Where to eat in Cranborne, Dorset

Chefs and producers of all types flock to this Dorset village for the bounty of quality ingredients on its doorstep.

By Sarah Baxter
Published 23 Apr 2021, 15:00 BST, Updated 15 Jun 2021, 13:36 BST
The menu at La Fosse, on Cranborne's main square, changes daily, depending on what can be ...

The menu at La Fosse, a restaurant with rooms on Cranborne's main square, changes daily, depending on what can be sourced from the gamekeeper and what the chef's allotments are producing.

Photograph by La Fosse

While many rural towns and villages are struggling to retain their souls, Cranborne is bucking the trend. Set on the edge of the New Forest, in the Dorset countryside, this pretty village is thriving — pandemic notwithstanding. Local landowner the Cranborne Estate nurtures small businesses, and more residents are employed within the village than outside it — many of them focusing on food.

It was the quality and quantity of nearby producers that drew Mark Hartstone here 14 years ago. Having trained at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, he’s now chef-proprietor of La Fosse, a compact restaurant with rooms — it has only six tables — on the main square. The menu changes daily, depending on what Mark can source from the gamekeeper, and what his allotments are producing. “I strive for great British food with global influences: integrity not pretence,” he says. That might include dishes such as sesame-seared trout with homegrown nasturtiums or Dorset Down sheep three ways. “My four-times great uncle Homer Saunders helped create this now rare breed in the 1840s,” Mark says.

Around the corner, at 17th-century inn the Fleur de Lys, owner Matt Clark has constructed an impressive outdoor kitchen. This is where local meats, fish and vegetables are roasted, slow-baked, grilled and smoked over wood and hot coals — from three-hour za’atar cauliflower and goat ribs to grilled whole lobster. The speciality? Sunday roasts — huge platters of fire-roasted meats slathered in homemade sauces.

The heart of the village, however, is Cranborne Stores (1 The Square): post office, grocer, deli and one-stop shop. Local produce on sale ranges from pies and preserves to boxes of Cranborne Chase Cider (for those who don’t make it to the brand’s shack in the orchard in nearby Minchington). Don’t forget to bring a bottle and fill it up with award-winning Meggy Moo’s milk.

The store also stocks goodies from The Book & Bucket Cheese Company, made on the outskirts of the village. Book & Bucket’s founder, Peter Morgan, set up here in 2018 “because it’s a rich, vibrant food hub, providing incredible ingredients, and breathtaking views”. Formerly producing only sheep’s milk cheese — from manchego-like Hardy’s to oak-smoked halloumi — he collaborated with another farmer during lockdown and is now making cow’s milk cheeses as well, including a wonderfully creamy Dorset brie. A selection box, containing five Guild of Fine Food award-winning cheeses, can be bought direct from the dairy door.

The perfect accompaniments can be found half a mile from Cranborne’s centre, at Holwell Farm. In 2015, the former barns here were renovated and now house two tasty start-ups. Organic baking entrepreneur Chris Wakely moved in after outgrowing his own kitchen. Now his Orchard Bay Bakery not only produces artisan sourdough and spelt loaves for the village store and restaurants, but also has its own shop and pizzeria. These sit next to the Sixpenny Brewery, purveyor of fine craft ales, including smooth, citrusy Gold and a hoppy IPA. Sixpenny’s previous site was one of the UK’s smallest pubs, but the high-beamed taproom and garden here offer more space for sampling the brewery-fresh beers.

Three top dining spots in Cranborne

1. Cranborne Garden Centre
This horticultural hub occupies the old walled kitchen garden of Cranborne Manor and is open for tours on Wednesdays, March-October. As well as roses and knick-knacks, it specialises in local produce: Paradise Cottage jam, Dorset Chocolate Co bars and ‘Dorsecco’ cider There’s an excellent cafe too.

2. 10 Castle Street
The low-key name belies the grandeur of this Grade II-listed mansion turned members’ club, hotel, restaurant and wine shop. Currently on coronavirus-induced hiatus, reopening plans are to be announced. Its wine selection can be perused at Museum Wines in nearby Tarrant Hinton.   

3. New Barn Farm
Get your goat — a healthy, tasty alternative to lamb — at this smallholding, where a flock of Boer goats graze the Neolithic earthworks around Knowlton Church, three miles south of Cranborne. Buy burgers, shoulder, chops and offal from the onsite shop; go online for delivery options and recipe ideas. 

How to do it

Trains run from London Waterloo to Salisbury; Salisbury-Cranborne is 20 minutes by taxi or around 90 minutes via two buses (X3, 97). La Fosse has doubles from £69 a night, including breakfast. 

Love food and travel? Taste the world at the National Geographic Traveller Food Festival, our immersive culinary event that takes place every summer. Find out more and book your tickets.

Published in Issue 11 (spring 2021) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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