Lion & Pheasant
Shrewsbury? Let’s just say friends and family didn’t think it was the obvious weekend away destination from Glossop, Derbyshire. Luckily a bit of research painted a picture of a historical town set among rolling countryside with a castle, cathedral, abbey and museums, and even ornamental gardens designed by local boy Percy Thrower.
A handsome run of newly painted buildings stands out on Wyle Cop, the higgledy-piggledly street curving down towards the English bridge across the Severn. After negotiating a wing-mirror-challenging cut-through to the carpark we crunched across the gravel and through the bamboo-shielded terrace to the softly lit reception.
Birthplace of Charles Darwin, the Lion & Pheasant has all the evolved traits you’d expect from a boutique hotel: neutral tones, clean lines softened by well-chosen rugs and natural materials; shabby-chic period details and interesting objets d’art; deliciously plumped bed linen and Gilchrist & Soames toiletries. Light flooded through the sash windows of our rear-facing room, and downstairs the cosy bar is a perfect bolthole with snug seating and a roaring inglenook fireplace.
On exploration, this stylish stay proved itself much more than a boutique-by-numbers job. Created from a hotchpotch of eight buildings varying in age from the 1600s to the Georgian period it has been refurbished and unified in an artful fashion, preserving the original stonework and beams. Sure, with those period floors and windows you get an audible reminder of olden days, but you want your historic hideaways to feel a little authentic don’t you?
Bags unpacked, we pounced on the glass jar of complimentary cookies – although discovering them already half eaten we launched ourselves on Shrewsbury’s food-and-drink scene. Our whistle-stop tour through its one-way system raised hopes that there was more to this historic town than knick-knacks and tea shops. Franks, just over the Welsh Bridge, proved our suspicions correct with an inventive and well-executed cocktail list, including a de rigueur tiki section, which would shame many larger cities. Although we dodged the more leftfield ingredients (‘hmm… peanut butter,’ Mrs Smith scowled) they aced the benchmark test of a perfectly put-together Old Fashioned, balancing sweet, citrus, Angostura bitters and aged Bourbon. In the interests of science, I checked they could do this three times in a row.
Deliciously fresh, authentic curries from an intriguing menu – it’s not often that you spy freshwater fish Bengal pangush listed – confirmed that Café Saffron was an ideal late-night dinner rendezvous. Along with spanking breads straight from the tandoor and exemplary service came complimentary post-prandial Baileys (which sure trounced the vodka jellies I was recently served in a Glasgow curry house).
Breakfast the next day soon wiped out any cocktail regrets. Both the scrambled and poached eggs, the litmus test of any hotel breakfast as they regard judgment, timing and technique, were perfect. By this point the penny had dropped. Shrewsbury, with its deliciously teetering Tudor buildings and proximity to Ironbridge, Ludlow and the Welsh hills, has rampant pleasures of the flesh hidden beneath its fusty bushels.
Oh, and if you’re enjoying the food ride, let’s hightail it to lunch. Did I warn you we were a particularly greedy pair? No 4 Butchers Row, a hearty English bistro tucked in the shadow of St Alkmund’s Church, continued our run of luck. We suspected we were in our kind of place by the Banksy-style stencil of a young Marco Pierre White on the wall. And maybe I should mention ham-hock fritters and local damson baked Alaska at the New Inn in Baschurch?
But enough of this philandering – and let’s get to the Lion & Pheasant’s atmospheric dining space. Perched above the bar, it’s split across two levels; encased in white walls, a cat’s cradle of wooden beams crisscross overhead. Here a perfectly aged, cooked and rested steak and a nicely chosen and well-kept cheeseboard couldn’t have had us happier. Steak knives and a little more cheese nous might have been nice but with such warm and efficient service who needs to niggle?
An evening in the bar showcases the real character of the Lion & Pheasant. Outside major cities, high-end hotels can feel ‘dropped in’, distinct and apart from their surroundings. Here the bar is a beloved haunt for the locals who mix happily with the guests and diners. Our evening buzzed away with a zip and zest we wouldn’t have expected on a wet Thursday night.
Local boutiques and antique stores have been plundered for the furniture and art and much of the menu is sourced locally, with just across-the-road wine merchants Tanners (themselves worth a visit) contributing to the wine-list.
Between the sleek back bar and the equally slick bartenders there were no less than four hand-pulled real ales, all produced within the local area. Shropshire is a hotbed of brewing, so how right and how fitting that some of its finest ales should take pride of place, and how sad that cask ales are such a rarity in most boutique hotels. In France such a notion of local produce and terroir would be hard-wired through every hospitality business in the area, and indeed it would be this sense of place and locale that would drag appreciative punters in to coo and cluck.
‘Silly us for not knowing what Shrewsbury is all about,’ shrugged Mrs Smith. She’s right. The Lion & Pheasant knows exactly what it is, and to stay somewhere with such confidence and pleasure in its surroundings was both comforting and infectious in its enthusiasm.
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Smith extra at Lion & Pheasant
A half-bottle of white wine from Tanners, an independent wine merchants opposite the hotel