It’s a gloriously warm, sunny day at Beaverbrook, a luxury country house hotel in England’s Surrey Hills with a history as vibrant as the Summerill & Bishop-designed hot air balloon I’m currently sitting in...
The former home of Canadian-British press baron and politician Lord Beaverbrook, this spectacular 470-acre estate is where Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Taylor, Rudyard Kipling and Ian Fleming all holidayed. It’s also home to a renowned golf course which was designed by golfing icons Tom Watson and David McLay Kidd.
Today, I’m not here for golf (or for the The Coach House Spa, which is another unforgettable experience entirely). Instead, I’m sitting in the Italian Garden, perched in a colourful hot air balloon, with a glass of rosé in my hand. It’s the first time I’ve ever dined in a hot air balloon. In this case, one that is stationary, which suits me perfectly because I despise heights. It’s romantic, whimsical, and exciting all at once – and a magnificent escape from the daily grind which feels far, far away.
For their annual summer dining experience, Beaverbrook has collaborated with Summerill & Bishop – home to the world’s most beautiful tablecloths (and plates, napkins, and all that you need to make a tabletop look spectacular). Their signature heart motif – the ‘Queen of Hearts’ – adorns not only the balloons, but the beautifully decorated tabletop. There are six balloons, all embroidered with whimsical love hearts, and the lunch is aptly called ‘Love is in the Air’. As the name suggests, it’s all rather dreamy, and while we might be firmly grounded, we’re well and truly taken to new culinary heights for the afternoon.
As I sip on a zesty gin cocktail in the sun, I’m charmed by how pretty the balloons are, and also just how grand Beaverbrook is. The Italian Garden runs off ‘The House’, a historic mansion where Lord Beaverbrook resided. You could easily spend the afternoon contemplating the conversations that have taken place at Beaverbrook in times past, but you’ll quickly become immersed in one of the most unique dining experiences of your life.
The menu for ‘Love is in the Air’ has been carefully curated by Beaverbrook’s Executive Development Chef, Wojciech Popow. It’s inventive and unexpected and delicious and truly unforgettable.
No detail is left unturned – sun hats and sunscreen are offered to guests
To begin the alfresco Japanese dining experience, we are presented with a sandangasane box, which is artfully wrapped in a Japanese furoshiki cloth. Inside, there’s beef tartare, Oscietra Caviar (if like me, you don’t know your caviar, this is among the most celebrated caviar in the world) and Nasturtium (an edible flower that has a peppery taste). Lobster carpaccio follows. Then the Yakiniku grill is presented, which allows guests to grill the selection of Botan Ebi (shrimp), cuttlefish, wagyu steak, Madai fish and seasonal vegetables. The food is presented to us in a chic wicker picnic basket – it’s a flavoursome feast made even more fun by the interactive nature of the grill.
Before the final course, we are invited to head over to the Italian style ice cream cart which like the wicker balloon baskets, is divinely charming. We leave our balloon momentarily, and then return with Beaverbrook gelato (in my case, lemon sorbet infused with rosemary). Finally (because all good things must come to an end, sigh), a Rose Panna Cotta arrives on our table, in the shape of a heart. It’s sitting on a beautiful S&B heart dinner plate in rose pink and avocado green (you can purchase here), which almost looks too pretty to eat.
It’s time to say goodbye and after a stroll around the exquisite grounds of Beaverbrook, we leave with the lasting memory of an unforgettable dining experience.
Georgie Abay was a guest of Beaverbrook.
Go to beaverbrook.co.uk. The Balloon Dining Experience is available from Wednesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner. Lunch and Dinner: £245 pp. Pescatarian, £245 pp. Vegan, £145 pp. Each balloon can accommodate up to 4 guests. Children over 13 years welcome.