A Sky Full of Stripes at Beaverbrook


It is perhaps fitting that the hottest day of the year so far should fall on a day at which I’d booked an al fresco lunch.

When Beaverbrook first announced the return of their outdoor ‘balloon’ dining concept, the rain was pattering the study window and I was adjusting the thermostat up a notch. Fortunately, after a prolonged Westeros-like winter, last week the clouds parted, and the sun, finally, got his hat on. So, to Beaverbrook I trot, taking the scenic route through the Surrey Hills which, on a day like today, have never looked finer.

A lot of hotels purport to offer the quintessential country estate experience, but this extraordinary mansion, set among 400 acres of undulating fields and rugged woodland – oh, and a golf course with clipped greens, of course – can likely lay claim to being the definitive. The former home of press baron and war-time MP Lord Beaverbrook, what makes this property stand apart is that it feels as if you’re still entering his world.

Taking the long drive through the estate, I pull up and park right outside the hotel, feeling very much as if I belong there. Walking through the lobby, I could have stepped into the media magnate’s home fifty years before. Far from a slick ‘designed’ interior, Beaverbrook feels lived in, photos and contemporary art adorn the walls, the furniture looks like it’s actually used, not simply for show. And then, through the hall, French doors open out to an Italian terrace and an incongruous burst of colour in the form of six fixed scaled-down hot air balloons.

If ‘playful glamour’ is their thing, then it doesn’t get more playful – or glamourous – than this. Framing the lily pond, custom-made baskets, complete with gauges and a control panel, contain tables below the rose and raspberry striped balloons, made up in matching Summerill & Bishop tableware. If you’re not familiar with the name, they’ve turned table dressing into an art form, and in no uncertain terms consider the humble tablecloth ‘the fabric of life’. Think about it.

The beating sun may be welcome, but Brits being Brits we’ll start moaning about it no sooner than it’s showed its face, so I help myself to a panama from the hatstand, accept a virgin cooler from the waitress, and all is well. My luncheoning companion sashays through the French doors, rose seersucker frock billowing in the breeze, Jackie O sunglasses atop her head, as if she’s stepping into a magazine shoot on the Italian riviera. “You got the memo about the dress code, then?” I gesture her matching outfit to the balloons. “Naturally, daahling!” That Positano look – the balloons, that is – is a nod to Lord Beaverbrook’s love of continental chic that he brought to the architecture of the house.

Given the setting, you might think there’s swirls of linguini and spaghetti alle vongole on the menu, but Beaverbrook is known for its slightly more dynamic cuisine. The Wild Kitchen in the grounds, Mrs Beeton’s hark to classic cuisine in the recent addition of the ‘Village’ on the estate are making new strides, but chef Wojciech Popow has carved out something of a Japanese influence on the principal dining offering at the hotel, namely with a Yakiniku grill – and this makes for something of an interactive dining experience in our basket setting.

The journey begins with a luxurious selection of Takumi sashimi, dressed in flora on a bed of ice, with perfect slices of Bluefin tuna, aged in-house, as well as Hokkaido scallops, Loch Duart salmon, shards of wild Cornish red mullet and a small eggcup-sized bowl of Japanese ceviche. With the sun on my back, it’s the perfect, soothing opener. And we’re encouraged to take our time, too, with a soy brush to delicately dust, not dunk (as is one’s wont) the sauce, and appreciate the cuts accordingly.

After ice, cometh the fire. The main event is the Yakiniku; starters are cleared and a small box grill is placed between us, its embers white hot. A beautifully appointed box of treats arrives, replete the finest cuts of meat. I spy Kyushu wagyu beef, morsels of West Country lamb, acorn-fed Iberian pork, and rich, dark venison I’m told is fallow deer from the Royal Windsor park. A langoustine head pokes out from a bouquet of baby corn, tenderstem and a courgette flower. It’s accompanied by a trio of sauces and condiments, including a DIY egg yolk hibachi. We dive in, laying pieces across the grill, tending our own mini barbecue, mixing and marinading to our hearts’ content. One thoroughly novel recommendation was to fill the courgette flower with some bbq pork and a slice of wagyu, which will set the next trend, I’m sure.

Accompanying the meal is a curated champagne flight courtesy of the hotel’s partnership with Moet & Chandon. A trio of the finest vintages complements the menu, with a sip of Brut Imperial opening the batting, but it’s the vintage Brut 2015 for the main event that really makes its mark. As if to nod to the clement weather, it was one of the hottest vintages since 1961, I’m told, and to appreciate its ageing is presented in a balloon shaped glass. It’s a nice touch, and its ice cold bubbles are a welcome respite from the warmth of the day – and the grill.

It’s a hard act to follow, but for a magnificent finale, beneath its charred soft meringue casing a sharing Japanese Baked Alaska, crafted in tones of raspberry red and rose pink to match the balloons, naturally.  And, as if we needed reminding, every so often there’s a blast of air to refill the canopy above us. To glance about us to the grounds beyond, we could have been taking flight over the Surrey Hills; it’s surely a meal – and a setting – that soars to new heights.

This is what summer’s all about, frankly. What better way to ring in the arrival of the season than a little terrace dining in a playful setting at one of the UK’s most magnificent properties. Let’s hope the weather holds, eh?

A Sky Full of Stripes is available from Wednesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner. Each balloon can accommodate up to 4 guests. Rates start from £135 pp.

Those looking for an extra special visit to the countryside this summer can enjoy A Sky Full of Stripes overnight package that offers an overnight stay for two in a room at The House at Beaverbrook. Starting with a bottle of bubbles in the room, along with some special romantic touches, guests can spend a leisurely afternoon exploring the grounds or relaxing in The Coach House Spa before indulging in the romantic hot air balloon dining experience, as the sun sets over the rolling Surrey Hills. For more information, please visit www.beaverbrook.co.uk.