This is not really an inn at all but a hotel, now belonging to the Orient-Express chain. An expanded early-19th century mansion, it has several pretty parlors, reading nooks, a mini-conservatory, chairs amid the swans and geese (and goose guano, careful!), even chaise longues under the stairs. In good weather, tea and cocktails could be served on the patio. It has a small but pretty swimming pool and sauna, a little snooker room, board games in the hallway, a croquet lawn and near access to sailing, golf and spa services.
Nevertheless ... the food and the friendly service may have to carry the accommodations in your consideration. At the high end ($695 or $745, depending on who you get on the phone) are several quite impressive two-room suites with staircases, reading balconies and even outdoor decks; and a lot of attention seems to have been paid to the decorating (left from the Sir Bernard and Laura Ashley era). But even the least rooms are up to $350 or $375, and despite the amenities -- heated towels, robe, shoeshine, bedtime cookies -- the details and furnishings are less satisfying. There is no lounge; if you want a glass of champagne, you go to the maitre d' station and ask, and one of the staff will find where you are sitting and deliver it, which is a tad cumbersome if you've just gotten comfy on that chaise. Since you are likely to spend some time in the drawing rooms, the presence of cigarettes and even cigars can be troublesome. And unlike the other inns, the room rate does not include even continental breakfast (it does include a very nice afternoon tea, with serious scones and lemon curd, whipped cream and raspberry jam). Frankly, with so many B&Bs within a few blocks, you might want to bed and breakfast elsewhere. (There are special packages available that do build in dinner for as little as $325.)
Regardless, chef Mark Salter's good reputation is deserved. His canapes (not counted in the three courses) are assorted bites along Little Washington lines, only more cautiously pre-apportioned; one night's trio was a bit of brie with orange marmalade, a tuna spring roll (fried outside, rare inside) and a Mediterranean veggie tartelette. He plays textures and flavors off in a fashion that suggests a personal fondness for Southeast Asian fare: a crispy duck leg over a fennel slaw not only shifts from gamy to rooty, and creamy-tangy in the mayo, but from slick and chewy to crunchy. A similar play of texture and aromatics offers a veil of exoticism to an otherwise retiring bit of Chilean sea bass: a coriander crusting and a bed of sunchokes, fennel and wild mushrooms. (Salter also likes classic Persian/Moroccan sweet-sour blends: One of his signature entrees is long-braised lamb shanks rubbed with honey and orange.)
A real star lurks in the intermediate course: a salad of perfectly simmered green beans, chopped raw hazelnut, golden beet dice and green-and-crimson baby beet sprouts with fresh vinegar-wilted oyster mushrooms.
After that, you may order dessert or a cheese plate; but remember those cookies back in the bedroom -- and hope for a little box of truffles and sweets from the pastry chef. Three-course fixed-price dinner is $68, available daily; $85 and $95 tasting menus and a vegetarian menu are also available.
-- Eve Zibart