Review: The Hare & Hounds, nr Newbury
A little bit of country, a little bit of rock 'n' roll. The Hare and Hounds is a boutique inn with 30 stylish rooms, fuss-free food and a focus on fun - Muddy Berkshire editor Rachel checks in.
What a difference a year makes. The Hare and Hounds in the village of Speen – a smidge outside Newbury – has undergone a top to bottom restoration. The results? WOW! Tired local begone. We’re here for this inn’s funky interior design, comforting food, cosy vibes and boutique rooms. A little bit of town, a little it of country, a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll. Bring it on.
This Georgian Inn is a mere 15-minute walk from Newbury town centre and a few minutes from open countryside. It’s also got speedy links to the A34 and M4 and is super easy to find. No need to fall out with SatNav Susie on this particular journey. Oh the rows we had, lost down a dark country lane.
The 30 individually designed bedrooms are spread across four buildings – The Stables, The Paddocks, The Hunter’s Lodge and The Coach House. There’s a cosy bar with open fires, plenty of nooks and a state of the art wine dispenser for their more unusual vinos (game changer, right there, for adventurous drinkers ). The dining room is a dramatic former barn with vaulted ceiling, exposed beams and lots of character. Despite its size, The Hare & Hounds is cosy, with a side order of fun.
To honest, I couldn’t check in fast enough. The fact our boiler had packed up and the crackle of an open fire, promise of an underfloor heated suite and a long soak in a freestanding copper bath had nothing to do with it. But it definitely helped. A LOT.
The building is 17th Century stunner – all grand Georgian proportions from the outside, but surprisingly intimate on the inside. I loved the elegantly eccentric decor and witty design details which sets the tone. It’s a place that you can unbuttoned your top button, and probably feel the urge to peeled off three more before you have sat down.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Championing local producers, you’ll find a farm-to-table seasonal menu. The dishes are elevated British classics. Nothing to scare the horses but real care and attention has been taken to create pretty, ‘eat me now’ plates of food.
We took a culinary detour to the Seventies choosing the signature prawn cocktail with fennel and pickled apple (£9.50). It was refreshing, light and, because it wasn’t served in glass bowl, it wasn’t drowning in Marie Rose sauce. I think the more delicate flavours were grateful for the life line. The duck liver parfait came with spiced pear chutney, chervil and sourdough loaf (£7.75) and was rich, comforting and portion size was good.
Landing on the mains, the chestnut mushroom and winter truffle gnocchi (£14.50, oozing in Sussex Charmer cheese and served with kale and smoked beets, was pitch perfect. This moorish dish was earthy and rich and the toasted sunflower seeds brought a bit of texture to the dish.
The Cornish crab cake in lobster and caviar cream sauce sounded innocent enough. But be warned, this is not the dainty dish you think it is.It comes topped with baked sea bass fillet and a bed of winter greens. Tasty? Absolutely, but not the lighter option Mum thought she was getting. To be fair, she’d brought the wrong glasses.
I rarely get to pudding. Three courses feels like a marathon, but portion sizes are pretty restrained (in a good way), so I squeezed in an Affogato Coupe. I was expecting hot espresso over ice cream with hazelnuts. But this twist was puzzling. A dark chocolate cakey mousse on the bottom, with salted caramel, espresso gelato, crushed amaretti. It was rich., sweet… and totally defeated me. You cannot fault it’s prettiness. Thank god I was a flight of stairs away from a lie down…
… and what a lie down. The rooms are stunning. Before you arrive you’ll be offered a pillow menu, to ensure you have the best night’s sleep possible. So a very good start. My home from home was the Highclere suite (£250) in The Coach House. It’s a large room at front of the main building with a dressing area, superking bed, freestanding copper bath tub and through the crittal barn door a lush bathroom with shower.
The rooms (from £105) have unique country pursuits personalities and dogs are welcome if you’re travelling with your furry BFF. Loved the complimentary gin, fluffy robes and slippers, you have your own Nespresso coffee machine and fresh water and milk is supplied and replenished on your doorstep in the morning. Next level boutique hotel service.
If you love a bath, or your on a romantic break, book a room with a copper tub. Yes it takes a while to fill but, oh my, a swim in that bad boy is what self care is all about. You’ll find Bramley beauty products for you to use and a pillow spray for anyone who finds it tricky to nod off. Word of warning: if you’re sensitive to noise, you might want to choose a room a little further away from the road or bring ear plugs. This is a roadside inn, so some traffic is to be expected.
Breakfast is available from a civilised 9am-11am (check out is 11am). Tuck into a buffet of fresh fruit, pastries and juices, before diving into the menu of hot dishes to start the day like a queen. I opted for an indulgent scrambled egg with smoked salmon, but the Full English and pancakes were popular pretty much every type of eggs was available too.
OUT AND ABOUT
Fun and fresh air on tap. Newbury Racecourse (the Queen’s favourite) is just down the road. History nerds will love a walk around nearby Donnington Castle and Highclere Castle (star of Downton Abbey). Alternatively, head into town for a stroll along the canal and a mooch around the pick and mix of high street and local indie stores. Nearby Hungerford is your go to for a root around dusty old antiques. Culture vultures should definitely book tickets for The Watermill Theatre – quality theatre in a pretty venue. The Corn Exchange has a good variety of shows and The Base in Greenham is a must for a brilliant art.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Unpretentious lunches and dinners without compromising on style. The laidback vibe is great for families, couples and workie pit stops. If you’re escaping to the country but don’t want to feel remote, this town and country inn is perfect.
Not for: Anyone sensitive to a roadside location or seeking rural isolation. Dedicated followers of foodie trends. The menu is comforting rather than cool.
The damage: Pretty reasonable for this part of the world. Snacks from £2.95 and starters range from £5.95-£9.95 Mains flirt around the £16/£17 mark and puddings are from £5.50 for a fruit crumble and custard.
The Hare & Hounds, Bath Road, Speen, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 1QY