When Richard and Nikki Cooper opened the newly renovated Bull Hotel in Bridport in July 2006 there was very little competition in the boutique hotel end of the hospitality market along the Jurassic Coast area of Dorset. Five years later there still isn’t.
Back then the rope making town of Bridport may not have seemed the most salubrious place to base yourself for a jaunt down to the sea, but it has come a very long way. Now there are chic shops, a thriving Saturday market, foodie hubs and the well-heeled and well-spoken have made this sleepy Dorset enclave their home. No less than 500 of its buildings are listed and Nikolaus Pevsner, a man given to little gush or praise, writes of it thus in his perambulations:
“Bridport is one of the best towns in Dorset, and for a continuously sustained urban feeling perhaps the best of all”.
You will not miss The Bull as you drive down the long high street: bright blue elevations and gold bull insignia herald its presence, as you turn the steering wheel round the corner that leads to the car park behind the building. You therefore enter the hotel through the back entrance, into the bar and down a corridor to a very modern-feeling front reception, all leather sofas, bright flowers, bold art and trendy, young staff.
A great deal of thought has gone into the styling of the interiors of this quintessentially Georgian building. Every single one of the 18 bedrooms has been individually decorated and its contents listed in a pamphlet in each room. So if you want to know where a French armoire, or mirrored dressing table or vintage mirror or Indian wall hanging came from you can just look it up.
Each room has a wall lined with wallpaper from either Osborne and Little, or Cole, Mulberry, Zoffany or Designers Guild. There are comfortable beds, Frette linens, Neal’s Yard toiletries and tea and coffee trays.
Some of the rooms face the high street, so of course they might be a little noisier than the ones facing the back of the hotel. But Bridport is by no means a night life attraction, so you need not worry too much.
There are several rooms where you can just sit, read or have a drink. The walnut Chinoiserie and gold plated furniture in the Venner Bar may make you feel a tad claustrophobic as it is quite dark, but it is intended to have a nightclub, party, gentleman’s club feel to it. There is also a family room, called the Ostler Room, and there are games, a TV, squashy chairs and plenty of space for children to keep themselves entertained if it rains. There is a very nice patio garden at the back of the hotel for both tea time and cocktails.
Both the bar and the dining room are bright, light and comfortable, with wooden floors and modern furnishings. At the end of the dining room there are wide views to the high street and a bistro-like feel that lends to its relaxed, informal dining atmosphere.
There are many reasons why The Bull has become such a great foodie destination. Head Chef Mark Montgomery has really honed down the sorts of dishes that appeal to fans of Dorset’s much acclaimed seasonal produce. Rawles the butcher is just a couple of doors away, the fish and seafood comes from Samways fishmonger (West Bay and Cornwall day boats), dry cure breakfast bacon comes from Denhay Farm, 3 miles down the road in Broadoak and, of course, apple juice comes from very local Allington Hill co-operative, Dorset being famous for its orchards.
You will find lunch menus of incomparable value with a simple lunch prized at just £6.50 for a generous portion of something seasonal and comforting. Two courses start at £12 for two courses: beef carpaccio caper and shallot dressing or roasted tomato soup with basil gelato for starters, and moules marinieres and frites or chicken, ham and sweetcorn pie as main courses.
The A la Carte menu is not much more expensive and it is broken down into selections “From the Field” (blue cheese beignets, butternut squash gnocchi or wild mushroom and spinach wellington), “From the Sea” (fish pie royale, beer battered hake, Dorset crab linguine or escalope of salmon with fennel) and “From the Land” (roast venison, seared duck breast or char-grilled steak).
The food is simple, unfussy, well cooked, well seasoned, delicately presented and delicious. The dining room is constantly full, the atmosphere buzzing and busy. The service retains its friendliness and momentum despite the crowds and that is a sure sign of good training and good management.
There are several things that other hoteliers may well look to The Bull for inspiration. The formula is not difficult to achieve, but it does require a certain attention to detail. Take a look at the breakfast table for example: fresh fruit, jugs of fresh juice, lots of homemade bread, pastries, good quality cereals, fresh flowers and excellent cooked breakfasts. You can choose between eggs Benedict, Florentine or Royale. There is no fussiness anywhere, delivery is fast and if you are here on a Saturday morning you can sit and watch the traders setting up their market stalls on the pavement outside as you drink your coffee.
The wine list is particularly meritorious of note: eclectic, large, well-thought out and good value for money, you will find plenty of wines by the glass and the waiters are well versed in what to drink with which dish.
Do take advantage of The Bull’s enviable location whilst you are here: the Dorset hills, the Jurassic coast, the Chalk Downs and Chesil Beach all beg to be walked. There is fossil hunting, fishing, water sport, golf and cycling to be had. You could visit the Town Mill bakery and Pottery in Lyme Regis, or you could lunch at the Hive Beach Café. Whatever you decide to do, you will be extremely well taken care of at The Bull. It is young, funky, fresh and clean. And no, there is still no competition.
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