There’s not a lot of chatter as we walk into the restaurant for breakfast at the Cottage in the Wood, a recently-refurbished hotel nestled in the Malvern Hills.
Upon taking our seats, it’s not hard to see why. The views out of the enormous window fronting the hotel’s main house, looking out over the Cotswolds countryside, with Cheltenham, Tewkesbury and even Kidderminster visible in the distance, render most topics of conversation redundant.
The local scenery has a great literary pedigree, with the Malvern Hills said to be the inspiration for parts of JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth. And the eye-catching gas lamps in the nearby market town of Great Malvern appear in the opening description of Narnia in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, who went to school locally.
It’s something to ponder as I tuck into my poached smoked haddock, with spinach, poached egg and mustard sauce, at the breakfast table amid the greys, pinks and greens of the hotel’s 1919 restaurant.
With two AA rosettes under its belt and a well-regarded head chef in Gloucester-born Mark Redwood, it’s not hard to see why the hotel presents its food as just as much of a selling point as the setting.
The dinner served in 1919, cooking up locally-inspired dishes spruced up for 2018 with modern techniques like compression and charring, is hugely accomplished.
Delicious chewy sourdough bread comes out first and, inspired by the emphasis on local sourcing, I opt for a bottle of light, crisp white wine from the nearby Lovells Vineyard.
Our starters are typical of Redwood’s fare, with flavours thoughtfully coupled and elegantly presented, without pretension, but with plenty of flavour.
A venison lasagne is beautifully tender with delicate sheets of pasta combined with trompette mushrooms, hazelnuts and parmesan. And the sweet softness of my scallops are enhanced, rather than drowned out, by the salty black pudding crumble, slices of apple and cauliflower that accompany them.
The mains, particularly my breast of guinea fowl with truffled gnocchi and asparagus, are no less impressive. And The Cottage fish pie, packed with smoked haddock, salmon thermidor, prawns and cod, is rich and decadent to the point of saturation.
The rooms themselves eschew the modern aesthetic of the restaurant for something more traditional, but as well as sharing the restaurant’s glorious views are spacious, well kept and with a bed that passes my partner’s stringent comfort tests.
After a spell walking in the hills and a pleasant hour or two taking in nearby Great Malvern, with its 950-year-old priory dominating the skyline, we head back up the M5 feeling rejuvenated.
It might not inspire everyone to produce a literary classic, but a trip to the Malvern Hills is certainly worth writing home about.
- Cottage in the Wood, Holywell Road, Malvern Wells WR14 4LG
- 01684 588860
- Prices start from £45pp including breakfast (based on two sharing).
- The hotel is offering a number of Christmas packages at https://www.cottageinthewood.co.uk/events/the-festive-season