After a couple of years of rumour, National Dish even joined in, it’s finally open. The Kings Arms, Prestbury, Cheltenham and as a local blog, we had to review Raymond Blanc’s latest Pub and Restaurant combo near Cheltenham Racecourse, in the Cotswolds.
Can a boozer, owned by a renowned, 2 Michelin Star Chef be a success? Not just as a business, but as a genuine local pub, for local people (and all of our very welcome tourists, of course)?
The operating company, The White Brasserie Company, has a fair number of other pubs like this. Raymond Blanc is rather shrewd not adding his name to The Kings Arms, especially in light of the collapse of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant empire. Add to that, you have The Brasserie Blanc restaurant chain, one of which we have here in Cheltenham. He doesn’t need to splash his name all over it, we all know they are his – apart from a few closeted folk – more about that below.
If The Kings Arms is to work long term, it needs to deliver as a pub and not have punters worrying that it’s too posh for them – even in Prestbury, which is in Cheltenham, which is in The Cotswolds…OMG, one can’t get away from posh.
Let’s explore in three simple questions:
- Is it a Pub – a genuine, meet your mates down the boozer type place?
- Will it be a nice place to spend time – the decor, comfort and vibe?
- What is the food like, do they give a shit, and can us muggles afford it?
A little history
The Kings Arms is a Grade II listed 16th century Tudor building, which prior to Raymond Blanc and his team getting hold of it, was a Carvery.
No matter how lovely the building is, a carvery is an offence to food and dining. Having to queue for someone to offer you a slice of meat, no, meats (oh god), some over-cooked vegetables whilst you watch in horror as the person in front of you piles their plate so high that you wanna to vom – it smells like farts and tastes like feet.
They actually took a booking from people who still thought it was a carvery whilst I was waiting at the front of house “two carveries please” – ugh. Let’s never speak of this again.
This wonderful building, in this superb location, has in actual fact been saved, nice one Team Blanc.
History lesson over.
Question One – Is it a Pub?
To test this, rather than me reviewing it alone, I went with some buddies, 4 of us, so that we might have a few beers and a laugh. They were instructed to ignore the review, that took half a cocktail.
The Kings Arms is split in two – a Pub and Restaurant, and split rather well. The restaurant is out the back and pub toward the street. The buildings’ low ceilings, exposed beams, open fires and superb low lighting makes for a perfect country pub blessed with little areas to hide in – there’s even a TV in one area.
If you want to just go to the pub, with your mates, you totally can. If you get hungry, you can get something the impressive looking Bar Menu, slightly lower pricing than the restaurant.
It is an actual pub, very accessible as a local pub, but if you felt that you might go out of your way, you’d be happy too. Dog walkers (and their dogs), people taking on The Cotswold Way, cyclists, Cheltenham race goers and families are all welcome and will all fit together nicely.
1 out of 1.
Question Two – Is it a nice place?
They, Raymond Blancs’ team, have finally unlocked the potential of this building.
The decor in the restaurant follows on from the pub, much like a DJ mixing their next track, aiming to maintain the same key and tempo before they take their audience off in a slightly different direction. As you are shown to your table you start to notice the subtle transition from pub to restaurant.
There are two main dining rooms with a private dining room thrown in too. We ate in The Barn, high apex-ed ceiling adorned with horse related decor. Everywhere in Cheltenham is covered in horses, but at least we were in a barn and the building was in fact once used as a stable.
The other room, The Garden Room, was more open and relaxed, a rather large French Dresser served as a focal point before you notice the nicely painted murals around the walls. Slightly more formal than the bar area – and an impressive bar it is.
2 out of 2.
Question Three – What is the food like?
The menu is large enough to provide variation without the fear of them not being able to deliver quality. There are also two kids menus – for little ones and not so little ones – smart move.
The wine list is nicely varied, only a smidge leaning toward France providing something for everyone. A bottle of house will set you back £19.95 leading up to a £70 Burgundy. Interestingly, they don’t put the strength of the wine on the menu.
The bar serves a decent selection of lagers, ale and cider and is also a cocktail bar.
Once sat at the table we opened the innings with a £45.50 Californian Zinfandel – The Federalist, to test the honesty of the cellar. Incredible, naturally these guys have the knowledge and buying power to snaffle some good wine – to your benefit. We followed up with the cheaper Malbec at £32.50, not as good as the Zinfandel, which is reassuring. If you can stretch to the top end, you’ll be very happy, but you can also feel confident enough that the house will be just fine too.
On to the food, they have a Cheese Souffle as a starter, thought I’d challenge them, its in ‘their favourite’ list after all. Pointless exercise really, the experience so far told me they weren’t going to mess this up. It arrives upside down, with a crunchy golden brown shell with a side of warm Cheddar Cheese Sauce that you pour into the centre. She was a beast – for a starter!
Fear not, so light and fluffy you’re eating air. The restaurant is definitely not pub grub – we’ve moved up a step.
My buddies went for salmon all round, one smoke grilled and two smoked cured on rye bread off the specials menu. The latter felt they’d ordered wrong – it looked great, like a Danish open sandwich on rugbrød (thinly sliced Rye Bread) – which I love, but I can understand why they didn’t feel it for dinner.
They all followed that with a steak and all were happy – they couldn’t help it, I was out with Three Steaks Pam. One Ribeye, the Guest Steak and a Fillet at £25 each and both 8oz. Then Steak Frites as it’s called on the menu, is an 8oz sirloin for £20. They also ordered a side of Spinach and Kale with a cheese sauce and almonds at £4.25 – that’s a little steep for a side, it was like a chowder and a not so mini, masterpiece.
There is a chateaubriand up for grabs too at £25 per head, you guessed it, 16oz.
I skipped the beef and asked the restaurant to order for me, the pricing isn’t too astronomical and it’s a good way to get their take on things. They ordered me Duck Leg Confit, which surprised me – listed at £18.95 on the menu.
Was very French indeed, no airs and graces – came with French beans, carrots, a slice, almost Millie-feuille of dauphinoise potato all covered in a cracking deep red wine and blackberry sauce. The Duck was light and easy to eat with a knife and fork, meat fell away so didn’t have to worry about the need to pick the leg up.
We’re getting a bit sozzled at this point, so upon ordering dessert I went for another Souffle, this time Pistachio and Chocolate, Doh! Served right side up, in a large ramekin with some chocolate ice cream on the side. Raymond’s team love a large souffle – but again light. The pistachio was right on the money, this is bloody good, like…real good.
Two of the others also went for Souffle, I think it was my little performance with the starter version. One of them went for the cheese board, which actually only has one whole (mini), soft and ripe, cheese on it, which was a little disappointing. Whilst it did come with some fun sides, a big dollop of quince jelly and some sort of fruit and nut cracker bread, when one orders a cheese board, a little selection is part of the fun.
The food in the restaurant at The Kings Arm is definitely high end pub grub. The menu vernacular skirts around the ‘pub grub’ genre, but the quality is most definitely restaurant, and good restaurant.
The food is good.
3 out of 3.
This is a tricky, if you let it, the bill could very easily get out of hand – order to your intended budget and you will be fine.
Our bill, for 4 people, was £350 – bear in mind, that includes cocktails, cider, glass of Prosecco, a £50 bottle of wine and two £32 bottles of wine. I would say, we went slightly overboard but at £88 per head, that’s not the end the world. You could easily halve that by being more conservative with the booze – it is a pub though…
I hope the next pub that The White Brasserie Company opens won’t be straw that breaks the camels back. Prestbury is the most haunted village in Britain and whilst fitting, it would be a horror show if The Kings Arms in Prestbury returned to a carvery – let’s hope it here for good, because it is.