Removed from the bustling city of Washington, D.C., The Inn at Little Washington is about a two-hour drive away. The town it calls home is the quaint and quiet town of, ironically, Washington, Virginia. There’s a quality of country charm and worldliness in everything from the décor to the food at The Inn at Little Washington. The concept is a living theatre, where guests are actively partaking in the play that is life in a small town in Virginia.
From the moment you arrive, you are forced to be present and to soak in your surroundings, not just because of the beauty of the Virginian countryside, but because cell reception is spotty to non-existent. But do not worry—you will not need it for the charming experience that will be your stay.
It is, without a doubt, an expansive inn, with 24 bedrooms and suites designed by Londoner, Joyce Evans, a stage and set designer. The Inn at Little Washington is meant to be a “living theatre” and your entire stay is a performance that follows you from your suite—each one different than the other, with its own personality and flare—to the dining room, to the elegant courtyard with koi fish swimming through a lazy stream where you can enjoy an afternoon tea service. Before your dinner take the time to visit the Inn’s gardens. The herbs, spices, and vegetables grown there are also used within the dishes and their location makes for a lovely stroll (just ask the front desk to point you in the right direction!). The entire intent of the inn is to lose yourself in the present moment and enjoy.
And while you will enjoy it all, enjoy the ambiance, the countryside, and the charming versatility of its décor, from Moroccan inspired lamps, Asian gardens, and old-fashioned French country charm of the main kitchen, the reason why you come to The Inn at Little Washington is for the food. It is the heartbeat and the inspiration of the entire experience.
Owned and run by chef Patrick O’Connell since 1978, the Inn has a fascinating history. The original structure of The Main Inn (and where the restaurant is located) was originally a dilapidated barn (and former auto-repair shop) first built around 1895. O’Connell, a young, self-taught chef, with a vision of taking American cuisine to the forefront of the international culinary conversation, rented the space. The dirt floor and shoddy interior didn’t stop him and his partner, Reinhardt Lynch, from investing in the location and building a kitchen to serve their cuisine to the locals.
After their first year, O’Connell and Lynch closed the Inn for a month to travel to France to visit famous restaurants in the countryside to help shape the identity of The Inn at Little Washington. Today it bears the influence of those annual visits abroad and their exploration of various culinary institutions of prominence and excellence. From just a main house with a kitchen, the establishment grew to include five additional buildings: The Parsonage, Carter House, Mayor’s House, Gamekeepers Cottage, and Claiborne House.
The main dining room is comprised of 30 intimate tables giving diners enough space to feel as if they are the only ones in the room. While some fine dining establishments may seem cold, the inn is inviting and cozy. True to its mission of theatre and performance, diners start their meal with popcorn (truffle shavings optional—but highly recommended). The dinner menu is comprised of three full-course options, that vary season-to-season, with a few popular classics that regularly make a return appearance such as “A Tin of Sin” (Royal Ossetra Caviar with sweet crab and cucumber rillette) and Japanese Wagyu Beef Two Ways (seventy-two hour braised short rib and ribeye sashimi with potato noodles in a fragrant broth).
Whichever menu you choose you have the option to pair each course with wine—which you really must do. The Inn at Little Washington has a cellar of 14,000 of the finest wines from across the globe. At the end of your meal you can request to meet the man behind it all: Chef Patrick O’Connell himself (and if you really want to be up close and personal you can reserve the chef’s table situated right in the kitchen). O’Connell is there most nights (if not every night) overseeing the kitchen and greeting guests.
The Inn at Little Washington is open all year round and is an amazing experience regardless of season. The best time to enjoy the Inn, however, would be the spring, summer, or fall when the countryside is awash in sunlight and colour. You will truly get the most out of your stay during those months. The food is, of course, delicious regardless of what date it says on the calendar.
The Inn at Little Washington
309 Middle Street