It’s cold outside, bitterly so, but one month into opening, 10 Castle Street
in Cranborne glows, a beacon of warmth with its lamp lit drive and blazing log fires. In the sitting room, Tanqueray and Fever Tree tonic in hand, arresting portraits on the walls (a dark eyed woman in black by Hazel Morgan seems to glare down almost accusingly), it’s easy enough to forget about the sudden, brutal onset of winter.
10 Castle Street is a brand new venture from Alex and Gretchen Boon who transformed the King John at Tollard Royal from a long-forgotten, down at heel dive to a high-end dining pub and major hit with the hunting shooting fishing community.
The new restaurant, hotel and private members club is something else entirely. Let’s start with the building, a beautiful Grade 2* listed house on the Cranborne Estate, previously owned by Leonora Lichfield. Red brick, beautiful sash windows, ornamental gardens, a long drive, this is the kind of house that instantly invokes the spirit of Jane Austen.
It’s an ambitious project in some ways – cutting edge art on the walls (more of which later), a state of the art spa opening in May, an entire floor, bar, restaurant, private dining room, children’s playroom just for members and below another restaurant, bar and sitting room for the rest of us. And that’s before we’ve even got to The Tasting Room, a small but gorgeous room looking right into the heart of the kitchen with a 6 course, wine matched menu.
There are nice touches here – a good looking bar where you can park up for a decent cappuccino, Guinness and oysters, crab doughnuts or Chalke Stream trout sashimi, a scotch egg or salt and pepper squid (walkers this one is perfect for you).
The bedrooms are luxurious, big, soft beds, roll top baths, fantastic views and several rooms where dogs can stay (with their own designer bed).
But the thing that sets 10 Castle Street apart is its uniqueness. It’s not trying to be Babington House or the Pig Hotel or even harking back to its glory days at the King John. Instead it manages to tread a fine line between old school and urban, a country house retreat but with insect taxidermy on the walls (loved it, wanted it), a rearing ten foot horse sculpture in the garden, an outdoor cigar room for smokers complete with sofas, curtains and murals on the wall.
The art has been lent by two London based galleries the Cob and Messum’s and Guilded, a South West gallery and various artists and much of it is for sale. There are some really fantastic pieces here - Ben Ashton’s huge portrait of Princess Julia wearing Meadham Kirchoff, the beautiful and slightly sinister feather sculptures from Kate McGwire, a vast turquoise aluminium butterfly from Alexander James. I love the hyper-realist photographic portraits from Wendy Bevan, at first glance they look like renaissance works, with shades of Rembrandt. There are boats with the sails made from butterfly wings, a taxidermy rabbit wearing curlers, a famous 3D racehorse, Frankel the Great by Chris Levene (see below).
You arrive to a sylph made from 1000 bronze leaves by Simon Gudgeon and a life size camel sculpture from Hamish Mackie, (he of the garden's amazing rearing horse).
Gretchen says: “Hamish said would you like a camel? And although it wasn’t an obvious fit with for an English country house, we thought why not and now everyone seems to love it.’
Come for a coffee and wander around, the country house as gallery is what you have here.
The menu is a collaboration from executive chef Simon Trepess (The Museum, the King John) and head chef Dan Syndercombe (previously in South Africa). The dining room is pretty smart but the staff are laid back and on the night we visited there were some older kids having supper alongside the adults.
We tried a sensational soup de poisson, crab on toast, sirloin steak with béarnaise and lobster ravioli. It was unfailing good, the steaks perfectly tender, the chips thin and crunchy, just as you’d want them. The classics are here with some twisted up dishes, next time I’d like to try something like the brill, lemon roast chicken and artichoke risotto.
One unexpected thing about 10 Castle Street; it’s on such a grand scale, the membership side, which is going a storm apparently, can co exist with the downstairs bar and restaurant almost without your noticing. We heard a few jovial shouts on our way up to bed (there was a party going on apparently) but aside from that you wouldn't have known the members were in.
In summer, when the sun’s out, I see this place flooded with members and non members alike, sitting on the terrace overlooking the gardens, drinking vats of Provencal rosé and smoking illicit cigarettes in the cigar room. I’m intending to be one of them.