Originally published in Arkadia magazine, March 2014.
The beautiful market town of Wimborne Minster is a patchwork of red brick, colour-washed render, slate roofs, sash windows, pediments and porticoes. Like many Dorset towns, it owes its appearance to many different eras, from the dominating contribution of the 12th century Minster, through the 16th century, with notable examples including the beautiful Priest’s House Museum, and a most conspicuous contribution from the Georgians. Their penchant for the revival of classical architecture is in evidence throughout the town. In fact, The Square is almost surrounded by buildings sporting features pulled kicking and screaming into the 19th century from their Greek and Roman origins.
Next to the Minster, the Tivoli Theatre must rank as one of the town’s most unique landmarks. The 500-seat Tivoli was built in 1936, in the heyday of Art Deco, as a theatre and cinema. Despite being threatened with demolition at the end of the 70s, the run-down Tivoli was faithfully restored and re-opened in 1993. Now, almost 80 years since ‘curtain up’, the Tivoli stays true to its original cause, bringing the latest films and the best in live entertainment to the town.
There is no doubt that Wimborne is a beautiful town; a town steeped in history, its heritage evident at every turn. The way it works, like the way it looks, has resulted from centuries of development, layer upon layer. However, since 1936, it has also become the result of a very special relationship between a town, its theatre and its eateries.
Fuelled by a constant stream of visitors, discerning in their quest for culture and cuisine, Wimborne has experienced a restaurant renaissance in recent years, with a culinary quarter developing along the route between the Tivoli and the centre of town.
Up on West Borough, as you head towards the Tivoli, you’ll come across some of the town’s newest food and drink establishments. Number 9 is a beautiful mid-Georgian building that would once have belonged to a wealthy merchant. These days it is home to Head Chef, Academie Culinaire de France graduate, Greg Etheridge who’s on a mission to create traditional food with a modern twist. Greg’s experience, including 3 years at Langan’s Brasserie has helped him secure 2 AA rosettes for the past 5 years.
Right next door is The Taphouse, a fabulous new bar that opened at the end of last year. As you enter, you soon discover that it is as well-stocked with character as it is with ale. The walls are crammed with an eclectic assembly of items, all vying for your attention, from blueprints to vintage radios; from vacuum flasks to carpet beaters! The Taphouse offers an unrivalled selection of ales from right across the south west and there’s a Sunday afternoon music slot that’s also been going down a treat.
Just across the street you’ll find the Tickled Pig, a beautiful restaurant that opened in 2012. The Tickled Pig’s philosophy is that “Great food starts with great ingredients,” and they mean it! Their commitment to this cause means that ex-Masterchef, Jez Barfoot and Matt Davey, of The Museum and The Hungry Black Dog Supper Club fame, will go to almost any lengths in the name of quality. They grow fruit and veg on their own plot and raise their own Oxford Sandy and Black pigs for pork. When a restaurant cares this much about the quality of its ingredients you know the food will be exquisite – and it is.
It is not unusual for a town’s past to play an important role in its present. But, in Wimborne, the past also secures the future, as our need for food, for the body and the soul, are destined to remain intertwined throughout the evolution of this wonderful town.
If it’s been a while since you last explored, don’t you think it’s time you paid Wimborne a visit?
Arkadia magazine is available from selected outlets throughout Dorset or online here.
Images: Graham Rains/Martyn Gleaden.