Hotel Review: The King's Arms in Dorchester
- Credit: thekingsarmsdorchester.com
A popular haunt of Thomas Hardy, the recent revamp of The King’s Arms has breathed new life and glamour back into this very special Dorchester hotel whose illustrious guests have included Queen Victoria and The Beatles
From the moment I set foot in The King’s Arms in Dorchester I was made to feel welcome, I also felt safe. Nothing was too much trouble for the friendly staff, who all wore masks, and as this was my first hotel experience since lockdown last March, it could not have been better.
This former coaching inn has had a £5 million pound makeover by the Somerset-based hospitality company Stay Original. Ali Guttridge, the designer behind all their interiors, has breathed glamour into a venue that once hosted Queen Victoria, and The Beatles. Part of the revamp included raising the ceilings back to their original scale, adding wow factor, and revealing original plaster mouldings and Georgian wired glass panels.
A colour palette of earthy tones, combined with rich velvets and bespoke reclaimed furniture gives it a luxe ‘Rock Chic’ vibe. It is a place to see and be seen in, back in the day Thomas Hardy was a regular. It’s said that he devised The Mayor of Casterbridge here, and the Casterbridge Room on the first floor has been exquisitely refurbished – Victorian chinoiserie meets eclectic boho – and is available for private dining events and weddings.
My bedroom, The Plush Room, was pure theatre in gold and black. Through a vestibule, housing a coffee maker, the door opened onto a magnificent room with a roll-top bath set in the bow window (with views of the high street), animal print blackout blinds and a statement light. The wallpaper - Cole and Son ‘Versailles’ - fired up my inner Marie Antoinette, so a decadent pre-supper bath was in order, though I could also have enjoyed the walk-in monsoon shower in the bathroom.
As my friend and I sipped our Dorset Bramble and Rhubarb Collins cocktails, gales of laughter drifted from The Old Smoking Room where a private murder mystery dinner party was playing out. What a great idea - all the fun and none of the cooking or washing up!
Browsing the menu, created by Executive Chef, Tom Blake, we were intrigued by dishes we had never heard of. So, we knew that Head Chef, Steve Yates would take our taste buds on a journey of discovery.
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My starter - chestnut mushroom parfait with tarragon brioche, pickled mushrooms, crisp shallots and harissa – was a wonderful earthy combination, with a nicely judged hit of spice. My dining companion opted for dhokla (a fluffy steamed savoury cake from Gujarat) with heritage beetroot, apple and radish and pops of flavour from a mint chutney and beetroot ketchup, a real winner.
A main of free-range flat iron chicken with succotash sweetcorn salsa, and triple cooked chips with rosemary and smoked sea salt, introduced us to a bean and sweetcorn stew served at Thanksgiving – the succotash was well matched with the succulent chicken. I went old school with a dry aged rump steak, rare, with slow roasted shallot accompanied by a piquant Dorset Blue Vinny sauce – locally sourced ingredients perfectly cooked to order. Vegan diners and seafood fans had great choices on the menu too.
For dessert I opted for homemade ice cream - plum, cinnamon and vanilla bean - while my friend happily polished off a raspberry charlotte with honey and lavender roasted figs and blood orange sorbet - a refreshing end to a splendid meal.
By this stage the whodunnit had been solved, and my rock star bedroom - pure Wessex rock chic- with its huge comfortable bed was beckoning. The following morning, after a rather good bacon ciabatta, I visited Dorset Museum (barely a Dorset Knob’s throw away) to explore the Hardy Gallery. I think he would be impressed by the 21st century makeover of The King’s Arms and Casterbridge Room. But for me, it’s Plush all the way...
Book at thekingsarmsdorchester.com or call 01305 238238. Both the Casterbridge Room and The Old Smoking Room can be hired for private dining or events.