Have just returned from a wonderful weekend at the Ludlow Food Festival to celebrate our first wedding anniversary and to make up for the fact that we took my engagement ring to the jeweller last week to be cleaned and they have lost it. Wd stayed in a B&B called the Hen and Chickens, the rooms were comfortable and the breakfast very good but the owners personified everything that make bed and breakfasts the most hateful place on earth. We asked for breakfast at 8.30am and we arrived in the dining room at 8.23am to look at maps and plan our day. We were met with an “Oh, what are you doing here? The kitchen won’t be pleased that you are here already”. I was then told that it just wasn’t the done thing to do. I would have told him to shove his award winning sausages up his arse if there had been a snowballs chance in hell of getting a room elsewhere. We had dinner at Hibiscus on Friday. The restaurant is in a wonderful oak panelled room and managed to be both elegant and welcoming, words you could also use to describe Claude Bois’s wife Claire, who runs front of house. Over a V&T we had a selection of three croquettes and some excellent cheese puffs. There is the choice of a 9-course surprise menu (£50), tasting menu (£40) and A la carte (£35). Amuse of egg concotte with savoy cabbage and olive oil was beautifully presented in an eggshell on a piece of slate. The yolk perfectly cooked and the olive oil rendered the veloute silky smooth and velvety. I started with Ravioli with onion and summer truffle and veloute of potato and almond butter. The veloute was smooth and rich - I thought the potato might give it a grainy texture – and was poured over three pieces of ravioli were filled with sweet caramelised onion. H had Foie Gras dusted with ginger, red pepper jam and apple puree. The foie was much too raw for my liking, H said the crust was excellent but even he found it a tad too underdone. I then had the Roasted Dover sole served off the bone with confit of butternut squash, pumpkin and passion puree served with pomme soufflés. A huge helping of fish perfectly cooked and little discs of squash had a magical buttery quality to them. H had Venison with confit and beetroot, parsely root and a little dish of butternut squash gnocchi. The venison was melt in the mouth tender and the gnocchi were superb. I finished with a generous selection of local cheese whilst H had a Vanilla cheesecake with vine tomato jelly and orange sorbet. Total meal including 4 glasses of wine, 2 V&T’s and 2 dessert wines was £103.25. Excellent value. Saturday was dinner at The Merchant House. The room is much more informal and cosy than Hibiscus. 7 bare tables with twinkling candles and exposed beams. We started with a bottle of bubbly arranged for us by the lovely Mr and Mrs Bapi. We had bought a bottle of 1985 Cos D’Estournel with us for the occasion and the decanted bottle eagerly awaited us at our table. An amuse of crab salad with little gem contained generous chunks of sweet white meat. Simple, straightforward and delicious. I started with Artichoke and Parsley risotto, large pieces of global artichoke with the parsley contributing to a vibrant fresh taste and unlike some risotto not too heavy or too rich. H had Calf Sweetbreads with potato and olive cake, perfectly cooked exemplary example of their kind. I then had Wild duck with morels and H had Venison with foie gras. Both our dishes were presented as simply meat, jus and veg. No pretensions, no fuss, just good food at its best. After an additional course of cheese we had pudding. I opted for Plum tart and amaretto ice cream, the pastry and plums were excellent although I couldn’t really taste the amaretto in the ice cream. H had Crema Catalana with raspberries, the sugar topping was spot on, a definite crack on contact with the spoon and not too thick as is often the case. All washed down with a Tokay and Vin Santo. A complimentary brandy and tour of Shaun’s kitchen was the perfect end to a perfect evening. Total meal £88, with no corkage charge. Both restaurants are alone worth making to visit from London. They are very different from each other, each doing perfectly what it sets out to achieve and I have huge admiration for both Claude and Shaun. I really could go on for longer about how much Chris and I enjoyed spending all day Saturday getting merry with Bapi and Rosie and how Shaun was the nicest, self effacing chef I have met but feel I am boring you all already so I’ll shut up.