Hotel Review – The Old Manor Hotel:
I love this part of the West Country. Patchwork hills dotted with sheep and cows, pretty villages nestling in the valleys, A stunning coastline and wonderful heritage cities like Bath. And, historic monuments. My favourite is Avebury, the poor man’s Stonehenge. It may be smaller but it’s so much more personal and, in the heart of the village. In fact, you can reach Stonehenge and Avebury in less than an hour from The Old Manor Hotel, along with a whole host of Country Houses and Stately Homes, including Longleat Safari Park and Gardens.
But, you might just want to stay put because for me, what is most striking is that The Old Manor Hotel manages to feel like a home. It may be partly because everything isn’t quite perfect. My bedroom doesn’t feel like a showroom. The cushion on the antique slipper chair is a quirky print of a weasel and the bed is piled with more cushions and throws. The antiques range from elegant velvet upholstered button backs to rustic oak chairs and washstands. And, the shabby chic paint on the window frames is genuinely weathered through age.
As any regular reader of London-Unattached may realise, I am currently homeless and this particular visit has been timed to coincide with my lack of a London base. I’m sure taking some time out of the city is a wise move. So, an invitation to review The Old Manor Hotel is particularly welcome. Dating back 500 years, this Grade II listed building is in four acres of land. Our ancestors were just as fond of home improvements as we are today and though The Old Manor was originally a farmhouse, it was altered to create a genteel home in 1700, mirroring the rebuilding of Bath at that time.
More recently, over the last 30 years the building has been carefully renovated and turned into a hotel. Tudor and Lucy Hopkins arrived in July 2013 and since then have been putting their own unique stamp on the place. It is Lucy who has produced the pretty map of the grounds that is left in every room and the couple have been quick to put their own unique stamp on the hotel, with large bottles of Neals Yard Toiletries in each room, a plan to develop a ‘from field to fork’ strategy for the restaurant that has already started with the redevelopment of the vegetable garden and the introduction of a pair of Gloucester Old Spot pigs, bees and a smoke house. It’s all part of an ethical plan to improve sustainability.
Although I arrive rather late in the afternoon, there’s still time to wander outside and meet the residents , take a quick look at the herb and vegetable garden and imagine myself in a Jane Austin novel, out on the croquet lawn before a bath, fluffy towels and a pristine robe to relax before dinner.
Head chef Matthew Briddon joined in September 2013 with what is described as a menu of ‘farmhouse cooking’ . I’m curious and optimistic that I’ll enjoy dinner. And I’m not in the least bit disappointed at the dishes that arrive as part of the £55 a head tasting menu. This food is the best kind of hybrid of fine dining and home cooking.
Our amuse bouche is a charcuterie board of locally sourced cured meats, served with a home made remoulade.
The second course, a lightly pickled beetroot and whipped goats cheese dish served with roast nuts and beetroot essence is delicate enough for any fine dining menu, the whipped goats cheese an unexpected delight.
Home cured hay smoked salmon is rightly famous in the area. It’s delicious and moist without being overwhelming.
And, even I enjoy the confit belly pork. I can find fattier cuts of meat hard to eat, but this has been cooked to perfection so that the result is melting and beautifully flavoured, served with a walnut pesto and green beens.
Farmhouse size portions mean that neither of us are sure we’ll manage Grandma Wendy’s Treacle Tarte, but somehow it would be rude not to. And it turns out to be a delicious, light and sticky version of the classic pud, with absolutely no sign of a soggy bottom.
Afterwards I’m lucky enough to only have to stagger up to my room while Vanesther from Bangers and Mash has to make her way home.
Although at breakfast the next day I can’t face a full English, although I’m REALLY tempted to do so. Instead I have a delicious plate of herby mushrooms on toast and a few spoons of the delicious yoghurt with fruit compote.
Meeting Tudor and Matthew for a quick tour of the hotel and gardens, I get to learn a little more about the passion that is behind this unique place. I’m shown some of the rooms which, on the face of it look perfect. But Tudor tells me that the beds are being replaced because they are not big enough. It’s true, when you stay in a hotel a normal double bed does just feel a little mean, even if it’s what you sleep in happily for the remaining 364 days of the year. He explains that he and Lucy sleep in every room themselves to check that the layout works, that there isn’t an irritating light or a noise from the kitchen that might spoil your stay. And they are changing and improving things as they go round. Matthew shows me the garden, where all the herbs for the kitchen are produced.
And, the smoke house, something of a Chef’s shed, with racks of slow cured salmon lined up. There’s a small shop where they are selling some of the honey and preserves from the kitchen and where in the future they are hoping to sell the salmon along with other local produce and crafts.
This is a place to go and relax. It’s unpretentious and wholesome and feels as if you are staying in a friend’s (very comfy) country house. The food is excellent and even if, like me, you eat just a little more than you perhaps should, the ingredients are fresh, free-range or organic and somehow the effect is healthy. I stayed in the hotel itself, but you have a choice of room styles from the very traditional rooms like mine through to more contemporary rooms opposite the restaurant. There are rooms which can be transformed into family rooms with space for your kids and dogs are welcome too.
Old Manor Hotel
Nr Bradford on Avon
Tel: 01225 777 393
Fax: 01225 765 443