148; www.fishmorehall.co.uk). Doubles from £140 to £250 per night, including breakfast