Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Kings Head Cirencester

The Welcome
Walking into the newly opened Kings Head in Cirencester, the weight of a week of work was instantly lifted. 'A place to escape to and clear your mind, replenishing both body and soul. Untwist, unravel, unwind. Empty the over-stressed space between your ears, so you can, even if it's only for the briefest of moments; get back to the real you. Clear your mind and re-focus on the things that really matter in life: friends, family, love and laughter' 
The Kings Head Mission was already complete and we had only been there for 5 minutes. Walking up the alfresco themed treelined entrance straight into the hub of the hotel, the cosy yet trendy bar lounge, we had completely missed the reception, we must of had gin on the mind! It wasn't that the reception wasn't obvious it was more that you are instantly sucked into wanting to be part of the atmosphere that has been created in the homely lounge. There were kids still in their school uniforms having a hot chocolate with Mum, couples relaxed on the sofas in fat face jumpers, ladies dressed up to the nines, it has only been open for a month but it is clear the heart of Cirencester has finally arrived! 

The Boudoir
Walking up the stairs and into our room for the night we loved that the £7.5 million renovation by owner, property developer and local resident Mark Booth had added sheer luxury to the hotel. He has connected 11 separate buildings together with the feeling of effortless flow, whilst sympathetically retaining many of the original charm and features. All of the 45 rooms are completely unique with original beams in some and exposed bricks in others, ranging from Feature Rooms to Classic Rooms. But, if you fancy something extra plush, why not book one of the four Indulgent Spaces? 

We mentioned needing gin and boy did they deliver! As standard you are welcomed into your room with a little note letting you know which gin they had selected that day to go with your fresh grapefruit segments, complete with a bucket of ice and all served in a balloon wine glass. If that's not enough 2 little Kilner jars of mixed olives and roasted nuts. Not a gin lover? (really?) Help yourself to a selection of Nespresso coffee made in your very own Nespresso machine. We both have one at home but the novelty will never wear off! We settled into our armchairs and had a 20 minute catch up over a gin and tonic and nibbles before getting ready for dinner. We put the music on the mini Mac system, popped the aircon on, painted our nails and chatted about what we were hoping to expect from the evening ahead. 

The bathroom was a good mix of rustic meets luxury with big white subway tiles  covering the walls and gorgeously wooden floors. There were big fluffy white towel robes hung up on the door, toiletry kits and Lubatti hair and body products. At first we were shocked they hadn't gone for a more local based brand with so many to choose from but Stephen Mannock, General Manager, justified the choice beautifully, pointing out that although choosing, supporting and working with many Cotswold suppliers they didn't want to go local for locals sake. Lubatti was founded by Tracy Malone, Jo Malones sister. This had been chosen around the Spa which will open in the renovated underground cellar section of the hotel in January 2015. This will be one of only 5 Lubatti Spas in the UK giving them a USP against the array of Spas currently available in the Cotswolds. We were lucky enough to be shown around and after sitting in the atmosphere of a bustling bar the subterranean dry spa is absolute tranquillity. Let's just say we will be some of their first customers when they open in January.

The Fare

From our other posts, you will know now that we love our food! But let's just remind you we are not professional food writers and at this stage in our evening we concentrated more on enjoying every mouthful than jotting down notes.

So after our gin and tonics and a few nibbles while getting ready we had worked up quite an appetite. We arrived down stairs to meet the rest of the group at 6.30pm. Once everyone arrived and we were all introduced, we were taken down stairs into the cellar. Welcoming us was a table with shiny glasses of bubbly, such a treat, then another smiley member of staff arrived with boards of canapés. Rare beef in mini yorkshires with horseradish and a canapé spoon with tuna steak carpacio and a soy dressing.

To start. 
Goats cheese and beetroot salad. 
Heirloom tomatoes, Cerney Ash goats cheese, citrus meringue.
served with Sauvignon de Touraine, Les Demoiselles, Loire Valley, France.

The goats cheese and beetroot salad was a fresh and vibrant start to our meal. With bright colours from the heirloom tomatoes and pink beetroot went perfectly with the soft goats cheese. The citrus meringue complimented the creamy cheese as did the perfectly balanced white wine picked by restaurant Manager, Alan. The garnish which arrived on the salad became a guessing game across the table, with many a wrong answer. It was a recognisable taste but so unfamiliar looking. What was this little shoot? Finally, Emily guessed right, it was fresh shoots of corn picked just as they began to sprout from the ground, a lovely ode to the hotels' relationship with the Corn Hall next door. 
To follow.
Roast Pork Loin. 
Cider braised belly, black pudding, roasted apple, sweet potato, broccoli, bourbon jus.
served with Vina Carmen, Carmenere Gran Reserve, Maipo Valley, Chile.

The pork was perfectly tender, cooked rare with crispy crackling on the side which we tried to save till last but it was far too tempting. Emily opted for her dish without black pudding but actually after trying some of Megs' she was swayed and regretted her choice! It was a ball of black pudding covered in bread crumbs and was beautifully sweet with the apple and pork.

To finish. 
Jack Daniels chessecake. 
Peanut, dark chocolate, milk ice cream.
served with Domaine Mas Amiel Grenache Noir, Maury, France.

They pulled out all the stops with this chocolate dessert. A deconstructed cheesecake, with a dark chocolate block filled with a sweet, soft centre with punchy Jack Daniels cream and crunchy peanuts. This was accompanied by a brandy snap tweal that Mary Berry would have been proud of and local ice cream, Dolcetti. What we loved most about experiencing this dish was that Alan introduced to us red desert wine, something neither of us had had before. It was such a compliment to the desert with gorgeous hints of treacle and toffee. Yum!

The People
As soon as we went to the bar we ordered, wait for it, another Gin and Tonic served with their signature segments of grapefruit and ice. The barman clocked onto our conversation straight away as we were discussing Cotswold gins and Cotswold Distilleries. He asked us if we would like to try the Cotswold Gin and explained to us that they all came from the Cotswold Distillery where many of the beers came from too. This was just a classic example of how attentive the staff were, right from checking in with Torri at the reception we knew we were in good hands. On the way up to our room she explained that she was orignanly from Hereford but trained at The Hotel School in Essex, the same place Steve, the GM originated from, the only specific training school of it's kind in the UK. Steve originally a Yorkshire lad has the perfect enthusiasm and personality for The Kings Head with a shared vision for where the hotel can develop in the future.

Steve has got the mix right with who he has employed stating that in addition to working with professionals in the field they also wanted to hire local residents based on enthusiaiam for the area and large personalities. The reason behind this being so they can work with the team to build a unique customer and employee rapport that is exclusive to The Kings Head. They want to create a business in Cirencester which becomes part of the community and this vision  can be achieved with local people who know the area and what it has to offer. The newer members of staff have access to vocational training and a large online training system which aid them in developing a sustainable career in hospitality.

On the other hand, they have also hired experts in their fields. Alan Holmes, the Restaurant Manager being just one of them. Alan has been appointed due to his wealth of experience and clearly his passion. What he doesn't know about wine, probably isn't worth knowing. Alan is attentive and knowledgable whilst not being in your face. He is perfect for this job role and made dinner a delightful experience exciting us with the food before it arrived.
Steve himself has worked all across the country on various projects with The Vineyard Group and while speaking to him over dinner, he loves his work. He has a real vision for The Kings Head which he is working hard to drive and we have no doubt he will succeed. In fact, he already has. From the bustling bar and happy staff and customers, he is doing a great job of bring The Kings Heads' vision to life. Since opening in September, it really has become "a place to escape".

The Extras 
While on a tour of meeting rooms, entertaining spaces and areas of The Kings Head which are still in development stages, we entered The Assembly Hall where the Cirencester Hares from the Cirencester Hare Festival were being showcased. Switching on the lights in that room was slightly magical, seeing rows of large hares staring back at us and we fell in love with each and every one. The hares, full with personality will be shipped off to auction and will surely make lots of well deserved money for a great charity, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust as well as supporting Cirencester's vision to educate young people, support the community and raise awareness of local wildlife.

The Assembly Hall where the hares were found, can sit up to 120 people and comes with a separate bar area and roof top garden. The rooms which are licensed for ceremonies was a great space for parties, weddings and events. The natural tones throughout the hotel are chic but unimposing so the entertaining can do the talking. Every room has a great flow to it so you can see how well they will work together with large numbers of guests partying into the night. 

The Future
The hope for the future for The Kings Head is to work with the Corn Hall, developed by the same property developer as The Kings Head, which is currently being used as a market hall to transform it into a concert hall. The mezzanine at the top of the Corn Hall is owned by The Kings Head and the vision is to delight your guests in a champagne and canapé reception followed by a view of the concert on a private balacony just through the door of The Assembly Hall. You could then come back for dinner and complete the experience with an overnight stay. Perfect! 
Next door to the wine cellar where we ate for the veining there is a beautiful vaulted cellar which seats 120 people and is already being hired for parties and private events. But for us the most exciting project for this space is still to come. Steve excitidly spoke about his plans to create a Ronnie Scotts inspired under ground jazz club open exclusively on a Friday night, filling what we think is a huge gap in the market for a live jazz venue in The Cotswolds.

We were absolutely delighted to have been invited to the launch of this fantastic Hotel in the heart of Cirencester. After a scrummy breakfast in the relaxing art gallery come dining area, to the sounds of old soul and jazz we headed off for the rest of our weekend feeling happy and well rested. 

A last thank you to the superb team at The Kings Head for what was a fabulous evening and a wonderful experience. We will be seeing you again!

Millie and Meg x

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