“Was that a pig?” asked Vicky, as our car full of self-confessed urbanites played lookout for a renovated stately home-cum-hotel. She was right of course; it was indeed a pig. One of many in fact, which was hardly surprising seeing as we were speeding through archetypally rural Dorset countryside, in Ross’ swanky motor. Our ever-enthusiastic team had been sent to Abbots Court; a new country-chic Bed and Breakfast that is quickly making a name for itself a the place to go for an idyllic short break.
As we passed the neighbouring farmstead, we were lured to our final destination via a narrow, tree-lined path, where a glimpse of stonewashed redbrick lay just beyond. Nestled in five acres of verdant land, stood the Abbots Court country home: three-floors, seven guestrooms and a series of lavish relaxation zones. Whilst looking for the entrance we spotted a friendly face from the kitchen window, “they’re here!” we lip-read as she presented us an enthusiastic wave—the kind you get from family you haven’t seen in ages. It was right then that we knew we were in for a very special trip.
The door opened and there was that same friendly face, otherwise known as Niki Barfoot—who we later found out to be the co-founder and operator of the establishment. Her partner (in work and life) Jez shortly joined in warmly welcoming us in. You might already recognise those names from their Wimborne restaurant The Tickled Pig, where in 2012 the couple’s signature flair for hospitality and wow-factor food all began. Fast-forward six years, tons of research, and one incredible home renovation, and Abbots Court was born. Bringing unwavering foodie ethics and country-chic living together in this one rural retreat.
The couple ushered us in and showed us to the lounge area for a pre-tour perch in front of the roaring fire. The space was stunning. We sat on a tan leather chesterfield that took pride and place in the middle of the room, looking out the sash windows that each boasted their own breathtaking view of the pastoral woodland. Before we could get too settled (or likely nodded off in the relaxing ambiance) it was time for the tour.
Working from the bottom to the top the grandeur of the rooms grew and grew, each in their own unique way. The pièce de résistance however, was the Saddleback room; a spacious master suite with luxurious trappings, period features and an enormous roll top bath that you can sink into whilst taking in the exquisite views just outside your window. Upon questioning, Jez explained that this wasn’t your average country B&B—that was quickly becoming evident—but rather “a relaxing home away from home”, to quote him. We were blown away by the majesty of the décor, but this was just the tip of the iceberg. Jez kindly led us back to the ground floor and we were seated in the dining room, where we were about to experience true food enlightenment.
Our five-course—yes, five—affair began with an incredible array of homemade nibbles. Handmade puffed rice crackers (a title which by common association doesn’t do it justice) dusted with an explosively flavourful seasoning; crispy pork crackling that crunched on the tooth and evaporated on the tongue, and finally, a copper cup-full of artisan vegetable crisps, the likes of which could turn even the biggest lachanophobe into a born again lover. What a way to start.
The next course I might just have to compose myself for. For it was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most delicious dishes I have ever tasted. Exceptional food can leave a lasting impression, not in the way that a decent meal can, which can be equally satisfying on a different level, but in a way that challenges everything you knew about food up until now. And that is what this was for me—a memorable taste experience. Delicate slivers of New Forest venison carpaccio were skillfully plated like fallen rose petals, sprinkled with earthy micro herbs, jewel-like capers, a whisper of truffle, a shaving of local cheese and dots of potent aioli. Every element was influential in its own right and made for an incredibly exciting dish, worthy of a standing ovation.
Our third course was a contemporary take on a fish curry. It was bursting with vivacious eastern spices that clung to each mussel, packing flavour with every bite. The enlivened Puy lentils (cooked al dente) brought that little bit of bite to the dish, and equally took on the aromatic savours of the sauce. Atop the heap was a homemade onion bhaji, still warm from only just being cooked.
I should add that alongside our meaty mains our token vegetarian Vicky was sampling some delights of her own. At this point, she had already enjoyed a delectable beetroot soup—which even as a self-confessed beetroot hater, she loved—and a beautifully ingenuous deep fried shallot, but her third course was something (quote), “out of this world”. Don’t be put off by its simple title, “carrot three ways” was a beautiful appreciation of local produce and really summed up the level of respect that the chef has for quality ingredients; a common theme throughout.
Our fourth and final savoury course was the Smoked Duck. The first thing that struck us was the vivid plating; ruby red cherries sat in a pool of bright green puree, with the duck on top of it all. The meat was served to us in two ways: one confit and the other a succulent breast fillet. Both had taken on that undeniable aroma from the smoking, but they were both so different. The fillet was idyllically cooked, just pink in the middle with perfectly sealed fat and skin, whilst the confit piece was slow-cooked and gently fell apart in the mouth, making it utterly moreish and decadent.
For our final course, we tucked into something ominously written on the menu as “Chocolate pear, walnut”. We were presently with a sinfully rich trapezium of chocolate ganache, topped with a refreshing mascarpone cream, toasted walnut shavings and pumpkin seeds, and tactfully placed pieces of poached pear. Even as full as we were from the four prior courses, our will would not waver and there were empty plates all around. A word to the wise; this might be death by chocolate, but if it is, sign me up.
Niki and Jez returned only to find us in a food related semi-comatic state, but being the phenomenal hosts that they are, they rolled us back into the lounge to unwind once more. Coffees were served whilst the couple took a little time to share some of their stories with us. Listening to the two of them talk so passionately about their new venture filled us with fire and instilled a sense of confidence in the future of this incredible establishment. These two are proud to run a family business, so much so that they too live within the B&B with their wonderful family—whom can regularly be found greeting and helping guests. We also found out that Jez and Niki are hoping to host a series of incredible foodie events so be sure to keep your eyes peeled in our events section.
If you’re looking for the perfect country retreat, with some of the finest food around, then we can’t recommend Abbots Court highly enough.
Please note: due to licensing the team are not currently taking sole dining bookings, but we think the price of stay is well worth it to experience their amazing culinary delights!
By Charlotte Williams
t. 01929 448638
a. East St, Winterborne Kingston, Blandford Forum DT11 9BH