Hidden away high on the east side of the Malvern Hills and in one of the most idyllic spots the UK has to offer, The Cottage in the Wood hotel boasts breath-taking panoramic views of the Cotswolds and the miles of surrounding countryside. The hotel’s 1919 restaurant underwent a major refurbishment and interior redesign in 2017, funded by owners (and husband and wife), Julia and Nick Davies, who at the time appointed a new head chef, Mark Redwood (formerly the Old Passage in Gloucester and the Painswick Hotel). The Cottage in the Wood originally opened as tea rooms in 1919, hence where the two AA Rosette award winning restaurant acquired its name. Today the 1919 restaurant serves modern British cuisine using the freshest, local produce sourced from Malvern, the Cotswolds and Herefordshire, as well as vegetables and herbs grown in The Cottage in the Wood’s own gardens – you can’t get any fresher than that.
I’d spotted on the programme at the recent RHS Malvern Spring Festival that The Cottage in the Wood had a pop up restaurant at the show and had teamed up with Cotswolds Distillery. As the non driver that day I sampled some gin on offer and stopped for lunch with my Mum. I later discovered that Raymond Blanc had the same idea when he visited the show 2 days later and happened to sit at the very same table. We were presented with a 10% discount voucher after lunch to use on the food in the restaurant, which is what gave us the idea to go there for my birthday the following week. We were able to secure an early Friday night table for a family celebration, which was perfect as we all had work the next day too.
It was a fine day and so we were able to appreciate the stunning views from the top the Malvern Hills before relaxing in the bar area with some celebratory fizz. Our window table in the restaurant allowed us to continue soaking up the beautiful scenery from inside whilst Mr R and I moved onto a cocktail each. As one might expect in April / May, an asparagus menu had been presented along with the main menu. We have plenty growing in the walled garden back home so decided to give it a miss this time, but there were also plenty of other choices that we wanted to try.
Firstly we snacked on popcorn and bread before making our final decisions. The cauliflower cheese soup (£8) had caught my attention, particularly because it came with the arancini balls which I’d tried previously at the RHS pop up and I thought they were superb. However, my Dad had the soup instead of me and it looked fantastic. On appearance the soup was silky, creamy and beautifully garnished with crispy capers and oil. I didn’t get to taste it myself, but my Dad assured us that the soup was very good indeed.
Across the table, Mr R had opted for the roast cuttlefish and chorizo (£10) with charred cucumber, trout roe, squid ink, pickled potato, passion fruit. A dish which looked fresh, bright and vibrant, but not something that I would choose and therefore I declined his offer to try. I don’t think he minded not sharing though as it was apparently some of the best cuttlefish he’d had. My Mum and I both went with the butternut tortellini (£8), which was served with crispy sage, chestnut mushrooms, hazelnuts and my favourite ingredient – celeriac. This was very good pasta dish full of flavour, a balance of textures. I for one couldn’t have been happier with the way my birthday dinner had started.
Moving onto the main courses and next to me was the Zarzuela (£22), a Spanish stew made with prawns, mussels and almonds. The shelled fish were huge and cooked very well. A portion of chips had been ordered for the table and we all helped my Mum by mopping up the delicious smoked chilli and garlic broth. I’m going through a phase this year of being more than a little bit obsessed with fish & chips (£19) – but not the ‘chippy’ kind just to clarify as I just can’t stomach that greasy batter. There was no fear of greasy at The Cottage in the Wood, in fact anything but. This was possibly the lightest beer batter than I had yet come across. The fish inside was hake and was wonderfully moist and flaky. It was accompanied by mushy peas, tartare sauce, a wedge of lemon and a side of seriously good, proper chips. Despite all of the other pretty plates of food at the table mine seemed to be the centre of envy from my fellow diners – aka my family.
The boys both ordered the pork loin wellington (£21), which I’d have been tempted by if it hadn’t have been for the black pudding. I don’t think any of us had seen a pork wellington before. Maybe something that could be tricky to perfect without over cooking the pork? Apart from being very filling, both my Dad and Mr R really enjoyed this dish and when I had a bite I had completely forgotten about the black pudding and absolutely loved it. The wild garlic, red onion and spring greens that came with the pork made it an all round triumph of a spring dish.
The portion sizes were spot on and with the popcorn and bread on top of our main dishes, we were all very full at this point. It was my birthday though so I had to finish the meal with some cheese. I chose 3 cheeses (£9) to include Berkswell: Hard sheep’s cheese. Rich & full flavour (similar to Pecorino or Manchego), Tunworth: Camembert-style creamy cheese with thin wrinkled rind. Rich, sweet, nutty & milky long lasting flavours and Hereford hop: citrusy, buttery & sharp flavours together with slight bitterness of the toasted hops that coats the cheese. My favourite definitely being the Tunworth which was very strong in flavour, but a lovely soft cheese which I’d been craving for.
My Mum joined me in the pudding round and went for the classic baked egg custard with poached rhubarb (£8). Even with a bit of help she struggled to finish her dessert as did I with the cheese. The egg custard was very creamy and rich, with a lighter pastry shell. Poached rhubarb offered a contrasting tartness and to the sweetness of the main event. We still had a little while until our taxi was due to arrive so we retired back in the comfortable, refurbished bar area with another bottle of wine where I was presented with a special birthday treat.
Cost: £120.60 (food only and minus 10% discount voucher on food)
4 starters, 4 main courses, 2 desserts
Malvern Wells, Worcestershire, United Kingdom – last visited in May 2018
Food hygiene rating – very good 5/5 – date of last inspection 9th November 2017