WHAT IS IT? A feel-good, revamped country inn on the borders of Wiltshire and Dorset, one of the finest of its kind in the UK.
BEHIND THE SCENES' Alex and Gretchen Boon arc the wizards at work at the King John, always keeping things fresh and interesting. Last summer, they created a delightful Victorian-style garden pavilion serving seasonal classics such as chargrilled lobster and pigeon salad. Now they've added Dove Cottage, with three lovely en-suite bedrooms and a modern country kitchen, great for mixing self-catering with life at the inn.
SLEEP Steep stairs lead to the inn's five bedrooms (there are another three in a converted coach house), decorated with striking fabrics, antique furniture, 19th-century prints and objets d'art. Best is the King Room, with a bay window dressed in exotic-flower-patterned curtains.
EAT If the rooms are great, the food is even better. Chef Simon Trepess's varied, locally sourced dishes (mallard, boar, pigeon, fish direct from Poole Harbour) represent pub grub at its absolute best - and sometimes even better (brill and smoked eel ravioli; Grand Cru Araguani chocolate terrine), backed up by a huge cellar (Alex is a wine merchant).
WHO GOES THERE? Tollard Royal may sound like a box of the Queen's favourite fudge, but it shelters more than its fair share of media folk and the odd celeb, such as Guy Ritchie. At weekends, the King John is humming, jammed with both Hunter-booted. Barbour-jacketed locals and city couples after a breath of fresh air.
WHAT'S THERE TO DO? This is the heart of Cranborne Chase, King John's favourite hunting ground, with wide views, big skies and scattered villages, so it's superb for walking. Blow away the cobwebs on Win Green, the highest point for miles around, and then ramble back alongside Ritchie's house. Ashcombe, which is at the head of its own valley.
Dishes of mallard, boar and pigeon are pub grub at its absolute best
WE LIKE The atmosphere, with a long bar at the heart of the wood-floored restaurant and walls hung with the arresting, monochrome sporting photography of Charles Sainsbury-Plaice. The old brick-and-flint inn conjures a successful mix of the genuinely rural and suitably sophisticated; it's a happily unpretentious, warm and engaging place to stay.
WE DON'T LIKE The acoustics in the dining room/bar - on busy evenings diners have to raise their voices to be heard.
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.
Why go? For a remote country inn of great food and cosily stylish rooms...
The King John Inn is a smart country pub with rooms in a smart corner of the country. Having gained itself more than a few rave reviews for the quality of its food, on a weekend evening it fills up quickly with a mainly well-to-do local crowd (complete with dogs and expensive cars parked in the driveway). Unlike one or two of its Cotswolds counterparts to the north and east, though, it manages to provide its guests with a classic weekend away of high-quality food and inviting rooms without being remotely chi-chi or pretentious.
Part of the secret of The King John Inn’s success is down to the backgrounds of its owners, Alex and Gretchen Boon. A wine dealer and interior designer by trade, they could hardly have been better suited to making a success of the place when they bought it a few years back. Sure enough, the eight rooms (five in the main building and three in an annexe) are magazine centrefold perfect with William Morris-style curtains, historical prints, tasteful soft furnishings and antique furniture laid on top of plenty of modern boutique luxury. Some bathrooms have free-standing roll-top baths as well as huge separate walk-in rain showers with plenty of room for two.
If the rooms are great, it's the food at The King John Inn that's really special – everything is local and seasonal, from mallard, boar and pigeon to south coast mussels, crab and lobster and beautiful scallops served in their shells. On the wine front, Alex comes into his own with a huge (and not exorbitant) cellar. The atmosphere in the bar is everything you’d expect of a country pub – homely and bustling at the same time, it’s the sort of place where, try as you might, after dinner it can be very difficult not to find yourself gravitating through and ordering yourself just the one more drink…
Fiona Duncan, Telegraph's Hotel Guru, reviews the best and worst of Britain's hotels and bed and breakfasts, from boutique to budget, countryside to city centre.
June 5, 2012
King John Inn, Tollard Royal, Wiltshire: hotel revie
King John Inn in Wiltshire is a village pub turned weekend hang-out, says Fiona Duncan
London, where’s that? There’s quite enough nightlife in Tollard Royal, or so it seemed on our visit. The pretty village on the borders of Wiltshire and Dorset may sound like a box of the Queen’s favourite fudge but it shelters its share of media folk and the odd “celeb”, such as Guy Ritchie, and at weekends the recently refurbished King John is jammed with urban couples looking for a breath of country air, served up, of course, in a suitably sophisticated, yet happily unpretentious, slice.
Arriving on a Friday evening, I didn’t even make it to the front door, let alone up to my bedroom, such was the lively throng on the terrace outside. The Radio 2 DJ Johnnie Walker was nursing a pint and chatting to Vicky Elliot, the former owner of The Museum Inn in the nearby village of Farnham. I’ve met Vicky before so I stopped to say hello.
Then came Alex and Gretchen Boon, the King John’s owners, who used to be Vicky’s managers at the Museum, which is how they came to fall in love with the area, and decide to stay. A man who looked like Marco Pierre White, but wasn’t, pitched up next, plus his elegant wife who, it turned out, I’d corresponded with on email. Wine was produced, more people came, including our local Dutch friends, Bart and Suzanna, who were joining us for dinner and knew absolutely everyone. I realised that I was still standing with my overnight bag, keeping warm from the wood-burning braziers, almost an hour after I had first arrived – my idea of a perfect entry into a hostelry.
Finally, I ascended the steep, hessian-carpeted stairs to the wide hallway above and the inn’s five bedrooms (there are also three in a converted coach house). Gretchen has decorated them beautifully, with an eye for the past as well as the present, and a choice of fabrics that makes them refreshingly different from others of their ilk, plus a generous sprinkling of objects, including an amusing crown (King John, get it?) in every room.
Ours had a bay window dressed in a beautiful woven fabric, an antique chest of drawers and a great feeling of space, with an excellent, if a little dark, bathroom with both free-standing bath and shower with a huge rose.
Downstairs, the simple wooden tables were filling up with diners and the noise level mounting, to the point where acoustics were annoyingly difficult. But that’s what happens in happening places, packed with people out to enjoy themselves. The food was on side, eliciting comments from our gang of seven that ranged from “good pub grub” for the pork and mustard pies, to “above expectations” for the snails, crab on toast and fish from Poole Harbour, as well as the home-made bread and fudge.
The King John is yet another example of a village pub turned weekend hang-out. Its charming new “outdoor kitchen”, with a cosmopolitan seafood bar under a Victorian-style pavilion, will be sure to pull in the punters in summer. And, when they’ve finished partying, the punters might – possibly – explore the rural idyll in which they find themselves.
Designed to be read in 20 minutes the Metro is a free daily newspaper distributed across 14 urban centres in the UK.
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.
The Notebook is a free What’s On Guide to Kensington & Chelsea, circulated monthly to select homes and businesses throughout the borough.
The Notebook Magazine
February 1, 2011
The King John Inn, Wiltshire
With the surrounding estates among the top pheasant shoots in the land, the charming and comfortable King John Inn is a perfect spot not only for a summer getaway but also for some fine English winter pursuits. On our visit, we weren’t partaking in any gun sports but with the striking monochrome photography by Charlie Sainsbury-Place that adorn the walls of the bar and restaurant, we certainly knew where we were.
The owners Alex and Gretchen have done a terrific job in renovating what was not so long ago a decrepit, barely standing brick shell into a wonderful country inn. Their passion for the place comes through in every aspect of the place; sometimes it can feel a little like walking uncomfortably into a strangers home, but not here. Which is no mean feat.
King John’s kitchen celebrates the best of regional produce, and the menu changes daily to adjust to what is available: the best seafood from Poole and the best meat from local butcher Simon Harvell. If it’s not there, it’s not on the menu. The food does what England does best, gamey meats and vegetables without too much fuss; big on flavour, small on pretence. On our visit, we had a wonderfully rich mutton stew, some gloriously silky pork belly and what my wife tells me was one of the finest cheese soufflés she has so far had the pleasure to taste. The service was attentive but never pushy – bliss! The wine list was as extensive and sophisticated as you would expect from an establishment part-owned by a wine merchant.
From my perspective, visiting in the cold winter – though only mid-November, the snow covered hills were beautiful but chilling – may not be the preferred period to visit but by the time we needed to head back to London my mind was changed. It is also a beautiful part of the world – so beautiful in fact that Madonna and Guy Ritchie bought an adjacent 1,000 acre chunk of the country, Ashcombe House.
Should the weather have been a little more inviting there were certainly some magnificent walks to be had. But alas, we had to content ourselves to watching the rugby in the warmth of one their comfortable and finely clothed bedrooms and reading the Sunday papers in front of the fire. A fine substitute.
Martin Hemming has written articles published in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Times and The Observer.
The Sunday Times
February 7, 2010
Bolt Hole: King John Inn, Wiltshire
Article by Martin Herring in The Sunday Times on February 7th 2010.
If you like your main meal meaty and gamey head to Tollard Royal in Wiltshire and pay a visit to the King John Inn
Not so long ago, rat corpses filled the wall cavities of the King John Inn; now Guy Ritchie is a regular. He may have got rid of the irksome pop-star wife, but the Sherlock Holmes director has been sure to hang on to their immaculate estate on the hedge-lined Wiltshire/Dorset fringes. Perhaps his new local, a Victorian coaching inn rescued by a wine merchant, Alex Boon, and his South African wife, Gretchen, was a deciding factor.
Once failing and fetid, the King John today has toilets called “loos” and breadboards made from Château Margaux crates. It even has its own wine shop, which also sells freshly baked bread of a morning (although the tiny village of Tollard Royal has the lily pond, the war memorial, the red phone box and the 13th-century church, the nearest shop is in Sixpenny Handley, four miles away).
In a smart-casual bar/dining room — a combo of country kitchen and Soho brasserie — high-decibel villagers (some in pink cords, some called Jonty, most arriving in convertibles) mingle with bare-legged ramblers and lots of dogs. In season, the local hunt drops in. This is blood-sport country: moody black-and-white photos of the chase hang on the wall, and complimentary reading matter includes The Field.
What’s for dinner? It’s — yes — gamey, meaty, British and very local. When we asked our funky young Antipodean waitress just how local the rosé (read: guilt-free) veal chop was, she waved off into the near distance somewhere.
The wife devoured a giant home-made scotch egg (£5.75) without irony, crunchy crumb giving way to smoky ham and a bright, half-soft yolk, then made short work of a duck breast (£15.75). My chop (£17.95), which had me gnawing at the bone, was preceded by a pair of dainty, garlicky breasts of wood pigeon (£5.50). To finish: a perfect warm orange cake with a subtle hint of almond and a not so subtle helping of clotted cream (£5.75), plus a board of Cranborne Chase cheese (£7, a steal). Alex’s 100-strong wine list has plenty of good stuff for less than £20, and a bottle of peppery Claymore Lussac Saint-Emilion (£28) clinched the deal.
I’ll be in no fit state to drive after all that. Upstairs are five rooms, all distressed furniture, bedspreads and model sailboats, with Sony flatscreens and WiFi. Nothing would say “I love you, now love me back” like a night in the King Room (£150): the old landlord’s flat, it’s been knocked through and given a roll-top bath and a Chesterfield sofa.
We went for room 6, one of three in the more modern “coach house” across the gravel car park. The floor of our huge bathroom was marble-effect, rather than Carrara, but the rain shower, which looked like a meat tenderiser, was a joy to stand under, and you could have bathed a 12-year-old in the sink. The smellies, from Pecksniff’s, included something called a Naughty bath bag. Another nice touch was the stainless-steel tea set, with a proper coffee pot and a jug to decant your UHT into.
And aside from eating, sleeping and showering? Ask nicely and Alex will take you in his 4WD to the gentle peak of nearby Win Green. It’s a peaceful one-hour walk through Ritchie’s Ashcombe estate back to Tollard Royal (down a chalk and flint path that Madonna — boo! —tried to remove our right to roam along). The only noise will be the phut-phut of vintage planes looping out of Compton Abbas airfield (the one Madonna — hiss! — tried to buy so she could shut it down). Shaftesbury, six miles northwest, is a small slice of Yorkshire in Dorset: its steep, cobbled Gold Hill was the star of that Hovis ad. Still not worked off your morning kippers? Peruse the Larmer Tree pleasure gardens or play a round at the friendly Rushmore golf club. Then there’s Salisbury, henges and chalk horses, the New Forest and the Jurassic Coast.
Who’ll like the King John Inn? Hungry couples after some countryside conviviality.
Who won’t? Hardline Peta activists; people who strongly object to having the worst car in the car park.
....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.
Though the first bricks of the King John Inn were laid in 1859, this establishment puts a modern spin on the traditional British pub. Owners Alex and Gretchen Boon reopened it after extensive refurbishment just before Christmas, and their reimagining of country hospitality is remarkable.
The couple fell in love with Wiltshire after managing a nearby pub for a year. They moved down from London permanently to set up their own place, and the result is everything that you'd hope an interior designer and a wine merchant who adore the countryside but understand city visitors would create.
There are eight bedrooms over the upper floor of the pub and a separate coach house, all individually decorated from a palette of soothing greens, blues and greys. I visited with my husband, Johnny, and we were fascinated by the ornaments in our bedroom. They were all things we couldn't resist picking up - metal statuettes, interesting vases. But there's nothing quaint about the other standard fittings: there are flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi throughout; the phones are Bang & Olufsen.
The Boons have also been clever at working with the space restrictions of this listed building. What could have been a squished en suite shower is a resplendent wet room. Rather than cramping one of the coach house rooms with partitions, they have put a free-standing bath in the bedroom.
The hotel's tiled bar shows an equally impressive use of space and taste. Simply furnished, its walls are decorated with photographs of hunting and shooting. These aren't any old snaps, though; they're the work of photographer Charlie Sainsbury-Plaice. The images are evocative of the local area: the village of Tollard Royal nestles between the Rushmore estate, with its golf course and ornamental gardens, and Ashcombe House estate (owned by Madonna and Guy Ritchie).
The food served in the bar comes courtesy of chef Tim Futter, with a menu featuring locally sourced produce. Johnny and I would have been quite happy just pigging out on the fresh home-made bread, but we saved room for a delicious smoked mackerel, beetroot and potato salad with horseradish cream and a carrot soup followed by pan-fried hake and a rib eye steak with tangy watercress.
In fact the only problem with the King John Inn is the envy it inspires. Everything is so simple and tasteful you feel that if you just applied yourself you could recreate a little of its spirit at home. I found myself wondering why we don't make an effort with our bathroom, and Johnny admitted making a note to remind himself to buy herbs in earthenware pots like those that decorated the bar tables.
We cheered ourselves up next day with a walk through the hills from Win Green back down to Tollard Royal. You can peer at Guy Ritchie's vast manor from the public footpath. We can see why the film director wanted to stop ramblers crossing his land: The Tollard Royal and surrounding area is so beautiful you'd want to keep it to yourself. But he'll have get used to sharing: the King John Inn is a secret too good to keep.
The cost: Double rooms from £100. Main courses from £11 and starters from £4.
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.
Giles Coren was highly impressed. His Times review of the King John Inn at Tollard Royal on the Wiltshire/Dorset border described it as having "a lovely, light, unponcey sympathetic style" and "good, simple, modern home cooking". Overall, he awarded the food eight out of ten - very impressive by his high standards.
Behind the recent refurbishment works and responsible for the cuisine are Alex Boon and his wife, Gretchen. Having had previous experience of the restaurant business, they left the industry for a short while to set up a wholesale wine business. Built in 1859 and named after one of King John's hunting lodges, the Inn was almost derelict when they first
saw it. Nine months later they opened with eight bedrooms. That was almost a
year ago and the pair have not looked back. Gretchen has overseen the
refurbishment with the help of local craftsmen like Francis Ruffle Designs. Five
sumptuous bedrooms are in the main building. The remaining three are housed
in the coach house, along with a wine shop. Here, Alex has put his past experience to good use and patrons may purchase wines they have seen on the wine
list. In all, they stock 160 wines, largely from France with some New World bins
and they are the import agent for several wine estates.
"We see ourselves as a hearty country pub serving good local food" says Alex.
And it doesn't get much more local than this. His butcher is Simon Harvell in
Iwerne Minster, four miles away and venison comes from a mile distant. "In
fact", adds Alex, "there's not much on the menu that has to travel more than
five miles in any direction to reach us. You can't get much fresher than that!" In
the kitchen is a team of five chefs, busy preparing such mouthwatering dishes
as Portland crab; partridge and wild mushroom terrine; twice baked
Westcombe Cheddar souffle - and to finish - apple & fig crumble or banana and
chocolate bread & butter pudding.
From the Caterer and Hotel Keeper Magazine November, 2009
Business boosters: Our wine
shop, which opened a few months
ago, helps drive trade — www.museumwines.co.uk. At the King
John Inn, our extensive, detailed
wine list is devoted largely to
organic and biodynamic names.
A wide range of wines and Champagne are available by the glass and we have an interesting bin-end list Wines on the list are available in our wine shop. We have eight individually-designed en-suite letting bedrooms. We believe in fresh produce — Dorset crab arrives fresh from the Wareham coast and our delicious asparagus is picked in fields a few minutes away. Home cooking features strongly - we make as much as we can ourselves, including bread.