Bed and breakfast has gone to another level at De Grey's in Ludlow, says Richard McComb.
Bowls of fruit are laid out on the giant wooden table alongside freshly made croissants, pains au chocolat and raisin whirls.
There are bottles of apple and pear juice from the Teme Valley chilling on ice and a plate of beautiful carved ham. I toy with ordering the Shropshire Sizzle but opt instead for Franck’s breakfast omelette. It turns out to be a wise choice. Franck’s omelette uses local free-range eggs, plum tomatoes and fresh basil. It makes for an ideal start to the day.
To any customer’s request for a tweak to an order (“No black pudding, please”), the reply is always the same: “Yes, of course.” Tea is served in Dudson china from Stoke-on-Trent. I could get used to taking breakfast at De Grey’s.
This picture-postcard Elizabethan timbered building in the heart of Ludlow is renowned for its epically English afternoon teas and delicious cakes and pastries, served by waitresses in black pinnies and white aprons.
Less well known are De Grey’s decidedly comfortable rooms and suites. Do not be misled by the phrase “bed and breakfast accommodation.” If the rooms were plopped in Mayfair you’d have to pay a pop star’s ransom for a reservation.
There are nine rooms, which are classified as deluxe, superior or suites. There are four-poster beds, handmade furniture, roll top baths, wine coolers and abundant peace and quiet. I stayed in Room 2, which has its own private entrance, the bedroom, sitting area and massive bathroom situated at first-floor level. It’s like being in a well-presented private house without any annoying hosts hanging around. The accommodation is rated in the Michelin Guide and is justifiably awarded five stars by the AA and Enjoy England.
The business, both the “B&B” and the cafe, is owned by Sue Underhill, whose pride and professionalism is clear to see in the dedication of the staff, the quality of the food and the upkeep of the building. The accommodation is in a 16th century town house adjoining the busy cafe. There is no reception as such so keys are collected and handed back at the shop at the front of the cafe. I love the informality and lack of pretence.
De Grey’s is now managed by Brummie Andy Paul, who escaped Weoley Castle to ply the hospitality trade in the shadows of Ludlow Castle. Paul was appointed last December and admits to feeling the responsibility of taking over a loved institution which has become such a draw for local residents as well as tourists. Paul says: “It was quite daunting taking it on, but I love it here. People who come to Ludlow for the first time have to come to De Grey’s. When they come in, they go ‘Wow!’”
Paul and his team will have their work cut out next weekend when the three-day Ludlow Food Festival takes place.
Local Michelin star chef Will Holland, of La Bécasse, will lead several cookery demonstrations and visitors will have the chance to sample fine food and drink from 130 independent producers from September 9 to 11.