Johanna Payton takes a short break in Hampshire at The Kings Head Hursley, on the edge of the New Forest.
It’s not often that parents of an 11-year-old get what you could class as a “couple’s break” – and when we set off to The King’s Head in Hursley, a gorgeous Hampshire pub within easy reach of Winchester and the New Forest, I wasn’t really expecting romance.
My partner was working in the area and I had several features to write.
But, our son was off on his own no-fly travels (a PGL break at Windmill Hill in Sussex) so we were, so to speak, off the leash. And as soon as we arrived at the charming village pub, we realised that this would be much more than a working holiday.
Hursley is between Winchester and Romsey on the A3090, and it is the archetypal sleepy English village. Apart from the post office and the pub, its’ selling point is picturesque red brick cottages, a lovely little park and a lawn tennis club. It’s also a short drive away from Sir Harold Hillier Gardens. To be honest, the pub alone provides a strong enough reason to go there.
The King’s Head is a stunning venue where timeless style meets contemporary service and cuisine. A hotel and pub, locals rub shoulders with weekending couples and escapees from London, under two hours drive away.
We stayed for two nights in The Spitfire, a delightful apartment named after the Spitfire programme that was located at Hursley House for the duration of the second world war, accessed through its own front door to the side of the main building. Petite and characterful, it’s perhaps not suited to the tallest guests, but it’s a great base if you want privacy and a real sense of your own space: it’s also the dog-friendly option for guests with a pooch in tow.
The King’s Head is a stunning venue where timeless style meets contemporary service and cuisine.
Rooms in the main hotel are more spacious and you can choose from features such as a freestanding bath or a four-poster bed.
We were lucky enough to visit in the middle of summer, when the garden was at its most gorgeous and the location primed for woodland walks and rambles across the New Forest. Sunbathing in the park across the road from the pub provided enough excitement for me, but we drove into nearby Lyndhurst for some New Forest shopping – and a fish and chip supper at Berties.
But the big foodie treat was waiting. On the second evening of our stay, we booked dinner in the King’s Head restaurant, where the food – courtesy of award-winning head chef Jenny Jones – will knock your socks off. I hadn’t expected the locally sourced menu to be quite so gobsmacking, and the lovely dining room, and attentive, first-class service, only added to the romance of the occasion.
I adored my starter (delicious Dorset snails on Welsh rarebit) while my husband raved about his Castle Mead coronation chicken salad with toasted almonds and spring onions. For the main course, I pigged-out, quite literally, with a trio of slow roasted Romsey pork shoulder, braised cheek and pork belly with a teriyaki glaze, served with quince jelly and sage from the pub’s own herb garden. Just wow. My partner was far more conservative – but no less impressed – with his asparagus ravioli, basil pesto, rocket salad and Old Winchester cheese shavings.
The indulgent dessert took the biscuit: chocolate and Guinness torte with a Jaffa cake shot and vanilla bean ice cream. Food porn at its finest.
Tempted as we were to venture downstairs for fun and games in the skittles alley, after a fabulous, opulent meal, there’s nothing quite like retiring to your own little apartment in the pub. (And did I mention that snails are an aphrodisiac?)
I’d expected to spend two precious days away working and missing my boy: turns out, if you’re staying at a fantastic country pub with a mind-blowing menu, you can appreciate each second – and each other.
How to get to The King’s Head Hurseley without flying:
By car, head for the M3 and leave at Junction 11 following the sign-posts to Winchester. Turn left onto the A3090 at Badger Farm roundabout. Follow the A3090 towards Romsey. The King’s Head is in the centre of Hursley village, opposite the church.
By train, Winchester is the nearest station (10 mins in a taxi) with direct links to London Waterloo, Oxford, Birmingham, Leeds, Portsmouth, Southampton, Poole, Edinburgh and Manchester Picadilly.
Words: Johanna Payton for Feet on the ground
Images: Johanna Payton