Head north from well-heeled Sherborne, in north west Dorset, through a labyrinth of country lanes and, just as you become convinced that you’re lost, you’ll come to the tiny village of Corton Denham and The Queen’s Arms. From its pretty honey-coloured stone and flagstone floors to its welcoming atmosphere, sunny garden and ‘muddy paws welcome’ policy, it’s everything a country pub should be.
The food: Chef Dan Richards (previously of the River Cottage in nearby Axminster) recently joined The Queens Arms and heads up a kitchen that focuses on local, seasonal ingredients. There’s a map on the back of the succinct menu showing where they’ve sourced their produce and it includes their own smallholding and a kitchen garden; in keeping with the community spirit, the team is also known to accept fruit and veg from regulars’ gardens in exchange for dinner. This level of care really shows on the plate – they’re uncomplicated dishes but everything, even the simplest boiled new potato, is bursting with flavour.
Stylish starters, like delicate goat’s curd and candied walnut with earthy beetroot, and silky smooth duck liver parfait with a crunch of hazelnut are both great ways to kick off. Mains include pub classics, like beer-battered fish and hand-cut chips and ground rib burger, as well as more refined dishes like succulent, perfectly pink rack of spring lamb and braised shoulder with charred hispi cabbage, dauphinoise potatoes and red wine jus. The absolute must-order though, is the braised beef, mushroom and ale pie. With its flaky pastry and rich, tender meat, it’s one of the best pies we’ve ever had.
Desserts such as orange and cardamom panna cotta with coconut and almond sponge and blood orange sorbet, and Somerset cider brandy and pear parfait with ginger cake and honeycomb both hit the spot but don’t reach the same heights as the starters or mains. The cakes were both the stars of these desserts though, making us wish we’d arrived in time for afternoon tea.
The drinks: The Queens Arms makes its own beer in collaboration with award-winning Dorset brewery Gyle 59, and they’ve recently launched a new season brew, ‘Legless Liz’, in celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday. With a punch of citrus and classic floral hops, it’s the perfect beer for summer sessions – despite foodie credentials, this is still a pub you can have a pint in. If beer isn’t your thing, there’s an extensive gin collection and a refined wine list. Be warned, though. It’s almost impossible to resist the pork pies and black pudding scotch eggs perched on the bar as you order.
The bedrooms: There are eight cosy, individually decorated, bedrooms here. With muted tones on the walls and solid wood furniture each strikes the perfect balance between country cottage charm and modern chic. There are magazines and Tea Pigs teas on coffee tables and fluffy towels and L’Occitane products in the bathrooms. Beds are marshmallow-soft and you’re awoken by the gentle bleating of sheep in neighbouring fields as you look across the rolling hills. Book room six on the ground floor if you’re bringing a four-legged friend.
The breakfast: There’s a buffet of cereal and pastries but don’t miss the opportunity for a more substantial breakfast, particularly if you’ve got a day of walking ahead. They nail the classics here – eggs royale is served with perfectly poached eggs and tangy hollandaise, or order eggs ‘any which way’ on toast with Gloucester Old Spot bacon.
Don’t miss: With its historic Abbey, independent shops and must-visit delis selling all manner of local produce, Sherborne makes a great day trip from The Queens Arms. If you’re looking to take in the countryside, though, grab one of the maps in your room detailing the best local walks. Let the team know and they’ll put together a picnic of sandwiches, soft drinks and those pork pies to take with you.
Double rooms at The Queens Arms start from £85 b&b (thequeensarms.com).
Written by Sarah Kingsbury May 2016
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