At this pub in tiny Tollard Royal, chef carves ham at the bar and the menu features boar and game from nearby Cranborne Chase, as well as Poole crab. The Victorian garden is fabulous in summer, the roaring fire perfect for winter. Rooms add a confident modern twist to the pub’s hunting, shooting and fishing heritage.
Doubles from £120, B&B, kingjohninn.co.uk
The traditional Country Inn has had a facelift and now the best offer comfort, style, excellent food and, crucially, affordability. Fiona Duncan charts their inexorable rise
The King John Inn
Tollard Royal, Dorset
At weekends, The King John, in a picture-postcard village that sounds like a box of the Queen’s favourite fudge, is jammed with urban couples looking for a breath of fresh country air, served up in a suitably sophisticated, yet happily unpretentious, slice. They love the airy, open-plan ground floor furnished with a long bar and simple wooden tables; they love the ‘outdoor kitchen’ under a Victorian style gazebo in the terraced garden; and they love the bedrooms, beautifully decorated with an eye for the past as well as the present and a choice of fabrics that makes them refreshingly different. When they’ve finished alternately partying and sleeping in, they might just explore the rural idyll, Cranborne Chase, in which they find themselves.
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April 2, 2012
GASTRO PUB GETAWAYS IF YOU FANCY A COUNTRY ESCAPE WITH FINE DINING TO MATCH THE DECOR THIS EASTER, HEAD TO A HIGH CLASS HOSTELRY.
The King John Inn
It's a rural celeb-fest in Wiltshire's Tollard Royal. home to this Victorian coaching inn. Guy Ritchie lives a field away on the Ashcombe estate while Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes is a near neighbour. The Inn is ludicrously friendly and feels a little like a film set. It has six [eight] bedrooms and the owners periodically stay in them to check standards. The kitchen takes the task of obtaining ingredients very seriously. I saw the chef plucking a brace of pigeon shot that very morning. Other menu items include slow-roast mallard, boar faggot and, for groups, whole suckling pig in cider.
....Luckily for Guy, though, a terrific restaurant has just opened 25 minutes up the road from him, which, Wiltshire being what it is, is only three doors away. The King John at Tollard Royal used to be a dull pub (by all accounts), but has been refurbished in a lovely, light, unponcey, sympathetic style with none of those Notting-Hill-on-the-Wold airs and graces so many pubs in the posher counties north of here incomprehensibly favour.
It’s good, simple, modern home cooking: six starters, seven mains, and a very grown-up wine list. Service was terrific and the main lady (landlady, I guess) was properly knowledgeable and helpful on all the food and the wine.
Portland crab on toast had not come far, and was all just yummy white meat for a change. There was a good, firm, rugged partridge and wild mushroom terrine; excellent salmon rillettes with pickled cucumber, sour cream and chives; and a cute little goat’s cheese mousse with tapenade.
The twice-baked Westcombe cheddar soufflé was rich and dense and impressive, like a steamed cheese pudding. The “local grey mullet” baffled us briefly because we wondered how local a grey mullet could be in a landlocked county, but then we saw an old farmer wearing one at the bar.
We dodged the pork belly because it couldn’t possibly be as good as Guy’s, and had instead a top-class saddle of venison (redcurrant jus a bit sharp if anything) and half a guinea fowl, which came with a faultless celeriac and goat’s cheese dauphinoise – cunningly eschewing lactose and potato starch, sworn enemies of supermodels and fat critics.
The puddings (apple and fig crumble, banana and chocolate bread and butter pudding…) looked stonking, but we just couldn’t. Not with more boules planned for the next morning. Only one thing disappointed me: that it was only half-full on a Friday night. It should have been rammed. Listen to me, Wiltshire: they have built it. You will come.
What's It Iike? Fully refurbished and
reopened in December 2008, this pub has nonetheless retained the welcoming feel Of a country inn. There are plans to open a wine shop this year.
And the food? The weekly-changing
menu features classic British dishes, sourced locally. A starter of tender grilled ox tongue is served with parsnip puree, while the mousse-like chicken liver parfait comes with a zingy apple chutney and toasted breads. Mains include deliciouse pork loin, with red cabbage and mustard mash, and
a succulent shoulder of lamb. A rich. moist chocolate and almond cake is complemented by caramelly milk jam and a drizzle of chocolate syrup.
What about the rooms? All five rooms are stylishly decorated; there will soon be three more in another building.
What's the Highlight? Truly outstanding, hearty food served in
comfortable, friendly surroundings.
The bottom line It's a wonderful base
for exploring the surrounding areas.