Cannizaro House – No Wombles but Plenty of Rabbits in Wimbledon:
I’ve developed something of a taste for a London staycation. For a start, there’s no worry about flights, passports or lost luggage. Secondly, when you arrive you know your phone will work and you won’t get hit with an unexpected bill. And finally there are no language difficulties. While I know English is pretty much universally spoken, that doesn’t mean it’s always universally understood. I try my best to speak at least a little of the language of the country that is hosting me – but usually fail after the first few sentences and lapse back into English.
So, an invitation to staycation at Cannizaro House and review the food (to come later), was much appreciated. A twenty minute trip on the underground and then a short taxi ride (it was raining or I would have walked), took me to a building I must have passed many times and never noticed. It’s on the edge of Wimbledon Common, set back from the road and, although my friends who live in Wimbledon all seemed to know it well, somewhere I’d never heard of before.
Locals know Cannizaro House and Park because the majority of the Park is actually owned and run by Merton council. Open to the public from 8am to dusk, when I first arrived at the hotel I was just a little confused by the large numbers of hotel residents walking their dogs…until I discovered the truth. In fact it all appears to be a successful symbiotic relationship. The Park and gardens are beautifully maintained and while I’m told it can get busy on a summer weekend, when I visited in mid August it was tranquil and almost deserted – even the next morning when the glorious sunshine might have produced a different result. And, the hotel guests get the benefit of more space than most country house hotels and complete privacy in the evenings.
The entrance to the hotel itself is grand, with a sweeping staircase leading up to the rooms on first floor. Dating back to 1705 I was intrigued by the ducks on the toiletries and little rabbits on the bathrobes and room keys, but the house was originally called Warren House. The building provided a home to a number of eminent men including the governor of the Bank of England, Lyde Brown and the last Maharajah of the Punjab, Dulep Singh. Renamed in 1874 in recognition of Francis Platimore, Duke of Cannizaro and owner of the property from 1817 onward.
And, toward the end of the 19th Century the house was occupied by Mrs Schuster, who held amateur dramatic performances in Cannizaro Wood and whose garden parties attracted luminaries of the time including Alfred Lord Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, Henry James and the Prince and Princess of Wales.
Destroyed by fire in 1900 the house was rebuilt and used as an officers’ convalescent home during the First World War. Privately owned by wealthy businessman Kenneth Wilson, the park and gardens were transformed during his ownership until after his death the house was sold to the Corporation of Wimbledon. Back into private ownership in the 1980s the building was transformed into a boutique hotel, more recently refurbished to its current, immaculate standard. Rather charmingly some of the rooms bear the name of previous occupants of the house – mine for the night was Lady Hillary Wilson.
A luxurious bed that needed to be climbed into with immaculate white linen, pretty wallpaper and stylish soft furnishings was a good start. But this room also came with a neat work space desk and chair and a sitting area with sofa and comfy arm chair and complimentary flask of white port.
And with a well fitted en-suite complete with those mandatory fluffy robes
I really could have happily stayed in my room all evening, but instead went down to enjoy the formal dining room. More of the food in a post to follow, the room itself has stunning views looking out over the gardens.
There’s also a more contemporary and informal all-day dining area in the Orangerie – somewhere I didn’t get to try but thought looked perfect for meeting up with friends after a walk through the park, or for lunch if you were staying at the hotel.
Breakfast the next morning was served in the main dining room. There was a relatively limited selection of cereals on offer and the only fruit appeared to be the dried toppings for the granola – maybe I was missing something or perhaps it’s just that I’ve been spoilt by too many continental breakfast buffets? In any case there was an excellent selection of cooked breakfasts on the menu, including the full English which I chose (without egg).
I have to admit to being slightly disappointed with the service, which didn’t quite match up to the previous night’s dinner. I asked for tea as I walked in before I’d seen the menu and when I asked for tea the response was ‘English Breakfast?’. Maybe unintentionally, I got the impression that was what was available however, once I had a chance to sit down and check the menu I saw there was a wide variety of teas on offer.
Then, I asked for toast, which appeared topped with a croissant. I asked for the croissant to be removed and was greeted with ‘but we always serve it that way’. In my case, though it might not seem like it from some of the content of London Unattached, I’m trying to watch what I eat and my request was quite simple and shouldn’t have needed justification. Somehow the impression left was of a rather impersonal breakfast service.
Both toast and cooked breakfast did appear almost instantaneously though and I’ve no complaints at all about the quality of the food.
After breakfast with the sun shining I went for a quick stroll around the grounds again before being given a short tour of the hotel.
It is a really beautiful setting for a hotel with so much to offer. The pretty sunken gardens are to the foreground of the area set aside for wedding ceremonies
And there are well fitted, elegant private rooms suitable both for weddings and for business meetings. A lot of thought has clearly gone into making the hotel accommodating and functional in a luxurious way. I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner and overnight stay and hope to visit again with friends to try the Orangerie – I rather liked the look of the menu with platters of charcuterie, cheeses and crustacia accompanied by some well priced wines. And I’m guessing that the Sardinian food that comes from a local supplier is from Vallebona in Wimbledon, a genuinely top class wholesale and (on Saturdays) retail supplier of Sardinian and mainland Italy produce to hotels and restaurants throughout the UK. And there were some lovely and thoughtful touches, including the port in the bedroom and the complimentary taxi service to the station; for a business traveller looking for a way to escape the City, but still be able to get into town for meetings, this would be perfect.
Wimbledon, SW19 4UE