La Fosse, Cranborne, Dorset – Review
La Fosse, Cranborne, Dorset
by Roger Crow/@RogerCrow
I spent some of my happiest summers as a kid in Dorset, but my last visit was 25 years ago. So, when offered a two-day stay in Cranborne, I don’t need to be asked twice.
Following a five-hour drive from Yorkshire, it’s around 4:30pm when we arrive, and we get parked pretty fast outside the hotel. As I have to pay £35 a year to park ‘near’ my house, thanks to a controlled parking zone, the concept of free parking without permits or hassle is a very welcome concept.
Check-in doesn’t take long once we’ve rung the bell. Owner and head chef Mark Hartstone greets us and takes our bags up to our room, Gold Hill. All of the rooms are named after cheeses. As I have a passion for Cheddar and most varieties (unless they’re the ‘radioactive yellow’ processed slices you get in the States), I like the theme, and the cheese-centric photo over the double bed. Wallace and Gromit would be in their element.
The decor is a mix of antiques, and modern cool uplighting. I could do without a couple of paintings, but there’s a great antique mirror which makes up for it. Naturally there’s a posh coffee maker, as well as a kettle and fresh milk. A mini fridge would have been nice, but there’s a bottle of milk in iced water outside our room should we need more.
The bathroom is compact, but very modern, with a great shower, shuttered windows and underfloor heating, which is a lovely touch.
Though the flat screen TV is a little too small (a struggle to read the clues on Pointless), we have been spoiled recently with hotels which are very much all about now. This has one foot in the past, and while some décor works, some doesn’t. Taste is obviously subjective; residents 20 years older than me might love it.
Thankfully there’s a portable fan, which turns out to be incredibly handy as we enjoy the hottest weekend of the year.
After meeting relatives for a drink in Wimborne 10 miles away, by the time we return, we consider getting a take out. There’s not much in the immediate area, and as we’re in a bit of a dead zone when it comes to getting a phone signal, ordering via an app proves impossible without pottering off down the road. Not that we’re famished. Having sampled the world’s toughest burger and dirty fries at a services in Northampton on the way down, I’m glad we wait for breakfast.
All great hotels need a fantastic bed, and ours is out of this world. It’s so comfortable I imagine even an alien invasion would have trouble waking me.
We’re first down to breakfast, which is in a cosy dining room split into two – part food area and part lounge, with a beautiful stained-glass window, leather sofa and log fire. Grabbing a seat by the window, we enjoy cereal from the ‘help yourself’ buffet area, and I order a full English.
It does not disappoint with terrific scrambled egg, bacon, black pudding and mushrooms. La Fosse prides itself on locally sourced ingredients, as well as home grown herbs, as we discover that evening at dinner.
Following a day of sun, sea, sand and shopping in Bournemouth (around half an hour’s drive away), as well as a trip to the New Forest (approximately 20 minutes drive), we’re ready for a cuppa, a chance to freshen up and dinner.
We enjoy drinks in the garden, the centrepiece of which is a large wooden Scandinavian barbecue hut, which I imagine is perfect for chillier nights.
The drinks menu is nothing if not interesting. While Rachel opts for a Merlot, I’m intrigued by the alcohol-free gin and tonic. It’s strangely compelling, but obviously without the gin-related melancholia. “The world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirits”, as the menu announces. It’s a curious experience, but well worth a try.
There’s an exhaustive wine list, so no shortage of choices there. For dinner, we enjoy complimentary bread and butter with rape seed oil, and dukah (an Egyptian condiment featuring herbs, nuts, and spices). The latter is a moreish revelation, which is a great touch.
My starter is chicken terrine with Shaftesbury charcuterie, and sweet sherry melon, which is a lovely blend of flavours and ideal for a summer’s night. Rachel’s spinach and mushroom puff pastry tartlet is also rather delicious, with or without rhubarb. (I usually opt out).
The main is wonderful. Grilled hake is beautifully soft, tender, and cooked to perfection, with a Dijon mayo and butter bean and cold French bean salad; an ideal mix of delicate flavours. The portion control is also spot on, especially as I want to save room for the final course.
Rachel’s corn and chipotle fritta with tzatziki is equally delicious. “It’s got a really nice flavour. I expected it to be crispy for some reason,” she explains. “I like the fact it doesn’t sit heavy.”
Then there’s possibly the world greatest cheeseboard, or rather cheese slate.
We enjoy nine out of 10 cheeses, ranging from goats to a blue cheese, and all the variations in-between. A Parmesan substitute has a hint of hot dogs due to its smoky flavour, and though a ewe’s cheese makes us go “eww!”, others might love it. Either way, nine out of 10 is a pretty good score from a duo who take their cheese as seriously as La Fosse’s grand fromage.
Though the goat’s cheese is crying out for a chutney, the rhubarb makes a great substitute. “I’d never had rhubarb with cheese… but I will be from now on,” enthuses Rachel. “It’s a really nice balance of flavours”. I’m also sold on the red pepper, which on the side works rather well.
“We set off with a heavy heart”
We retire for the night, and sleep like two people who’d just spent three days awake at Glastonbury.
Following breakfast and a wander round Cranborne on Sunday morning, we set off with a heavy heart. It’s obviously not close to Yorkshire, but La Fosse is a great place to stop for a few days or longer, whether on holiday or on a road trip around the south. And despite a dull 34-mile stretch, aptly on the A34, the drive isn’t bad at all. Maybe that’s the penance we pay for enjoying a few days of glorious weather and even better hospitality.
La Fosse at Cranborne, London House, The Square, Cranborne, Dorset, BH21 5PR
Prices of rooms are all with B&B starting from £89 for a double room.
Minimum stay of two nights on a Saturday