If great dining is about a great location and great ambience, then Hencote is the nonpareil. Set on a hill, overlooking Shrewsbury, it offers sumptuous views through to the south of the county. With Shrewsbury’s centuries-old spires in the foreground, stunning views of Shrewsbury School, and unparalled panoramas of the Shropshire Hills, down to Church Stretton, it’s a picture-postcard outlook.
For those unfamiliar with the topography of this idyllic county, there are also staff on hand to explain the relief map. When I visited last week for a dinner for one, a member of the front-of-house team went out of his way to help a couple celebrating a significant wedding anniversary.
They’d travelled some distance and were keen to differentiate Caer Caradoc from the Long Mynd. The helpfulness of Hencote’s staff stood out, as the couple were given a guide to the exquisite landsape before them.
The estate is located in an area that has been farmed for many centuries. In 2009, the land owners planted a hobby vineyard, consisting of 160 vines. Within a few years, it was producing surprisingly buoyant harvests of good quality grapes. Despite a lack of encouragement and genuine scepticism from viticulturists, an exhaustive study revealed conducive growing conditions for a viable vineyard. The owners invested in a vineyard and sustainable oeno-tourism.
By 2015, a new vineyard of 24,000 vines had been planted and a winery building followed. A glamping village was opened and good wines followed. In recent years, an exceptional restaurant has been constructed and now people have the opportunity to visit a genuine English wine estate, view the ancient wet woodlands, stroll through the grounds and take a look at the winery operation. They can taste locally produced wines, dine in the new restaurant and stay in a beautifully restored Georgian hay barn or in any of the thoughtfully-appointed luxury glamping lodges.
Henote is one of the most remarkable and under-reported Shropshire success stories of the past decade. The estate owners’ investment, vision, and determination has created a remarkable facility for the county in which guests can enjoy the best of English hospitality.
Its restaurant is where everything comes together. It’s called The View – for obvious reasons – and is well-staffed by a helpful, courteous, and polite team. There’s a mix of youth and experience, with those who’ve worked for many years in hospitality being joined by new recruits. And while it is easy to spot the difference between the two, the rookies have the right ingredients to get it right. Thoughtful and attentive, they provide a high level of service that will improve further as they learn to relax into the job.
Dining at The View is truly a unique experience. They menu is grounded in elements of modern British and classic French cuisine; playfully reimagining classic staple dishes with high-end flair, create by the head chef and kitchen brigade.
Hencote has a ‘Scratch Kitchen’ meaning everything leaving the pass is produced in-house. Everything at Hencote is sourced as locally as possible from within Shropshire and all of the meat served at Hencote is sourced from the critically acclaimed Aubrey Allen Butchers. Hencote is proud to use the same butchers as many of the most decorated Michelin Star award-winning restaurants in the country, bringing the same quality and taste back to the Shrewsbury countryside.
Two menus are offered, a highly-competitive three-course affair and a wider-ranging a la carte, from which I chose. Both feature seasonal food, with ingredients in peak condition treated sensitively by the chefs.
I started with a BBQ Isle of Wight heritage tomato salad, featuring intensely sharp-sweet Gariguette strawberries, sheep’s milk curd, black olive, and balsamic pearls. It was finished with a tomato consomme – though I have no idea how that tasted, the dish having been served with a knife and a fork and with neither being able to hold liquid. The salad was divine. The BBQ had brought out the sweetness and added a barely discernible smokey taste to the excellent tomatoes while the sheep’s curd was mellow and creamy. The balsamic pearls added an all-important hit of acidity while the star ingredient was the Gariguette strawberries – surely the finest variety in the world.
Given Hencote’s reputation for great meat, I choose a 50-day aged Hereford beef sirloin, served rare, to follow. It came with triple-cooked duck fat chips – the only element of the dish that was underwhelming – a fat tomato, a vast mushroom, and a side of heritage carrots that had been glazed in a honey and beef fat dressing.
The carrots were sensational, bursting with sweet flavour and given remarkable depth by the beef fat dressing.
The beef was exceptional. Almost as good as it gets, it was charred and crunchy on the outside, tender and pink on the inside. It had been well seasoned and perfectly rested, an exemplary piece of cooking in which the chef had treated an impeccable ingredient with skill and respect.
The chips were a bit of a let down, sadly, and lacked the requisite crunch, but beyond that, the dish was enjoyable. Service was helpful and deferential throughout, if not a little pedestrian, at times.
Nonetheless, the proud website boasts that eating at The View is an experience were entirely true. An hour or so slipped as the sun slowly began to set and golden hues lit up the best of Shropshire’s countryside.
The owners of Hencote deserve recognition for efforts that have been extraordinary.
They’ve executed their vision with aplomb, while building a solid team that provides great British hospitality. It’s become a real jewel – and one that Shropshire residents should enjoy more frequently.