A dowdy depot with an historic past has been reborn as one of the Midlands’ loveliest small hotels, says Richard McComb.
It’s hard, if not downright impossible, to think that the Lion and Pheasant in Shrewsbury was once a shabby car parts depot.
Today, this collection of 17th and 18th century town houses is one of the loveliest, small hotels you are likely to come across.
It reopened for business last November following a beautifully managed renovation project overseen by owner Dorothy Chidlow and daughter Rachel, who is an interior designer of considerable talent.
This former staging post for cross country travellers had fallen into a sorry state when the Chidlows grasped the nettle and opted for a root and branch transformation of the historic Grade II listed buildings.
They have created 22 individually styled bedrooms with a restful New England meets Scandinavia muted colour scheme.
There are lashings of oak, timber features, wonky floors, wrought iron beds, restored tiled fireplaces, silk furnishings, the type of luxurious bed linen that cocoons guests in five-star hotels and swathes of seagrass carpeting, which look great but can rough up your tootsies. (Don’t worry, though, there are slippers provided.)
One of the best things I can say about the bedrooms is that they don’t feel “hotel-ey.” You feel like you are being put up for the night in a terribly nice friend’s tremendously tasteful house.
There are flat-screen tellies and kettles in the rooms but that’s about it as far as techie mod-cons are concerned. Less is more. I had a very comfortable night’s sleep and, odd as it sounds, that can be quite a hard thing to get in a hotel.
The Loft Room is the place to go for an extra dose of seclusion and county town pomp. The room is at the top of a winding stairs and has oodles of old-world charm with a free-standing roll-top bath and an exposed trussed roof.
It’s an ideal place to re-enact your fantasies of romantic Tudor abandon. Why not take a bodice, and rip it.
I loved the overall ambiance of the Lion and Pheasant, too. The young team of staff is tirelessly helpful and the service being delivered – I visited just a few months after the opening – made me think the place must have been open for years. General manager Jim Littler has achieved a happy balance between guest privacy and convivial informality.
The hotel is located in Wyle Cop, five minutes in a cab from the station, or a brisk ten-minute stroll. It is virtually opposite Tanners, one of Britain’s finest independent wine merchants, from which the hotel stocks its cellar.
I would have loved to have fully exposed my palate to some of the wines on the list, as well as some of the local real ales being served in the bar. But having spent several hours at a spring wine tasting over the road, I wisely opted to ease back over dinner.
Meals can be taken in the bar, which has an inglenook fireplace that must act as a magnet in the winter. There is also a first-floor restaurant serving the same modern European cuisine.
The main dining room has been as tastefully refurbished as the rest of the hotel with a stripped wood floor, exposed brickwork and beams. It’s clean and modern rather than faux rustic.
The setting is entirely in keeping with the food and the kitchen has built up a fierce local following in a short period of time. I stayed on a Tuesday night and the place was buzzing with families, groups and couples. County set, but nice with it.
Roux-trained chef Alan Dann has devised a menu drawing on English classics and Mediterranean influences. Alongside starters such as a robust game terrine with toasted sourdough was a dish of hot mozzarella and Provençale salsa.
An “Inbetweeners” section (which has nothing to do with the Channel 4 show) offered salads and pasta as either a starter or main as well as cured meat and cheese platters and antipasti.
Mains were reassuringly under fussed, so there was seabass with basil mash, chorizo and sweet peppers (£14), a fish pie (a joy to see on a menu) and calves’ livers with Gloucester Old Spot bacon, mash and onion gravy. There was room too for plaice with brown shrimp and caper butter.
Because I was having difficulty focusing after my Tanners’ appointment, I had the ribeye steak, chips and Béarnaise sauce (£17.95), which was asked for and served rare. Spot on it was.
If only I could have done justice to the desserts, which copied the successful less is more formula: puds like apple and cinnamon crumble with vanilla ice cream, and a mixed berry “gratin” with a Champagne sabayon spoke of wholesome cooking.