The Diglis House Hotel stands proudly beside the River Severn in a quiet area of Worcester, just a few minutes’ walk from the magnificent cathedral. Built in the 18th century, it was home to some notable Worcester families before, in the 1900s, it was converted into a pub and then a hotel.
Now you can have drinks in the garden and watch the water as the swans glide to land on the river like a Concorde. Then, if you have booked for dinner, the charming staff will escort you to the upper terrace of the restaurant, handing you menus and taking drink orders.
That’s more or less where the good ends. What follows is a cascade of culinary catastrophes; a spate of incompetent, lazy, giving-a-fuck cooking that makes you think the Diglis are auditioning for a reality show remake of Fawlty Towers.
The menu promises a glorious feast of British and European inspiration. So there are artisan breads, a soup of the day, chicken parfait, burrata with heirloom tomatoes, meat, fish or vegan dishes to share, pancetta, beef rib, crispy duck salad, sea bream fillet, haddock a la beer, a burger, lots of desserts, a Worcestershire cheese board and much more.
And there is a children’s menu: ‘Dishes for little people’. Such charm, such choice. So much promise. From there our little ones go for ‘mini’ burgers and fish and chips. His arrival forced me into the novel experience of returning the plates because they were too hot: searing, incinerating heat for tiny fingers. The kitchen knew that these were children’s dishes. Was it deliberate? Annoying children. Let’s burn the little blighters…
We adults start by sharing plates of ‘ham croquettes’, as free of flavor and seasoning as large, ‘salmon and chive bon bons’ the size of cricket balls and without a perceptible hint of fish or herbs, and ‘burrata [with] heritage tomato’, where the tears of the burrata were dry and sad, and without any appearance of ‘heritage’ in the cold tomato. These dishes were combined with the ‘summer vegetables’ garnish we had envisioned for the main course.
Strangely, this was a plate of cold roasted carrot with a couple of shredded cabbage and about three peas on a plate of spring onions, radishes, lettuce and basil.
So far, so unusually sad. Then came the mussels. Here the kitchen delivered them overcooked in a thick yellow sauce that had the spirit of those starters. She literally didn’t taste like anything; MDF softened in shells in cloudy water.
Not wishing to embarrass the lovely waiters, I called them in to request their removal. Could I have the grilled sirloin? I asked. A simple and quick fix for the chef I guessed.
More fool me. Twenty-five minutes later a dish arrived that puts the slaughter of animals to shame. Overcooked, a long way from medium rare, and a sad, inedible specimen. Meanwhile, I noticed that diners at a neighboring table were equally desperate for their mussels.
I ordered a chocolate brownie from the kids’ menu, which tasted great, a gooey center with thin vanilla ice cream, and I left it.
We were staying at the hotel. Was the same person in the kitchen during breakfast? Cold, hard-boiled poached eggs on soggy bread, gray scrambled eggs textured with crushed peas and bits of black pudding, or was it slices of charcoal?
But oh the location, the unfulfilled promise of this place. It could be as historic, special and unique as the Waterside Inn at Bray. Maybe one day. But not today.
Read last week’s column: William Sitwell reviews Maria G’s, London: ‘The Amalfi Coast, via Uptown Kensington’