As the only chef at the two-star AA rosette restaurant with rooms Les Bouviers in Wimborne, life is busy for James Coward.

The chef patron, who set up the successful fine dining eaterie 24 years ago, combines running the kitchen and accommodation side of the business with family life – the Arrowsmith Road venue is also home for James, his wife and their children.

It was always James’s vision to run his own French-inspired restaurant, drawing on his classic training, which began as a teenager fresh from school.

“The first time I was in France I was 15,” remembers James.

“Les Bouviers is fine dining, because that’s my training. I’ve worked in Michelin-star restaurants, so you get to know the quality.”

James and his parents set up Les Bouviers (an Anglo French word meaning cowherd’s man – derived from the Coward family surname) in 1990 in Merley, before moving to the current site, just a mile down the road, in 2006.

“The main reason we moved was to go up to the next level,” explains James.

“The biggest sit-down function we can do is 120 or standing 150. Individual diners we’ve increased to about 15 to 20 covers. We’ve become international – because we’ve got rooms, people travel from all over the world, from South Africa, Australia, from all over Europe. They wouldn’t come if the quality wasn’t there.”

The restaurant has retained its two-star AA Rosette rating, and is constantly striving for a third, and James believes Les Bouviers is the longest-standing restaurant in Dorset with such a grading.
It’s an achievement which would not have been possible without James’s hard work, but he insists it has always been a family affair.

“My wife and I put our life into it because it was my vision, it was my dream. Behind every successful businessman is a very supportive wife. We have a young family, three children, one is 25, one is 13 and one is five – he can peel potatoes and carrots, he will do the washing up, he will clear up.”
The food created is French-inspired and, most importantly, fresh, local and seasonal. “We have a menu that tries to cover all tastes,” explains James.

“If you’re vegetarian you’re not singled out, we always have gluten-free bread in. We don’t use MSG or any flavourings of any kind, everything is natural. We’ve worked with what nature has given us.

“I make all my own bread, we make all our own ice cream, sorbets, desserts, petits fours, we make all our own soups.”

It’s clear Les Bouviers is something of a passion for James.

“It’s not a job, it’s living, it’s a way of life,” he shrugs.

Signature dish – Pan-fried Wild Pheasant with Bubble and Squeak

Season the breasts on the skin side and add to a hot, oiled pan, skin side down before seasoning the other side.

Sear the breast to seal in the juices, then add a knob of butter to add flavour and reduce the temperature of the pan so it does not burn.

Finish slowly in the oven and allow to rest before serving. Ensure the breast is served pink.

Blanch chopped white or savoy cabbage, then add to still-lumpy mashed potato which has been mixed with onion and thyme and season. Fry together in a frying pan, then, using floured hands, shape into a potato cake before frying in a warm pan until browned, and finishing
off in the oven.

Serve with wild mushrooms fried in a garlic puree with thyme and a knob of butter, fried lardons of smoked back bacon and a rosemary sauce made by adding fresh rosemary to veal stock, swede puree and Chantenay carrots.