review by Janine Pulford
Christchurch is well-known for its zest for all things culinary.
If you’ve ever been to the food and drink festival, along with the 70,000 others who make a pilgrimage in May, you will know what I mean.
The dining out expectation is therefore high when visiting the town and I wasn’t disappointed when I reviewed Harbour Hotels’ The Kings Arms.
Headed up by Chef Patron Alex Aitken, the Kings is a hotel with all the luxurious décor that goes hand-in-hand with gourmet dining, yet you are as welcome to dine in shorts as you are in a suit.
Our table gave us an overview of the restaurant, which seats 68 people and there was pleasant, mellow, background music.
Front of house man, Jan, was helpful and courteous and brought us the menus: the daily menu; the market menu (food sourced within 25 miles where possible), and the à la carte.
Sauvignon blanc with a dash of fizzy to ‘spritz’ it up was my tipple and Nick chose a glass of full-bodied Merlot.
We ordered nibbles. My two sizable tempura prawns were plump and succulent and wore light coats of crunchy batter that paired perfectly with a spicy chilli dip. Nick’s creamy hummus and cooling tzatziki arrived with sour dough toast. In hindsight, I think each was a sharing nibble because we were worryingly full afterwards.
Nick opted for spiced Moroccan chick pea soup as a starter. It was fragrant and earthy with overtones of tomato and packed full of goodness. It looked lovingly created and he liked it immensely.
Mine was more of a challenge, yet irresistible – Alex’s twice-baked cheese soufflé – it had been highly recommended by a fellow cheese-lover. It’s a dish you could easily choose as a snack at lunchtime. For me, it needed salt, but it was gloriously cheesy and simply melted in the mouth. Surprisingly it had smoked haddock in it, which I hadn’t ordered, (that is an extra), but what a delightful pairing.
Now for the mains. Nick’s wild mushroom risotto was creamy, full of flavours and slightly al dente, as it should be. He so rarely eats mushrooms, I was worried he would pick them out, but it seems wild mushrooms are far more delicious than the ones I use at home.
My whole plaice was stunning. The care that had gone into cooking it perfectly and presenting it in an artistic manner paid tribute to the fish. It was dressed with capers, (at Jan’s suggestion), came with beurre blanc, new potatoes and broccoli. It is so rare to get a plaice of this size that for a moment I imagined it was a Dover sole. The softness of the white flesh, the freshness of the pea shoots and the capers that popped with flavour was a superb combination. I asked for tartar sauce, to help balance the beurre blanc, possibly a slice of lemon would have done the same. The potatoes were moreish and the broccoli spears had the crunch that I love with vegetables.
The mains were very satisfying.
For dessert, a chocolate marquise with cherry liqueur compote was Nick’s choice. A generous portion of the rich and fudge-like creation on a crumb base soon vanished, as did my pretty blueberry cheesecake with blueberry compote and a caramelised white chocolate crumb. We were full and couldn’t even manage a coffee.
The general manager, Charlie Williamson, who has been with Harbour Hotels for the last 11 years stopped by for a chat. Nick and I were impressed with how friendly and approachable the staff were.
The location of the Kings is enviable. It not only overlooks the bowling green and pavilion, which it owns, but it is virtually in the town centre. There is even parking opposite for hotel guests.
Weddings in the grounds are popular and it is also a sought-after venue for conferences and events.
The next Kings’ event is Live on the Lawn on 12 May (during the Christchurch Food Festival) with live music, a DJ, popup stalls, food and drink. It will be a good introduction to this fine establishment if you haven’t eaten there already.