The Queens Arms at Corton Denham

queensarmsTHERE’S no longer any such thing as a job for life and Jeanette Reid, co -owner of the Queen’s Arms in Corton Denham on the Dorset/Somerset border near Sherborne, is determined to enjoy the potential for variety.

She started off with 13 years in the police force, changing tack to take on a high-powered human resources job based in Switzerland.

Then, eight years ago, she and husband Gordon decided to look for a hotel where they could spend the next section of their working lives.

After months of fruitless searching, a Sherborne estate agent told Jeanette of a new premises just on the market, and not even advertised. She went to Corton Denham and it was love at first sight.

QAgaymainSince then, there have been improvements, wall-realignments, extensions and lots of redecoration. Jeanette and her team have achieved that rare feat of creating a regular  rendezvous for the local community as well as a staying destination for walkers and visitors to the area and a “must stop” watering hole and eatery for those en route between London and the south west.

Corton Denham is not the easiest village to find, though it’s only a couple of miles south of the A303 at Spark­ford, so there are clear signs to guide you round the lanes.

The Queens Arms is perfect in scale. The attractive building, built in mellow yellow local sandstone, opened as a licensed house in 1861. It is both cosy and elegant, with high ceilings and open fires. Dogs are welcome, and catered for.

Customers can eat in the bar or in the restaurant, in the pretty garden when the weather allows, or, for special parties, have their own room … which is also used for film screenings with dinner.

The jewel in the crown of this warm and welcoming hotel is its food, which has deservedly won awards from across the region and in national contests.

QAfannymainChef Ben Abercrombie is passionate … over-used word, but applicable here … about local sourcing, fresh seasonal ingredients and, above all, taste. He has one of those palates that can imagine unusual combinations  on the taste buds and then he creates them to often sensational effect.

The dedication to local sourcing is exemplified on the menu, which has recently been redesigned to bring the bar and restaurant choices into one place, offering greater variety for all customers.

On the back of the simple A3 menu is a map, detailing the sources of meat, cheese, fish, beer, game, bread, vegetables, milk, cream, butter, oil, cider, eggs and more.  “We measure in metres, not miles” says restaurant manager and Jeanette’s son Kyle who has now joined the team after training in Brighton.

QA sign“Stretching” from Bristol in the north to Bridport in the south, from Stem­bridge Sausages in the west to La Chasse in Zeals in the East, this is REALLY local food. There is the interesting Gyle beer from Thorn­combe, asparagus in season from Red Barn, cheddar from Montgomery’s and many items grown or reared at the Queens Arms’ own smallholding.

QA fannystarterThe fashion for gin has not passed Corton Denham by, and you can enjoy your Sipsmith with Fevertree tonic. I was particularly impressed that the interesting wine list included an Amador County red Zinfandel from Califor­nia – not the pink confection most commonly seen in the US, nor the familiar Napa Valley red, but this wonderfully rich wine from the foothills of the Sierras just off the road that’s out of synch with all the rest, retaining its number 49 and named after the Gold Rushers.

Ben and his young kitchen team enjoy the chance to cook game, and the current menu includes a Wild Bird Terrine, as attractive in taste and texture as it is in appearance, and Corton Denham Wild Hare, a rarity on menus but abundant this season.

The terrine came with an intense torched quince, French toast and beetroot leaves with hazelnut oil; the hare with damson jelly and pickled carrot. Both were perfectly balanced and memorable.

My allergy to acetic acid can throw chefs into conniption fits, but not Mr Abercrombie. He substituted the Bearnaise sauce on the menu for one of his own making, with lemon instead of vinegar. I am not keen on the phrase “to die for” as I don’t think it is quite what most people mean, but I might just choose the rich, smooth and tangy lemonaise for my last meal. Served with fluffy, crunchy chips and the concentrated roasted mushrooms, it was a wonderful meal.

QAgaystarterMy companion chose homemade tagliatelle with wild mushrooms, walnuts and truffle, which she says tasted just as appetising as it looked.

The menu also included Pan Seared John Dory, Tongue & Cheek, Partridge, Cornish Hake and, for the vegetarians, there was also Corton Denham Cauliflowers. And there are Fish and Chips, Burgers and a vast plate called Rib and Chop Feast for two to share.

QAfannymainThe Puddings and More..  section offers a de-constructed trifle (was I supposed to build it myself, I wondered) a Vanilla Cassonade with roasted rhubarb, a sorbet and sesame wafer, a white and dark chocolate fondant and a lemon tart. And of course there is a cheese board which provides four of the best cheeses from the area – and they don’t come better than that.

If you are looking for somewhere to enjoy a Christmas party – friends from work avoiding the usual bash, meeting family, or any other group, The Queens Arms has devised a very affordable and delicious menu. They are already full for Christmas Day and New Year, and that’s no surprise. I can’t think of a more attractive or welcoming place to go if you are not spending the holiday at home.

QAgaypudFor more information, visit the website,

PS. And just to vary the routine, Jeanette decided on a side trip, shed six stone and headed off to climb the Great Wall of China, raising funds for  the NSPCC.