Forget the brollies and the damp pub garden furniture, one Gloucester hotel has a great new venue for eating outside this summer.
Bowden Hall Mercure in Upton St Leonard’s has installed VIPods, furnished weatherproof igloos, in the grounds of the historic hotel, for those who want to enjoy an al fresco meal without the weather spoiling things.
We popped along to try them out.
The structures, believed to be the only ones in the UK, appear like little bubbles on the lawn of the hotel. With clear plastic sides and a shaded section at the top, they can house up to 12 people.
Inside there’s carpet and a ceiling festooned with flowers, and air conditioning or heating so this is one al fresco meal where you don’t need a blanket on your knees or an umbrella. The setting is peaceful, ideal for a romantic meal but equally suited to a family reunion or even afternoon tea with friends.
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The pods are the brainchild of Dan Ross, an events planner who, after a year which brought the wedding industry to its knees, wanted to find a way of bringing people together again in a safe environment.
First came the pods with net sides, now he has spent the past few weeks installing the new weather proof domes, with the aim of being suitable for dining out without sitting out.
On a sunny evening the pods were well lit, with ducks on the pond and pheasants wandering around the lawn it felt like a world away from lockdown life in Gloucester, albeit we were only a 15 minute drive from home.
At this point I’d be happy to eat cheese on toast as long as I hadn’t made it myself and it didn’t involve going into my own kitchen, and the menu didn’t let me down. The set menu has something for everyone, with a nice mix of local and seasonal ingredients.
The starter of prawn, salmon and crayfish cocktail included fish from the Severn Wye Smokery, the main of Maple glazed pork belly was the sort of dish you’d never make at home for fear of the mess. The real treat of eating out is trying the things you can’t master yourself, so the excellent crunchy crackling was a personal favourite.
Just being out on that first day of lockdown lifting was special enough but the setting capped it off. The light in the pods as the sun set was glorious, with the hotel behind and the lake in front.
As they are set away from the main building you feel secluded as opposed to isolated. Ordering drinks is done via an app or via WhatsApp, and it all feels very civilised.
I began to imagine having a pod in my garden, where I could be protected from the noise of children arguing and order drinks from the house via a text message.
Covid has changed the hospitality industry and the wedding industry forever, ideas like this – which can be adapted for future waves are a great idea.
Dan’s hope is the pods are booked out for weddings, family parties and gatherings and can remain as a Covid-proof option for whatever the next few months hold. With some people understandably nervous about heading out again this is the ideal way of eating outside without the risk of the rain or wind spoiling it all.
We were invited to try the pods out free of charge on the night before opening. To find out more about the VIPod experience call 01452 255012 or visit the Bowden Hall website. The pods are available in line with current rules, so groups of two households or up to six people from different households.