Restaurant review: The Dundas ArmsBy Hilary Scott
November 26, 2012
Once it served hungry workers for the Kennet and Avon Canal. Now it’s a luxurious railway inn offering a home from home. Hilary Scott booked in.
You might look on a map and think that The Dundas Arms in Kintbury near Hungerford is your typical railway pub.
And while it’s right next to a rail station it’s about as far away as you can get from a pastie and a pint of best place.
We found the Grade II listed Georgian hostelry on a wet, windy and dark night and it couldn't have looked more cosy and welcoming.
The lights from the bar glowed as we parked up and carted overnight bags to check in.
The rooms are charming, with the canal-facing rooms having pretty terraces to watch the ducks go by, the beds are ultra-soft and comfy and a nice touch is fresh milk brought to the door as soon as you arrive for your tea and coffee, and a stuffed dog as a “do not disturb sign” (let sleeping dogs lie, get it?)
There’s Barneby Gates wallpaper, embellished curtains and country house style furniture as well as luxurious en-suite bathrooms and all the usual things you’d expect from a boutique hotel room.
There is a wonderful library with wing-back chairs and a lovely atmosphere which is dominated by a portrait of Mr Dundas himself where you can read or, at certain times of day, choose from the wonderful array of fine whiskies, liqueurs and cigars.
Mr Dundas is not the current owner and the pub has a fascinating history.
It’s thought it has been providing sustenance to hungry and thirsty travellers since the end of the 18th Century.
In 1794 the first navvies, as they were called, arrived to begin the construction of the Kennet and Avon Canal, the only waterway to link London via the Thames with Bristol in the west.
The man behind this great project was Charles Dundas, who lived at nearby Barton Court (he’d married into his money, by the way).
The first section of the canal was completed in 1797 and was marked by a ceremony at Kintbury, when a military band aboard a barge headed a procession down the waterway to Newbury.
And Mr Dundas would be a proud man today if he could see what landlord Neil Gander, who has just reopened the place after an extensive and tasteful refurb in the last couple of months, has done.
The wallpapers are gorgeous and the art hanging on the walls is pretty and relevant to the area.
In the bar, over-sized sparkling flagons of Sipsmiths gin and vodka glint from behind as you sit at the long wooden countertop with its highly polished old penny pieces all minted in 1967.
There’s a good mix of locals and visitors – the night we were there families dined early (you can eat the restaurant menu in the bar area if you want), younger couples popped in for drinks before venturing out to Hungerford, Newbury or Reading, and a few people like us who were staying over so we could have a relaxed dinner.
Dogs are welcome and this really makes the country house atmosphere. Resident chocolate Lab Poppy lollops around in a friendly way and visitors are encouraged to bring their dogs, ensuring they are kept under control while being a little spoiled with the doggy facilities.
The restaurant is on two floors and the menu mixes pub classics with more refined dishes.
It’s very good.
I started with a slab of goat’s cheese coated in crunchy filo pastry topped with carmelised onion chutney and my dining partner had a simple but delicious Barkham Blue and beetroot salad with a sweet, balsamicky glaze.
Starters range from £4.95 to £10.50 for scallops. My goat’s cheese was £7.25.
There was a great choice of mains all between £10-£15 unless you opt for something like grouse, or dry-aged beef. When I said I could eat everything on there, Neil said that was exactly what a menu should be: lots of tasty treats you want to eat.
I went for partridge, which was both breast and leg atop root vegetables and a rich, sticky gravy. The partridge was plump and really well cooked, with a hint of pink in the leg, the breast soft and tender.
Partridge is not easy to get right and is a test of any kitchen. The Dundas Arms passed with distinction.
My dining partner had a lemon sole as she’d never tried it before. Being a Aussie she’s more used to tossing a yabby on the barbie but the soft, sweet sole with lemon butter and capers was lovely and the fish was almost the size of her home country. It came with green beans and we also ordered a side of home-cooked potato wedges, which were crispy and fluffy.
We quaffed a couple of bottles of the house red – a Les Vignes de L’Eglise Merlot at £15 – but the wine list is well chosen and extensive right down to the Berry’s pudding wines and aged ports.
But it was the dessert which became the star of our dinner (all desserts are £5.95) – a Grand Marnier panacotta topped with candied orange peel and served with orange segments and crispy biscotti (you can see it on the front page).
This had the best texture of any I’ve eaten – the right amount of wobble and sweetness and it was as light as a feather and not cloying the way some can be. Again panacottas are the measure of a chef but both of us will remember this one for a good long while.
I had a cheese plate (£7.50) which had more of the Barkham Blue and Wigmore, its sister cheese from Berkshire, as well as grapes and chutney.
Head chef Chris Lee wants to cook with as much local produce as he can get.
He says: “Berkshire has an abundance of fantastic produce that we have hand-picked for our menu.
“For example, we offer fish caught fresh each morning from the Kennet river, local game dry aged on the premises, as well as seasonal fruit and veg from surrounding farms and gardens.
“We’ll also be cold-smoking all of our smoked meat, fish and cheese on-site.”
Next morning it was surprising that we had room for breakfast but we did.
We managed two full Englishes with Berkshire sausage, black pudding and more with rich coffee and juices – but we could have chosen a bacon butty or scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with the usual array of cereals, yogurt and fruit.
It was with a heavy heart that we left our cosy but handsome home for the night with its sumptuous food and polished atmosphere. We vowed to come back especially in the summer where the large garden will play a big role.
I suspect that even Mr Dundas would find it hard to tear himself away from his modern-day inn no matter how big a canal project he was working on, meaning a whole period of history would have been different.
So we should just be grateful that it’s us 21st Century canal visitors who have the delights of The Dundas Arms to ourselves.
The Dundas Arms features eight en-suite rooms.
Rooms cost from £120 for a double or £110 for a single on weekdays, or from £85 for a double and £75 for a single from Friday to Sunday.
Food is served from noon to 2.30pm weekdays, until 3pm on Saturdays and 9pm on Sundays. Dinner is from 6pm with last orders at 9.30pm Monday-Friday, 10pm on Saturdays and 9pm on Sundays.
The inn is at 3 Station Road, Kintbury RG17 9UT. For more details call 01488 658 263 or log on to www.dundasarms.co.uk.
- Telephone: 01488 658263
- Website: www.dundasarms.co.uk
- Address: The Dundas Arms
3 Station Road