When you arrive at Shaftesbury, you encounter what you would expect for a quintessential British town on the outskirts of the New Forest. There are inspiring views of rolling hills, charming craft and trinket shops, an eclectic selection of architecture spanning four hundred years and on this occasion, he legendary Golds Hill. And once you’ve exhausted yourself across the cobbles you need to reflect over a drink and a bite to eat, perhaps in a traditional English Pub or quaint tea rooms? However, if you look a little harder you will find the most incredible European Bistro you could wish to find as a more than the capable alternative. It’s a hidden gem, much like the red painted wrought iron bench on Golds Hill.
The Ridings is one man’s gastronomic vision realised. From the incredible Dutch lighting designs to the impressive full working AGA and the sumptuous green paint from the Little Green Paint Company which adorns the wall like a captivating oil painting or pop art print. And it is this achievement with simplicity through well casted artefacts which makes it so unordinary. It’s more like a work of art than a bistro. And you can see owner John Batt’s commitment to create the perfect experience in every paint brush stroke applied and polished glass chandelier piece. It’s simply exquisite.
Each aspect is so well crafted and brilliantly executed, it projects itself as a tribute to interior design as much as a beautiful bistro experience.
You walk in and are greeted by the fragrant aromas coming from the soup vessel. The offerings when we arrived were Apple or Orange and Carrot soup. And that’s another important aspect of the brand; elegantly simple menu achieved by blending a range of European dishes and ingredients in to different but intentionally uncomplicated dishes. Sandwiches were available, but only two; open hock ham or open cheddar cheese, both supported with rich chutneys. The cleverness of the restricted choice, is a strength because time which others spend juggling twenty different covers is spent instead on looking after customers. The food is amazing and equal to the surrounds.
Variety is served up in the flavours in the original dishes, but compromise is not welcome here in either the menu or the surrounds. From the mouth watering Italian cream cakes to the German honey on the Belgium waffles everything is taken a step further to create a unique experience.
It’s beautifully crafted by John. He’s been in Holland for twenty years, but a chance sighting of the property years ago helped him fall in love with the concept of his own bistro. Some twenty years later it he has side stepped from being a successful Dutch interior designers to start what he (and I agree) will become a new genre of bistro.
We were served by a very energetic and charming waitress who seemed to really love her job. We found out she doesn’t even work here, but popped in for a coffee earlier in the day and asked if she could hang out and help.
When you arrive, you are transported to a world where bistros are designed as they should be and run as they could be. John understands the importance of being a commercial success and has therefore identified other ways to ‘sweat his assets’ with the bistro becoming a restaurant in the evening. For this John hands the keys over to a friend to takes over on the proviso the brand is maintained. Also a shop has also popped up in the corner of the bistro offering customers the chance to purchase all the ingredients used.
I really hope John’s attention to detail approach to give dinners a memorable experience works, blossoms and permeates throughout the bistro world. In fact, we understand examples of his unique approach have started to appear in the other café’s and tea shops in Shaftesbury already! Theft or flattery? Jon would say the latter, of course.
If you don’t fall in love with The Ridings when you are in Shaftesbury, I’ll refund the difference between this experience and what you might expect from a café or tea shop. If you do love the approach and recognise the difference it makes to your visit, spread the word.
It’s an unordinary approach in a very established town, but there lies the charm. It defies convention and has found a way to stand out in a more memorable way.
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