The Moody Goose at the Old Priory
“A beautiful old building in a not-so-pretty village houses a cosy restaurant with rooms”
Review by Fiona Duncan, published 13th May 2007.
Sounds lovely, doesn't it, the Moody Goose at the Old Priory, Midsomer Norton? Well, it is, nearly The Moody Goose is the restaurant of chef Stephen Shore, which he relocated from Bath when he bought the Old Priory, an existing small hotel, a year or so ago.
The restaurant is excellent, and the Old Priory is a mellow, timeworn and fascinating house, but Midsomer Norton (apologies to all who live there) is very far from the pretty place it sounds.
People have been known to trek there, poor souls, in the mistaken belief that it's the setting for TVs picturesque Midsomer Murders (they should have gone to the Cotswolds). What they find is devoid of charm; even my sister, a local devoted to her patch, agrees. "Still, it's got Casswells", she says. "Fantastic hardware store. Can't live without it."
The Old Priory, though, is an oasis. Once in its ancient courtyard, complete with 15th-century well, you'd never guess that a run-down provincial High Street was round the corner.
In the 1970s, a cache of 15th-century clothing, tankards and scabbards was found in the attic, prompting the Priory's story to be extensively investigated by Bristol University's history department.
There's listed ecclesiastical panelling in the hall, three enormous original fireplaces, ancient beams, flagstone floors and a secret passage running from the kitchen to the church, a throwback to the distant days of religious persecution.
There are seven bedrooms, dark and quaint too quaint. In our spotless new bathroom (they are all gradually being upgraded), the loo roll was tied with a ribbon (shudder) but there was no bathmat and only one towel.
And to these quibbles I must add the sleigh bed: creaky and, for me, as hard as a mortician's slab, although my husband was more forgiving, and slept like a hibernating dormouse.
Downstairs, there are two sitting rooms, one distinctly cosier than the other, and two dining rooms (ditto). In the cosy one (which doubles as breakfast room) there's a splendid Victorian cast-iron range.
On its front, the manufacturer's name is clearly stamped: Casswells of Midsomer Norton. Some things never change. The feel of the place is fuddy-duddy, although in sympathy with the building. I'd go through with a pot of off-white paint and overhaul the lighting if it were mine.
We were quite a gaggle at dinner, joined by sister and brother-in-law, mother and cousins, all of whom live nearby. We were a bit noisy, I'm afraid, and, fuddy-duddy or not, we had a really good evening. All the dishes we chose were declared delicious, from my parfait of foie gras rolled in crunchy poppy seeds, to my sister's pink-roasted venison with quince purée and my cousin's dark chocolate tartlet.
Wines, too, were notable, especially the house red, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Breakfast (save the unremarkable coffee) showed the same flair, with some unusual dishes on the menu.
The best restaurants-with-rooms are places where the setting and the bedrooms, however modest, are as memorable as the food - places like Langar Hall, Plas Bodegroes and Tyddyn Llan, about which I have already written.
That's not the case here, though I would never say no to a return visit, and I could always try a different bed.
Church Square, Midsomer Norton, Somerset (01761 416784; www.moodygoose.co.uk; doubles £100 to £135 per night, including breakfast.
The Hotel Guru verdict
Dark and rather staid, but fairly priced
Warm and friendly: a well-knitted, happy local team
Masses in the old priory, though it could do with updating; little in its surroundings
|Food and drink|
|Value for money|
You couldn't expect to pay a penny less.