What: An idyllic boutique hotel in the West Dorset town of Beaminster that’s just been taken on by a big name chef and his partner. The plan is to improve the food and make the experience more informal.
Who: Chris Staines and his partner Silvana Bandini. Staines made his name cooking at the (now closed) Foliage at the Mandarin Oriental, which held a star. He left to open Heckfield Place as executive chef but left when the Hampshire venue failed to open. Amazingly, it has still yet to open to the public. In 2012 he opened Allium in Bath’s Abbey Hotel, which was well-received but never quite managed to get a Michelin star. Staines’ partner, Silvana Bandini, brings a wealth of hotelier experience, coming straight from a role as general manager at Bath’s well-regarded Hampshire hotel and restaurant The Pig.
The vibe: Originally a 13th century clergyhouse, the house features has two conservatories (which Staines says can be used as either event spaces or private dining rooms); a terrace; a 30-cover bar; and a 50-cover dining room. Although the business is now open to the public, Staines and Bandini will soon close to revamp the site for a June relaunch, with a plan to “deformalise” the restaurant area. The pair got the keys after the previous owners had finished lunch service on Friday, and carried out the evening service the same day. Staines says the pair want to create a “community hub” where the locals feel comfortable and at home. “It’s very ‘tablecloths’ at the moment,” says the chef, “we’re going to be changing all of that”.
The food: The hotel’s previous owners of 14 years placed heavy emphasis on the importance of local and seasonal produce, and Staines has already formed relationships with the area’s best suppliers, in particular for fish, to continue that ethos. However, the similarities will end there, as the chef intends to make the food offering less formal. “It will only be fine dining in the respect that the food will be fine,” says Staines. “We want people to feel that they can come in for a drink and a snack at the bar, or just have a bottle of wine on the terrace. Future menus have yet to be confirmed, but items currently being served include gnudi, with a potato and truffle butter and a watercress salad; poached loin of English rose veal with tuna mayonnaise, pickled shallots, radish and capers; monkfish with green curry sauce, sweet potato, mussels and monks beard; and chocolate tart with pistachio ice cream, pistachio praline and Seville orange marmalade. In summer, Staines says he will be using the terrace for barbecues.
And another thing: The pair have been looking at sites to open a restaurant with rooms for a few years, but when they saw the £1.25m hotel in Dorset, where Staines’ mother lives, they found it to be exactly what they were looking for. “We looked at sites all over the country,” says the chef, “but we fell in love with this one.”