An Historic Coaching Inn in Surrey
Would you brave the ghost for a stay at The Talbot, an historic coaching inn situated in the pretty village of Ripley, Surrey? I couldn’t resist an invitation to find out more.
With 500 years of history, lovely period features and a smart refurbishment, the Talbot combines traditional hostelry and contemporary elegance, all within an hour of Central London (traffic permitting!), making it a perfect venue for getaways, gatherings and events.
The 17th Century inn lies on what would have been a busy coach route connecting London and the naval docks at Portsmouth, and indeed the village of Ripley is replete with maritime references. The Talbot especially recalls bygone days of horse-drawn-carriage, its wide-arched entrance set into an imposing façade leading through into what would once have been barns and stables. Weary travellers would alight for refreshment, and horses were rested or changed for the next leg of the journey. Lord Nelson was a frequent guest, staying here several times with Emma Hamilton – look for a plaque commemorating the couple, above the Admiral’s favourite chair in the Emma Hamilton Room opposite Reception.
When we arrived, the Talbot was basking in the warm late-afternoon sunshine. We received an equally warm welcome at reception before being shown to our accommodation and invited to enjoy tea on the terrace…
Refreshments in an English country garden, under a perfectly blue June sky? How civilised, and what a lovely way to begin our stay…
The aptly named ‘Lady Hamilton’s Afternoon Tea’ was delicious. At £24.95 for two, it included two glasses of house fizz, a generous selection of finger sandwiches a fine assortment of cakes. Scones and Cornish clotted cream, tiramisu, lemon cheesecake and banana cake were all rather good, with pots of bright, fresh tea.
We returned from our walk around the village to enjoy G&Ts at the bar. Lots of charm here, with wonky, low, beamed ceilings (mind your heads!) oak floors and open fireplaces – perfect for warming with a drink when it’s cold out.
The recent refurbishment happily marries historic and contemporary styling, with coloured velvet upholstery throughout and mid-century-modern pendant lights casting a cosy glow onto the brass-topped bar. The mid-century theme carries through into the handsome restaurant where mustard, rust and moss-green chairs enliven dark oak furnishings and bookcases stocked with quintessentially English titles. The restaurant extension is rather stunning; an elegant ‘glass box’ facing onto the large pub garden and terrace, it makes for a sophisticated dining experience, with soft candlelight reflected in sparkling place settings.
To start we had a walnut, Norbury blue cheese and chicory salad. Very good, with the sweet tang of soft cheese complementing the crunch of walnut and mild bitter crispness of chicory.
The smoked salmon with capers, pickled shallots and crème fraîche was lemony-cool, light and meltingly tasty.
For mains, I chose the 8 oz sirloin of beef, served with tomato and grilled portobello mushroom, triple-cooked chips and peppercorn sauce. The steak was tender and juicy, perfectly pink beneath a crisp lightly charcoaled crust, and the chunky triple-cooked chips were crunchy and fluffy. The peppercorn sauce added a piquant sharpness, all the better for not being cream-based.
My friend had Sea Bass with saffron pommes noisettes, courgette and dill, and raisin smoked beurre blanc. The fish was perfect, pan-fried one side and succulent on a bed of new potatoes, with wafer-thin ribbons of courgette and dill, and raisins adding a fruity sweetness to the butter sauce.
For wine, Maitre D recommended a Nederburg ‘The Manor’ Chardonnay, from the Western Cape, South Africa. Cool and bright, with crisp notes of lime complementing a smooth vanilla roundness, this white was the perfect accompaniment.
For dessert, Eton Mess and a passion-fruit cheesecake were all creamy-fresh and bursting with zesty summer-fruit flavours, and we took coffees and brandy onto the terrace, to enjoy under the stars.
Contented we retired to bedrooms redolent with authentic history, with gently sloping floors and ceilings, oak panelled walls and exposed dark wooden beams. The rooms are nicely furnished and appointed, with espresso machines as well as the usual tea-and-instant-coffee facilities. We even had a four-poster bed – from which I kept one eye open for the ghost that is rumoured to roam the Talbot, occasionally, attracted no doubt by its delicious food and drink and modern conveniences. I soon fell asleep though, relieved it hadn’t made an appearance!
After a buffet breakfast, again on the terrace, we said goodbye and ‘thank-you’ for a charming stay. The surroundings were comfortable and stylish, the food was excellent and the service wonderfully friendly and attentive.
With its 43 bedrooms, extensive meeting and conference facilities, a large garden and terrace and plenty of period character, The Talbot is an ideal venue next time you’re taking the stagecoach to Portsmouth, planning a wedding or a business event, or just needing a delightful break in the English countryside.
I rather hope I’ll be back again soon. After all, I didn’t meet the ghost this time, so obviously I need to go back!
Woking GU23 6BB
Phone: 01483 225188