On a night when the fog is so thick you could barely spot a dandy highwayman let alone a road sign, The Acorn Inn in Evershot is literally a sight for sore eyes and its crackling log fires welcome weary travellers. Any highwayman may well have found themselves here, in front of Judge Jeffreys, ‘The Hanging Judge’, who held court in what is now the lounge of this 16th century coaching inn.

Natalie Legg has managed this 10-bedroom inn with her husband Richard for seven years. She knows a lot about the building’s history, including its Thomas Hardy connection. Natalie relates that the great author, who often enjoyed a beer by the inglenook fireplace, immortalised the inn as The Sow and Acorn in Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

Our arrival is perfectly timed as The Acorn Inn has just been awarded a second AA Rosette, 22 years after gaining its first. We enjoyed a great meal here last September, so we are eager to see what double-rosette dining offers.

Dogs are allowed anywhere in the pub so Rosie the spaniel accompanies me and my partner Stu to the dining room. As we (the humans) consider our options, we enjoy warm Portuguese water bread - a light, fluffy bread with crunchy crust made by senior sous chef Ana Martins, who brought her talents to Dorset from the land of Port some eight years ago. Stu selects from a dedicated vegan menu, his starter of butternut arancini with a spiced butternut puree has crunch and light curry heat that ticks all the boxes. I go for the same choice as the AA inspector: line-caught cod, spiced kani kama and crab pate with fennel salad and a bisque. This is sublime with sweet crab notes, flakes of delicate cod and a whisper of spice. No wonder The Acorn got that additional rosette. This is very fine dining indeed.

Great British Life: The Acorn Inn's sous chef Ana Martins (centre) and her team picking up Pub of the Year at the Dorset Tourism Awards.The Acorn Inn's sous chef Ana Martins (centre) and her team picking up Pub of the Year at the Dorset Tourism Awards. (Image: Nick Williams)

Richard curates the wine list, so I ask him to suggest the best wines for my dining choices. (Stu remains loyal to his pint of Dorset Knob). If the wine is by the glass, you can have a taster to see whether you like it or not. His suggestion of Miopasso Grillo Appassimento DOC from Sicily is a knock-out, and a great match for seafood. The Domaine A Paret Valvigneyre Syrah, Côtes du Rhône with bold notes of blackberry and a full rounded finish is an excellent choice for my main of Exmoor venison loin fillet with Jerusalem artichoke pureé and a Port wine jus, one of the daily specials. The iron-rich melt-in-the-mouth venison with kale and creamy dauphinoise are a symphony of winter flavours.

Stu opts for carrot and leek bourguignon filo tart with roasted onion, herb and garlic mash and a red wine jus. Having been a vegetarian all his adult life he has never experienced a bourguignon. The filling luxuriates in a rich red wine sauce, and the whole dish is pronounced delicious. Its impressive to see such interesting vegan dishes on the menu.

After a ruminative pause, we move onto dessert: honey bavarois with milk crumble, honeycomb and honey gelato is my light-as-a-feather-tastes-divine choice. Stu savours a very moreish chocolate and caramel tart with apple and berry compote and brown sugar gelato from the vegan puddings menu.

After a restful night in a comfortable four-poster bed, we enjoy a late breakfast by a roaring log fire... which feels very decadent. The windowsill next to us is filled with the many awards this Dorset pub has won over the years. A week after our visit they added Pub of the Year scooped at the Dorset Tourism Awards to the collection.

READ MORE: Meet the Chefs: The Acorn Inn at Evershot in Dorset

I polish off an excellent eggs benedict and Stu enjoys the full vegan – tofu scramble, mushrooms, smashed avocado, tomatoes and beans with a chaser of toasted banana bread. The kitchen even cooks Rosie a sausage for her breakfast! Our toast is made with bread from Evershot Bakery, and we pick up a Dorset apple cake and granary cob from there after a stroll in the deer park, one of several great dog walks nearby.

The planets have clearly aligned for The Acorn Inn. Their passion for food and service is clear, but having the right team who are inspired by locally sourced ingredients, alongside a versatile menu for all which ranges from fine dining with wine flight, to pub classics well done such as fish and chips (their most popular dish) as well as great bar snacks, makes this a winning combination. The Acorn Inn has always been the beating heart of this village, but Natalie and Richard have created something very special here. I can’t wait to see what Ana Martins and her talented team do next with their Dorset larder.