A hotel restaurant fit for a king | The Kings Arms Christchurch, 18 Castle Street, Christchurch, Dorset, BH23 1DT UK
If you’re reading our posts in chronological order then you should have already seen our review on The Christchurch Harbour Hotel. If you haven’t you can always click here – although it’s by no means a necessity.
Sister hotels The Kings Arms and the Christchurch Harbour Hotel are opposites in almost every way. The Harbour has absolutely stunning views of the sea whilst the Kings Arms has views of a cute pavilion and bowling green, plus the ruins of an old manor house. Yes, still beautiful, but not as spectacular as the views over Mudeford. The Harbour boasts 64 beautifully styled rooms, and all the facilities that a 4-star hotel warrants. Whilst The Kings has 20 comfortable yet slightly dated ones with rates from £95 per room with breakfast included.
But the biggest difference by far was the experiences that we had in the restaurants. Which was a surprise as the both are under the guidance of chef patron Alex Aitken, so some continuity was expected. The Harbour‘s offering was average, but our meal at Kings was fantastic. It’s a shame that they can’t combine the best of both establishments, now that would be something really rather special.
From the outside this three-story Georgian mansion is beautifully restored with pale brick walls, period windows and a grand stone pillared doorway. The entrance hall is fab too, mixing Georgian architecture with great little contemporary touches. This theme of blending old and new continues into the bar to one side and the restaurant to the other.
Then there was a bit of an anomaly. As soon as you cross the threshold to reception and the stairway a decor time warp occurs. The look is an obvious contrast of the bang up-to-date bar and restaurant. Maybe this area is next in line for an overhaul – not that it’s dirty or messy, just dated.
We stayed in one of the King rooms on the first floor. Again the decor was a tad dated, beech coloured furniture and a cream padded ‘shell’ headboard – you get the idea! Don’t be fooled by the ‘styled’ photograph of our room above, we didn’t have the plush throws and cushions which would have made all the difference. Again the room was clean, albeit with a whiff of hospital and the bed was very comfortable, maybe I’m just being hypercritical. For £175 a night you’d hope for something a bit more exceptional. Also after chatting to a guest who stayed in one of the loft rooms one the third floor, I think we may have preferred these. It had exposed beams, low ceilings and a cosy feel.
We ambled around the pretty little historic town, popular with the yachting set, walked along the river Avon, past the castle and had a little peek at some cute little independent shops. The heat wave called for a stop off at a fab little coffee shop – Coast for a fine iced latte and to watch the world go by. We didn’t expect this to include a rather strange clown driving up and down the high street in a converted London taxi.
Transfixed by this odd scene, we forgot to get back to Kings for their famed Gin O’ Clock, every day from 5pm – 7pm, where all gin-based cocktails are £5. The Kings Lemon Grass Gin with apple juice sounded particularly refreshing. But hey ho, time to get dressed for dinner – now what have I packed that goes with sunburn red?
What was about to come was stunning – the food, the service, the manager’s attitude and vision – everything was faultless. The actual restaurant decor was traditional yet stylish, with simply set tables and huge ‘aquariums’ filled with candles and oozing with melted wax hanging from the ceiling, we were told they take around 30 minutes to get them all lit. A couple of other little style features that have made it to the heart of Dorset from NYC via London, yep you’ve guessed it, filament bulbs and enamel bowls. Its ambience reminded us a little of The Crown, Amersham.
We were served by the chirpiest waiter with a wide smile, a dead ringer for Aston from JLS, alongside a waitress who if you squint a little, looked like a young Melanie Sykes. It’s so easy to see why this place is a success, head chef Ian Gibbs’ (or Mr Curtis!) drive and passion is infectious. We were going to order the four-course tasting menu just £25 each. Apparently it’s so much more than a taster though, the portions are rumoured to be huge!
A few words from The Kings’ website… ‘Alex Aitken has headed up the team re-styling the restaurant menus and cooking philosophy. Alex’s latest menus at the Kings are all about fun dining. Kings now has a great atmosphere and delicious food’. And for once the usually exaggerated marketing spiel was spot on.
I decided to go back to basics with Bucks rarebit £5.50 – egg and cheese with bacon on toast. If the kitchen could make a posh cheese on toast look and taste good then I knew that we could be on to a winner! Served on wooden bread board with a fried egg, sourdough topped with a light melted cheese and crunchy, salty yet incredibly smoky bacon.
Saff ordered the Seared scallops with pea shoots and pea puree from the specials board. I’d eaten the equivalent dish from the Christchurch Harbour Hotel the evening before but this was far superior. The plump scallops were at least 50% bigger, the crispy air-dried ham shattered in the mouth, the presentation (as with all the dishes) was beautiful. The scallops at Christchurch Harbour Hotel were the only highlight, but this had simply blown them out of the water.
On to the main course, we sat there like a couple of excited puppies trembling in anticipation. Aston – sorry, our waiter, recommended Jack Stoners winning lamb £17.50. This was Christchurchs’ Young Chef of the Year‘s winning dish – lamb cooked pink with peas, broad beans and asparagus. I’d recently tried the lamb at Aqua Shard and this was definitely on a par. The gravy tasted as if it had a hint of orange or maybe there was some finely grated zest in the potato rosti. Whatever it was it tasted mighty fine.
Saff’s grain fed Ribeye steak £19.95, served with fat chips and grilled tomato, is cooked on a charcoal Josper grill. The meat was pretty good, the accompanying red wine and shallot sauce perfect for chip dunking. However it was a mission for Saff to cut the steak on such a small board without it all falling in her lap. The side we shared of Roasted roots and squash £3 was a meal in itself, pimped up veg that we will be trying to recreate at home.
Wednesday night is Josper Grill Night and looking at the prices and quantity of food on their sample menu, It’s almost worth a round trip from London – even on a school night. And that’s not their only ‘special’ night, on Friday it’s Fizz ‘n’ Chips Night, they have Catch it! Cook it! Eat it! events, supper clubs and even a comedy night. Plus their exclusive Pavilion and Kings Priory is a fab Dorset wedding venue or a wonderful setting for a birthday or an anniversary knees up.
Onto dessert, I was almost too full to have one – almost! That is until I spied Nutty Nea’s perfect peanut butter parfait £5.50 and I found a little extra room in the trunk. The creamy parfait came served with caramelised banana, a nest of spun sugar and a delicious soft peanut brittle. This alongside an Espresso Martini £7.50 gave a much needed pick me up. Saff had Scotts Hot Raspberry soufflé £6.50, this warm melt in the middle pudding, served with raspberry sorbet, struck the perfect balance between filling and refreshing.
The King’s restaurant is so much more than just a hotel restaurant. It a restaurant that just so happens to have rooms above it. The quality, flavour and presentation of all the dishes we tried was brilliant and Alex has left his kitchen in Ian Gibbs’ very safe and talented hands. Now firmly on our radar, they just need to get the rooms up to scratch…
18 Castle Street, Christchurch,
Dorset, BH23 1DT UK
Phone: 0844 8589184
Book a table online
Opening hours: Lunch from 12 noon
Dinner Sunday to Thursday 6pm – 9.30pm, Friday & Saturday 6pm – 10pm
Sunday roasts 12 noon – 3pm
Nearest station: Christchurch