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REVIEW: The Bower House, Shipston-on-Stour

The Bower House in the market square at Shipston-on-Stour
The Bower House in the market square at Shipston-on-Stour

It’s New Year, and so traditionally a time of mass neurosis. We worry about our weight, fitness, wellbeing, post-Christmas bank balance, red meat consumption, alcohol dependence, digital addiction… The negative voices seem to be rambling on in our heads particularly loudly in 2019. But having visited The Bower House restaurant in Shipston-on-Stour a couple of times recently, I have reduced my worries to just one.

The Bower House is a proper restaurant – not a bar serving food or a (yawn) gastropub, but a good old-fashioned restaurant.

There’s no pubby smell, drinkers propping up the bar or laminated menu offering predictable fare. It is a sophisticated sort of place. There are tables and chairs of quirk and variety, a paper menu with a carefully curated selection, and daily specials.

The Bower House’s conversion from several shops ahead of its opening in 2017 was overseen by architects Stiff+Trevillion (who have worked with such renowned restaurateurs as Mark Hix and Jamie Oliver). The interlinked rooms have different characters; and the peacock-coloured interior and mix-match furniture and art lends a delightfully idiosyncratic feel. There’s no bland branding to be seen, what a pleasant change from most dining establishments.

Naturally the key thing though is the food. Last year Sukhjinder Aujla joined the Bower House to head up the kitchen and has introduced what you might call a more democratic menu. He’s worked at the likes of Nobu, The Savoy and The Metropolitan in London, and can no doubt do high end. Here the food on offer is sophisticated enough to make it a treat without being bamboozling, unsatisfying or unaffordable. In fact my first recent visit to the Bower House involved an early morning stop to take advantage of its inexpensive breakfast offerings. You can get a freshly made bacon butty and cup of tea for £3.25 – I pushed the boat out and swapped in fresh coffee for the tea, making it £4.25. Readers, I am not exaggerating when I say it was one of the best butties I’ve ever had, and I’ve munched a lot!

When the husband and myself visited the restaurant on a buzzing Saturday night recently we were both seriously impressed by the service and the food.

For starters we went for Spice Rub Fillet of Beef Carpaccio – melt in the mouth stuff, tender and savoury – and, channeling Julie Andrews here, served with three of my favourite things: fennel, parmesan and truffle – mixed together for a perfect mini salad. Alongside this we had, surely everyone’s favourite, Devonshire Crab Salad, which was served with cashew nuts, grapefruit, shaved fennel and brown crab mayonnaise. It was so yummy we hovered up in a trice, ready for our mains.

The carnivore husband opted for the Hereford 8oz Rump – which came with peppercorn sauce, watercress and to-die-for hand cut chips – even now I can relive their magical crunch leading to fluffy interior, so memorable was the sensation. New year dieters beware, they are definitely addictive. Husband described the steak as "very, very good".

Maybe it was the surfeit of fish and fowl experienced over the festive binge, but I went veggie and plumped for Mushroom, Chestnut & Goats’ Cheese Wellington which arrived with truffle mash, green beans nestled in a puddle of spinach cream sauce. The pillowy wellington and creamy mash were divine, and the delectably balanced flavours transported me to somewhere heavenly.

Price wise, the Bower House competes with much less impressive eateries. Starters are from £6, mains from £13, and a bottle of French chardonnay was a not outrageous £16.

We finished our meal with a delightfully giddying espresso martini and a baked cheesecake to share. Replete and happy.

I am aware that this review sounds like hyperbole, but believe me I am a food snob and do not flatter easily. But this was seriously, unquestionably sublime cooking superbly presented.

So what is my one worry? It is this: that The Bower House and the good bits of Shipston are not being treasured enough. As the town is increasingly wrapped in fairly ugly anonymous new houses, as seemingly endless new developments are build on its outskirts, we need to keep Shipton’s character by supporting local independent businesses at the heart of this lovely historic market town. Not many places can boast they have a quality restaurant such as The Bower House. Don’t let blandness win, go and try a butty…

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