Situated in Kent – and not in Yorkshire as the name might suggest – Leeds Castle will be celebrating 900 years this summer and it has certainly packed a lot into its long life. The castle has been everything from a Norman stronghold to a royal residence and has also been owned by no fewer than six queens of England. Hence why it’s often referred to as the ‘Castle of Queens’ or ‘Queen of Castles’.
As I’m sure the history buffs among you will recall, it was Lord Conway who claimed Leeds Castle to be “the loveliest castle in the world”. It is quite the beauty: set on a pair of islands in a large lake and surrounded by 500 acres of glorious parkland and gardens, it frequently tops lists of ‘must-visit places in Kent’.
Attracting more than 500,000 visitors annually, the iconic venue works with Leith’s, a Levy Restaurants UK brand, as its catering partner.
When the partnership was announced, Leeds Castle CEO Sir David Steel said at the time: “I am committed to delivering excellence in everything we do at Leeds Castle, including our catering. I am proud therefore to be working in partnership with Leith’s to deliver that excellence.”
Offering “first-class food and beverage” is incredibly important to them, says Debbie Matthews, the castle’s head of hospitality, as is sourcing local ingredients, which the surrounding area definitely helps with.
She details: “Situated in Kent, ‘the Garden of England’, we are lucky to be so close to such wonderful suppliers. We aim to source our fish from local fish suppliers by the coast, vegetables from local estates or farms, and are lucky to also be close to such wonderful vineyards and one of the oldest breweries, Shepherd Neame.”
As part of this year’s 900th-anniversary celebrations, the castle team have also created a special-edition gin with local gin distillers Copper Rivet Distillery, which is made with hand-picked botanicals from the castle estate such as rosehip, fig and pine.
There are four main concepts on-site, but the literal high point is Castle View Restaurant, aptly named as guests get to enjoy the spectacular vista across the terrace to the castle.
During the day, only ticket-holders can access the restaurant, but for the evening it’s open to all.
“From 6.30pm, the restaurant not only takes on a more intimate feel, but the menu also changes,” Matthews explains.
It goes from homemade meals during the day to dishes that showcase the head chef’s creativity and flair.
She adds: “The menu features daily specials and tables can be reserved for dinner, with unrivalled views of the castle lit at night.”
Dishes include crispy duck leg with fried rice arancini, parsnip puree and duck and soy jus and cod fillet with watercress and potato velouté and local vegetables. Noticeably, several options feature markers alongside them declaring that they are vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free or have non-gluten-containing ingredients – the website proudly states that the resetaurant is are able to ‘cater for all dietary requirements”.
No doubt noticing how popular it was becoming, afternoon tea is a recent addition to its speciality services; guests can book a space in advance and while away the afternoon in one of the castle’s most sumptuous state rooms.
Matthews says: “This is a fairly new offering and it has been extremely popular. It provides guests with the rare opportunity to experience a luxury afternoon tea service in the elegant Dining Room, surrounded by beautiful tapestry and delicate porcelain. At just £39 per person, those who book afternoon tea can also arrive early to enjoy the formal gardens and everything else the castle has to offer during their visit.”
The castle is available for private events, conferences and, naturally, weddings for those after a truly fairy-tale affair, all of which are also catered for by Leith’s. It is “able to tailor menus to all requirements and provide couples who marry at the castle with the option of either Silver, Gold and Platinum menus to suit all budgets,” Matthews clarifies.
Another equally memorable option available for guests is the accommodation – they can choose from luxury rooms in the holiday cottages, Stable Courtyard or Maiden’s Tower, or for those who prefer a ‘countryside escape’ they can go glamping on the castle vineyard. For those staying at the castle or in the B&B rooms, breakfast is included, and guests have a choice of a Continental breakfast, fruit or a variety of cooked breakfast dishes at Castle View Restaurant.
“By offering guests the chance to stay overnight, they get to experience the romance and quietness of the estate after it’s closed, which is a rare and wonderful opportunity,” Matthews says.
The castle boasts Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra as one of its patrons, so its got the royal seal of approval.
“The castle is synonymous with hospitality, heritage and quality,” Matthews begins. “By crafting creative dishes with local ingredients, we aim to always deliver fresh, exquisitely presented food to enhance the visitor experience.”