Discovering a cosy, welcoming countryside pub with good food and atmosphere is sheer joy when travelling. And in our ongoing quest to find such stylish inns along our travels, Luxurious Magazine’s Sabi Phagura stumbled across The Queen’s Arms in the quaint little village of Corton Denham.
They say where there’s a drink; there’s a story. And that is exactly how Doune Mackenzie-Francis’s story began with the Queen’s Arms in the quintessential English country village’ of Corton Denham. Doune was a regular patron of the pub, and It was over a drink with her family she dreamt of running it. When it went up for sale during the lockdown in 2020, Doune saw this as a sign and snapped it up.
Having arrived early to explore the countryside around the Dorset and Somerset border, I was pleased to learn my room was ready before check-in.
My room was one of The Queen’s Arms ten refurbished rooms (there is also a spacious two-bedroomed self-contained cottage). It was located in the old Coach House with two pretty Wendy house-esque windows overlooking the courtyard on one end and the fields and hills on the other.
Like all the others, the room had a contemporary feel to it yet the charm of an old building with its exposed beams. A separate bathroom loaded with full-size bottles of 100 Acres goodies would come in hand after a vigorous walk across those hills. The hair straightener in the room was a lovely extra touch to tame my notorious wild hair.
Post-walk, I had the chance to catch up with Doune over a pre-dinner drink in the courtyard. Although Doune (below) had no direct experience of running a pub with rooms, she did tell me that the hospitality industry wasn’t new to her.
The mum-of-three (and owner of a dog and eight quail) has a culinary background, having trained at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland before working as a private chef. She then took on the role of Marketing and PR manager at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, which allowed her to absorb ideas and skills from the incredible chefs she met during her eight years there, including Yotam Ottolenghi, Tom Kerridge, and Lorraine Pascale.
Still, she threw her whole weight behind this new venture and learned all she could from the previous owners throughout a six-month transition period from July 2020. Doune admits it wasn’t easy especially given the nation was in the throes of lockdown, but with perseverance and determination, the pub has become a popular haunt for locals and tourists alike.
Doune and I continued our conversation inside as the sun went in. I found myself in a warm and inviting dining room whose décor of deep blue-hued walls against mustard and grey armchairs and mahogany tables and chairs gave it a stylish edge. There are plenty of black and white pictures of the Edwardian era dating back to the 19th century adorning the walls, as well as creative wreaths overhead.
Good food lies at the heart of the Queen’s Arms, and the menu remains loyal to traditional pub dishes whilst offering a seasonal, modern and European take on British classics. Our waiter walked me through the menu, which boasts everything from fresh home-made bread to locally sourced pork, fresh salads and indulgent puddings.
Given Doune’s culinary background, who is also a passionate gardener, I wasn’t surprised when she notified me that The Queen’s Arms is currently developing its own kitchen garden. Her dream is to work out ways to incorporate every edible bit of the plants she grows into the menu, from classics to the more experimental – such as using ginkgo leaves in cocktails.
And the food really is something to rave about as a result. I kicked started my meal with Padron peppers, olive oil, and sea salt to snack on, the citrus cured monkfish, fennel, pickled ginger, chilli dressing, dill as a starter and the market fish, rainbow chard, white bean puree, pine nuts, sobrasada butter for the main with a side of heritage carrots, almond cream & toasted spices.
Each dish was flavoursome, well-executed and beautifully presented. Sadly the filling food left no room for dessert, which, as is standard practice, I had been eyeing up.
Modest Doune took very little credit for the food and the pub, saying It’s ultimately the team who makes The Queen’s Arms a success and is ‘lucky’ to have a brilliant crew heading up the pub. I saw this first-hand throughout my stay with friendly, always eager staff happy to assist me, from looking for ideas for walks in the area to ensuring my stay was comfortable. As a roving travel writer, you can’t ask for much more.
The Queen’s Arms is situated just off the A303 in Corton Denham, Sherborne, Somerset, DT9 4LR. For more information or to make a booking, visit www.thequeensarms.com.
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