There is little, in a sense, that needs to be said about the doyen of England’s luxury hotels, the great Chewton Glen. From the moment of your welcome, walking into a reception hall that simultaneously combines comfort and approachability, to your departure from the same hall, laden with bottles of water for your journey, there is nothing that is too much trouble.
The ethos is one of sophistication, luxury without bling and a sense of creating a home from home for the guests. This has been the case for decades, and, I imagine, will continue to be so until either the building falls down or people no longer wish to stay in hotels. Neither looks likely in our lifetimes.
Yet Chewton Glen, like everywhere else of its calibre, has to innovate. People with deep wallets and expensive tastes are picky (‘selective’ might be the term that they prefer), and so they expect 21st century luxury, of a calibre that is equivalent to any five-star newly built behemoth. Thus, the expectation is that, for any occasion, the hotel must rise to it.
A few years ago, this took the form of opening uber-luxurious Treehouse suites within the grounds, the contemplation of the memory of which still brings a smile to my visage, whether it’s the memory of the al fresco hot tub, the welcome bottle of Taittinger lurking in the fridge or the ‘breakfast box’ delivered to one’s room for a picnic the likes of which one seldom enjoys, alas.
Now, the latest innovation is a more food-oriented one. The celebrity chef James Martin differs from many of his peers in firstly being a hands-on presence in his restaurants, and secondly being good. Thus, it comes as something of a boon that he has worked with the hotel to open a new and decidedly exciting restaurant and cookery school, The Kitchen. Unlike the more formal main hotel’s dining room, the emphasis here is on keeping things family-friendly and at a reasonably accessible price point.
Thus, a small toddler might be placated with pineapple and pancetta pizza (which, frankly, her parents looked at with growing envy as she happily wolfed it down) and a scoop of delicious Laverstoke Park Farm ice cream, while aforementioned grown-ups might feast on mussels and local chorizo to start, followed by panzanella salad and (very good) rib-eye steak. The wine list, by standards of five star hotels, is a steal, with a bottle of light and delicious English wine costing a mere £25. Even the cocktails, at a tenner apiece, represent excellent value, compared to what you might expect.
The involvement of James Martin in the Kitchen’s restaurant remains slightly unclear – puddings are said to be by him but it isn’t formally operating as one of his restaurants. However, he has a rather more significant presence in the adjacent cookery school, as can be seen by a life-size portrait of him in the lobby. He hosts a dozen classes a year, which are announced at relatively short notice, and allow the lucky ten who can book the chance to have an intimate experience with one of Britain’s most beloved chefs – and all while the chef’s whites remain firmly on.
Yet even if you’re not attending one of those, there are plenty of other treats, such as events with guest chefs including Duck and Waffle’s Dan Doherty, and a variety of classes aimed at everyone from the aspirant Fanny Craddock to the most limited of novices. Even children can get in on the fun, with a ‘Junior Chef’ class aimed at the eight to twelve year olds. Expect mess, fun and the chance to get one’s son or daughter to whip up an award-winning soufflé upon one’s return.
Yet leaving the hotel is always a sadness to compare to any romantic parting. We stayed the night in the beautifully furnished ‘Croquet Room’, which had a vaguely baronial air, thanks to the tartan armchairs, tastefully muted wallpaper and sense of refined comfort; once again, the half-bottle of champagne made for a splendid accompaniment to a post-prandial muse, uninterrupted except by the gentle slumbering noises of a replete small child. Which was, to be fair, much how her parents felt the next day, after a typically excellent breakfast in the main hotel.
Parting is such sweet sorrow, as Juliet might have informed Romeo, but the hope with Chewton Glen is, forever, that it is ‘adieu’ and not ‘au revoir’. Long may it continue to be so.
For more information about Chewton Glen, including its kitchen classes and, of course, its treehouses, visit www.chewtonglen.com.