The Diglis House Hotel stands proud by the River Severn in a quiet part of Worcester, a few minutes’ walk from the magnificent cathedral. Built in the 18th century, it was home to some noted Worcester families before, in the 1900s, it became a pub and then a hotel.
Now you can sip drinks in the garden and watch the water as swans glide in to land on the river like a Concorde. Then, if you’re booked in for dinner, the delightful staff will usher you to the upper restaurant terrace, deliver menus and take drinks orders.
That’s more or less where the good stuff ends. What ensues is a cascade of culinary catastrophe; an avalanche of incompetent, lazy, couldn’t-give-a-damn cooking that makes you think the Diglis is auditioning for a reality TV 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 heritage tomatoes, meat, fish or vegan sharing platters, pork belly, beef rib, crispy duck salad, sea bream fillet, beer-battered haddock, a burger, loads of puddings, a board of Worcestershire cheese and much more.
And there’s a kids’ menu: ‘Little Plates for Little People’. Such charm, such choice. So much promise. From that our little ones go for a ‘mini’ burger and fish and chips. Their arrival forced on me the novel experience of sending back plates because they are too hot: scorching, tiny-fingers-incinerating hot. The kitchen knew these were children’s dishes. Was it deliberate? Pesky kids. We’ll burn the little blighters…
We adults started with sharing plates of ‘pulled-ham croquettes’ – as free of flavour and seasoning as they were oversized, ‘salmon and chive bon bons’ the scale of cricket balls and with no discernible hint of fish or herb, and ‘burrata [with] heritage tomato’, where the tears of burrata were dry and sad, and with absolutely no semblance of ‘heritage’ in the cold tomato. These dishes were joined with the side of ‘summer vegetables’ we’d intended for the main course.
Bizarrely this was a plate of cold roasted carrot with a couple of strips of cabbage and about three peas on a plate of spring onions, radishes, lettuce and basil.
So far, so unusually dismal. Then came the mussels. Here the kitchen delivered them overcooked in a heavy yellow sauce that had the spirit of those starters. It literally tasted of nothing; softened MDF in shells in murky water.
Not wishing to embarrass the lovely waiting staff I collared them inside to request their removal. Could I have the grilled sirloin? I asked. A simple, quick solution for the chef, I reckoned.
More fool me. Twenty-five minutes later a dish that shames the slaughter of animals arrived. Overcooked – quite some distance from medium-rare – and a sad, inedible specimen. Meanwhile I noticed diners on a neighbouring table similarly despairing at their mussels.
I ordered a chocolate brownie from the kids’ menu – which was terrific, a gooey centre with fine vanilla ice cream – and called it quits.
We were staying at the hotel. Was the same person in the kitchen at breakfast? Cold, hard poached eggs on soggy bread, scrambled eggs that were grey and with the texture of crushed peas and cuts of black pudding – or were they slices of coal?
But, oh, the location, the as-yet-unfulfilled promise of this place. It could be as historic, special and unique as the Waterside Inn at Bray. One day maybe. But not today.
Read last week's column: William Sitwell reviews Maria G's, London: ‘The Amalfi Coast – by way of residential Kensington’