Down Hall – A Country House Retreat:
We arrived at Down Hall after sunset and swept up the long avenue that led to the beautifully illuminated hotel. A grand house, dating back to the 14th century, in the heart of the Essex countryside awaited us.
We were shown to our room which was comfortably cosy, decorated in deliciously neutral tones with enough soft furnishings to keep even a dedicated cushion fancier happy. The bed was divinely comfortable and the view of the drive and parkland made you feel as if you are in your very own Downtown Abbey.
The restaurant had a civilised interior but did feel a little like being in a wedding cake as you are surrounded by white columns! With 2 courses for £28 and 3 for £34.50 prices are reasonable and judging by its popularity has obviously become a destination for locals out for a treat. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating…
Bread and butter is one of the great pleasures of life. Wonderful hot sourdough came with butter whipped with crème fraiche and spiked with sea salt. We chose a bottle of Albariño Veiga da Princesa, Rias Baixas Pazo do Mar, Spain 2015 (£44) – it had lots of white fruit flavours with a touch of minerality and salinity and matched our fish dishes perfectly.
Octopus carpaccio was an artful construction with the seductive cephalopod being dressed with a subtle burnt lemon mayonnaise and given some crunch by shards of roast fennel and artichoke.
Beautifully cooked Cornish mackerel, sea vegetables, apple, cucumber, was given a polite kick by a smoked horseradish emulsion.
Pan roasted cod was a lovely piece of fish with great texture, mussels, mango and coriander added sweetness, whilst black pearl barley was a hearty counterpoint.
Confit pork belly had plenty of flavour and came with an excellent mash, a creamy butternut squash, sweet roast quince, a tangy mustard jus, and crackling.
I loved my white chocolate mousse which made a great combination with the accompanying mango and a vegetal basil sorbet.
A selection of five English and French cheeses (supplement £5) included the barley coated “Boxer”, a lemony Saint-Maure de Touraine goat’s cheese and a smooth Bleu d’Auvergne all washed down with a glass of Taylor’s port.
The restaurant provided a modern take on European cooking with a British twist and is well worth a visit whether you are staying at the hotel or not.
The grand drawing room with its deep red tones and soft comfortable sofas provided the perfect setting for a post-prandial nightcap. Crackling logs in the wood burner created the ideal backdrop for indulging your fantasies of being Lord and Lady of the manor, managing to feel rather grand but creating a sense of intimacy at the same time.
Next morning, after a hearty breakfast, which offered a good selection of continental and hot food, we headed to the luxurious Eden Spa. The staff were friendly and welcoming. The spa provides a fabulous hydro therapy pool, steam room, sauna and relaxation room. What better way to unwind and relax and put behind you the rat race of daily life.
I had a back and neck massage with Espa products. My therapist Lauren was attentive and expertly tailored my massage to suit my personal needs. It was beautifully relaxing and it managed not only to thoroughly de-stress me, but helped unknot the tensions in my back.
So with just an hour to spare before heading back to the city, we took a stroll around the magnificent hall gardens and extensive woodlands. Daffodils and snowdrops were abundant and the lawns and avenues beautifully manicured whereas the wooded areas provided a more rural walk.
But London called. All in all a perfect visit, my only wish would be that next time I could stay a little longer.
Country House Hotel
Essex CM22 7AS
Tel: +44 (0)1279 731 441
Disclosure: we were guests of Down Hall for the purpose of reviewing the service. All content is editorially given.