It would be hard to find a bed closer to Hampton Court than the Kings Arms; you could leap straight into the famous Maze out of the landing window.
And as the hotel sits beside the Lion Gate and room rates include the hefty entrance fee to the palace, there is every reason for making this small hotel an overnight base for visiting the absorbing home of Henry VIII and monarchs William III and Mary II who eventually succeeded him.
Not that this is a palatial pile, but a handsome Georgian building which started life in 1709 as a brewery. Now it is making its name as a dining destination offering top-notch food as well as a place to stay following, perhaps, one of the many events featuring food, flowers, theatre or music this royal palace with a gorgeous setting on the Thames at Richmond now hosts.
Getting up to one of the 14 comfortable rooms overlooking an elegant 18th-century country road requires climbing stairs; one of the problems of converting a listed building was not being able to install a lift. Still, that exquisite Maze view punctuates the climb and whets the appetite for the historic visit which lays ahead.
Most rooms have double or king-size beds, but there’s one spacious twin on the second floor, a family room fitted with a sofa-bed as well as a king and a two-bedroom suite. All rooms come with desk space, flat-screen TV and exquisite curtains, different for every room and a prime decorating feature, while quirky artwork lends extra interest.
Except for one room with a tub, bathrooms feature walk-in showers; ours was lined in beautiful hand-made ceramic tiles, and a soap and shampoo shelf was welcome given the somewhat limited shelf space for toiletries around the basin. Full marks, though, for hooks behind the door on which to hang waffle bathrobes or wet towels, although there was also a heated towel rail.
Most of the ground floor is taken up by The Six restaurant and outdoor terrace named for Henry’s wives, with a menu designed by Michelin-starred chef Mark Kempson and presided over by Jack Scoines, a cook who clearly knows his ingredients and inventive ways to present them. Even better than the exquisite goat’s cheese agnolotti with artichokes followed by roast lamb with a little spiced lamb pastia and cashew dukkah on the side was breakfast next morning, featuring exemplary bacon and sausages from named suppliers, with rarefied Stornoway black pudding on top for trenchermen channelling Henry.
Service was laid-back to the point of delivering only one slice of toast at a time to a table of two, although being out of croissants by 9.30am seems, like the absence of tissues anywhere in the hotel, more a fault in the supply chain.
A fine place to walk off breakfast is beautiful Bushy Park opposite the front entrance, where we enjoyed strolling to the central fountain and veering into the woods to get up close to incredibly insouciant grazing deer with huge antlers. But the main attraction is the palace itself, with its Great Hall, fabulous kitchens and the baroque residence added by William and Mary providing an elegant counterpoint to the original Tudor pile. Allow at least two hours for a visit and don’t miss the gardens, with their straw sculptures of Henry and his jousters, beautiful flower beds and that Maze from which spotting the back of the Kings Arms will unfortunately not help you find a way out, although memories of the fine food recently consumed should be motivation enough to keep trying!
Tell Me More About The Kings Arms, Hampton Court
The Kings Arms , 2 Lion Gate, Hampton Court Road, East Molesey KT8 9DD
T: 020 8016 6630
Rooms from £120 including breakfast and entry to Hampton Court Palace