Dinner at Moonfleet

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It’s a lovely cross-country drive from north Dorset to Moonfleet Manor, on the Fleet lagoon between Abbotsbury and Weymouth – but is the hour-long journey worth it for dinner?

Moonfleet manor
All images: Courtenay Hitchcock

Fleet House was built more than 400 years ago, and the current Georgian structure was immortalised in J Meade Falkner’s classic smugglers tale Moonfleet. It became a hotel after the Second World War, and in 1987 Luxury Family Hotels took over, restoring it, and renaming it in honour of the famous book. A multi-million transformation was completed last year.
The drive was glorious but we arrived at the last minute – to a warm, unhurried welcome and we were invited to relax by the fire with a cocktail before dinner. It would have been nice if my Moonfleet French on the ‘local cocktails’ menu had contained Dorset gin and wine, but it was delicious anyway. The mocktail menu was excellent too – Courtenay’s non-alcoholic Moonfleet Sunset was as tasty as it was pretty!
Eventually we dragged ourselves away from the comfy sofas and moved into the restaurant – I’m sure there is a spectacular sea view during the day, but in winter it’s too dark to see. The long narrow restaurant with its big windows feels rather like being on a cruise ship.

The restaurant felt rather like being on a cruise ship

Schneaky schnitzel
The evening menu was reassuringly small, with just five or six seasonal choices for each course. I opted to start with the pan-seared prawns in garlic and herb butter on sourdough from the specials menu , while C picked cured chalk stream trout on sourdough with capers and lemon. The prawns were perfect – tender, flavourful and not drowned by the garlic. C’s trout was beautifully smooth and similarly delicately balanced.
We both had a glass of Argentinian malbec (Don David El Esteco), which was excellent.

Creedy Carver chicken schnitzel and Huntsham Court Farm 8oz Longhorn sirloin steak

For the main course, I chose the Creedy Carver chicken schnitzel, served with a Burford Brown fried egg, capers, anchovies and fries. This is not for the faint-hearted – the schnitzel was ENORMOUS. The chicken was beautifully cooked and incredibly tasty, and the combination with the capers and anchovies was heavenly. The crumb was a little hefty for me, and sadly, as it cooled it inevitably became a little greasy. For presentation the schnitzel was served on a square of paper, which looked pretty but started to disintegrate under the chicken halfway through.
However, I was eating slowly because the very good schnitzel was so big – who’s complaining?! C chose the Huntsham Court Farm 8oz Longhorn sirloin with chips and a peppercorn sauce.

Cured chalk stream trout

The steak was very thick – but skilfully cooked to perfection, meltingly tender and so full of flavour he closed his eyes for the first mouthful.
Our brilliant waiter James, funny., attentive, but not too present, full of knowledge about the food on the menu and clearly a very bad influence, talked us into dessert. C opted for the sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and ice cream, while I made the only error of the night.
I ordered the Paris-Brest.
It arrived … and I heaved a sigh of despair.
The luscious concoction of pastry and cream and almonds was gigantic.
On the other hand – it turned out to be giddy-makingly delicious. The ring of choux pastry was filled to bursting with the lightest, most delicate praline crème mousseline. I couldn’t finish, and in the end had to bribe C into ‘sharing’ some of it – once he had slowly devoured ‘possibly the best sticky toffee pudding I’ve ever had.’

That Paris-Brest, with the perfect sticky toffee pudding in the background

After we managed to find our feet and actually walk again, we wound our way back to the roaring fire in the lounge to enjoy coffee on the deep sofas. The benefit of being a hotel restaurant is that there was no sense that staff were itching for us to finish up so that they could go home – there was no rush at all, and we relaxed gently and chatted until very late, genuinely reluctant to leave.
And as much as the delicious food, that’s the joy of Moonfleet. The welcome was warm, the mood was relaxed and easy – we can’t wait to return.

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