Desperate for a foodie getaway? Feast on five hand-picked delectable destinations just two hours (or so, ish) from London worth building the ultimate country weekend break staycation around. So go on, book that Friday off and make plans for a game-changer of a dinner-meets-weekend away. Your inner chef deserves it.
1. The Sportsman, Whitstable
The Sportsman: the best ‘grotty rundown pub by the sea’ you’ll ever eat at.
When this pub was crowned National Restaurant of the Year 2016, it left it’s chef/patron Stephen Harris ‘gobsmacked’. It won again in 2017 and was also named Gastropub of the Year for the second time in a row. The only non-London restaurant to make it into the top five, you can find the Michelin starred-pub on the windswept barren beauty of the Seasalter coast. Self-taught cook Steven swapped a career in finance in 1996 for a professional kitchen and three years later landed near his home town of Whitstable.
Previously a self-proclaimed ‘grotty rundown pub by the sea’ (via their Twitter bio, now minus the words grotty and rundown), Stephen used ingredients he could see from his kitchen window long before the farm-to-fork movement hit the mainstream, saying: “This bit of salt marsh on the north Kent coast was owned by the kitchens of Canterbury Cathedral, and for more than a thousand years it was the larder for this area, so it seemed right to use the land.”
Now equipped with a small kitchen garden, his dishes let native ingredients do the talking with beautiful finesse. Whether going a la carte and or for the excellent value daily tasting menu, dine on Whitstable Native Oysters, slip sole grilled in seaweed butter and round it off with a rosehip ice lolly. Book far in advance and don’t forget to take a trip down the coast to see the sights, shops and sounds of Whitstable seafront too.
Getting there: 1hr 40mins by car from central London.
Find it: The Sportsman, Faversham Road, Seasalter, Whitstable, Kent, CT5 4BP
2. 64 Degrees, Brighton
Truffle tagliatelle with confit egg yolk at 64 Degrees, Brighton.
Tucked away in the Brighton Lanes, 64 Degrees is a tiny restaurant serving small plates using fresh, local produce from an open kitchen. Founded by chef Michael Bremner (a Great British Menu finalist), his award-winning kitchen sits bang in the middle of the seating area. Perch on a high stool — one of only 27 seats — and you’ll see every slice and dice as you sit at the pass.
There are just 16 plates to choose from — four of each meat, veg, fish and sweet — and its relaxed muted interior leaves space to focus on all the drama happening before your eyes. The co-creator behind dishes such as ‘tongue, pea, jowl’ and ‘celeriac, chestnut, yolk’, head chef Sam Lambert says: ‘we just stick to local, and the fact we’re face to face with customers means we can tell them exactly what’s in the food’. And the name? We hear it pays tribute to the optimum temperature for poaching an egg.
Getting there: 1hr train ride from Victoria + 10 mins walk
Find it: 64 Degrees, 53 Meeting House Lane, Brighton BN1 1HB
3. Hartnett Holder & Co at Lime Wood Hotel, New Forest
Hole up for the weekend at Hartnett Holder & Co in the New Forest. Photo: Áamy Murrell.
If you weren’t aware already, Angela Hartnett’s cooking is an Italian-inspired tour de force (pop to Murano and you’ll know what we mean). Hartnett Holder & Co is the restaurant of the luxury country-house Lime Wood hotel set in 145 square miles of ancient heath in the heart of the New Forest and makes for an idyllic epicurean country weekend break.
Together with chef Luke Holder, Angela and the team create locally sourced Italian dishes with a respectful nod to the seasons. Pretentious fine dining and big plates are out and home cooked sharing plates are in. Expect dishes such as fresh wild garlic, served simply with gnocchi, Parmesan and pine nuts or a cashew nut hummus (as spotted on Instagram). Complete with cosy wood fires, oak interiors, and an onsite smoke house, handily there’s a sumptuous bed you can roll into after dinner.
Getting there: approx 2hr drive from central London
Find it: Lime Wood Hotel, Beaulieu Road, Lyndhurst, Hampshire SO43 7FZ
Honorary mention: The Pig, Brockenhurst
Sister hotel of Lime Wood, it’s another fine example of the right amount of glamour needed to make a time-precious country weekend break go with a bang. Expect locally sourced and foraged ingredients with a story without any old-fashioned stiffness. Its menu is uncomplicated seasonal British garden food influenced by the forest and coast and all to enjoy in a stunning country house.
Getting there: approx 2hr drive from central London
Find it: Beaulieu Road, Brockenhurst, Hampshire, SO42 7QL
4. Hand & Flowers, Marlow
Fancy an Essex lamb “bun” and a pint?
Zoom down the M40 and you can be at chef Tom Kerridge’s Hand and Flowers – the only pub in the UK to hold two Michelin stars – in just over an hour from central London. Located in the Georgian town of Marlow, there’s a little whimsy to be experienced amongst it’s chocolate-box pretty, winding historic streets along the Thames. A thoroughly modern British pub that you can stay over in, Tom and his wife opened in 2005 with the idea of it being a place they’d like to go on their day off. Now it’s a place that folk from around the world are desperate to visit on their day off.
The menu’s focus is on making the most of the best seasonal ingredients with little fuss and lots of charm. Dishes include lovage soup to start, and an Essex lamb “bun” for a main and chocolate and ale cake to finish. Book a table in advance or if you prefer to be spontaneous on a country weekend break, head to his second non-bookable pub called The Coach, also in Marlow.
Getting there: 1hr 10 mins drive from central London, or 1hr 30mins by train and bus
Find it: The Hand and Flowers, 126 West Street, Marlow SL7 2BP
5. The Ethicurean, Bristol
Dine overlooking an exquisite Victorian walled garden and the Mendip Hills at The Ethicurean.
The Ethicurean is a must-visit destination for arguably the most beautiful setting to eat in on a country weekend break in Somerset. Focussed on sourcing ingredients from the nearby fields, forests and orchards that surround their garden, its philosophy is simple: “eat local, celebrate native foods, live well.”
Its story began when friends Jack Adair Bevan, Paula Zarate and brothers Ian and Matthew Pennington met working at farmers’ markets. They took a shine to an apple business at Barley Wood Walled Garden and its conservatory-style cafe was available to rent too. Together, they grabbed the opportunity and use everything from its bursting vegetable and herb patches to make their own vermouths, fermentations and of course, apple juice. Expect vibrant dishes such as cucumber with labneh at lunch to a scones adorned with jam made from their walls which ‘drip with fruit’ for an afternoon tea break. Check out their cookbook to try their dishes at home.
Getting there: 2hrs 40mins drive from London (okay it’s not 2hours, but you need to go!)
Find it: The Ethicurean, Barley Wood Walled Garden, Long Lane, Wrington, Bristol, BS40 5SA
In need a rural escape that requires a flight? Take a look at our top 8 international farm stay holidays guaranteed to beat winter blues.