Set in the leafy country of Berkshire, Stoke Place Hotel, a member of The Cairn Collection, is a striking red brick Queen Anne mansion with 39 luxurious rooms and suites that offered the ideal base for an extravagant girls weekend. Just thirty minutes from central London and fifteen to Heathrow, the hotel is also handily placed for shopping and seeing the sights of Windsor (Stoke Place Hotel recently hosted guests attending the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan), and Ascot Racecourse, a mere twenty minutes away, where we were bound on checking out the next morning for the opening day of the George VI Weekend, the second most notable race meeting after Royal Ascot.
We marked the hottest day of the year (oh yes, another one) with the delightfully elegant Stoke Place Afternoon Tea on the sunny terrace, a true celebration of summer in England complete with a selection of premium Jing teas – I sampled the fragrant orange lily and sweet osmanthus blossom which opens up spectacularly as it brews. Meanwhile the three tier stand featured dainty cucumber, ham, smoked salmon, and egg finger sandwiches, the perfect freshly baked scones with cream and berry jam alongside, and an appealing tier of expertly crafted French patisserie including fresh cream and strawberry choux buns, miniature meringue tarts with grapefruit curd and the most delightful chocolate opera cake. It seemed appropriate to change up the usual champagne accompaniment for Pimms and lemonade, and not only was it a magnificent way to work on the old tan for a couple of hours, but a blissfully relaxing start to a break away from the city.
The terrace overlooks the sweeping grounds and 26 acre parkland designed by Capability Brown at the height of his powers, including a picturesque lake on which a single white swan, who apparently arrived during the time of the royal wedding, glides enchantingly hither and thither, while a gaggle of Canadian geese make regular circuits of the grounds, unfazed by the presence of guests; a waddling yet uniform procession that delights nostalgic sensibilities like my own. Our large plum coloured ‘Queen Anne’ Junior Suite is unsurprisingly the room of choice for bridal parties, with the same elevated views from a round triple bay with floor to ceiling sash windows. Other features are a chic bathroom with walk-in shower and Edwardian roll-top and an oh-so-comfortable hypnos bed, so vast and sleep-inducing that any bride and groom may struggle to remember they acquired a spouse on waking in the morning.
After a walk around the tranquil lake and grounds, where we found some much needed shade, met a man fishing and spotted some beautiful horses, it was already cocktail hour, something to be relished at The Butterfly Bar, where their Apple Rose Gin is an especially quaffable summer tipple. Due to the evening temperature still remaining balmy, the hotel’s King & Lamb restaurant had wisely decided to set up tables on the terrace, a lovely way to experience this glorious estate during evening fall with the moon edging into the horizon and illuminating ‘Swan Lake’. The restaurant takes its name from the royal chef, Patrick Lamb, who was gifted the Stoke Park estate for his service (most famously the coronation feast of King James II) and thereon built the original part of the mansion as his family home.
You could liken the fine Pouilly-Fumé to a royal marriage made in heaven with my appealingly summery starter of crab; a rich pâté with toast enhanced by a soft shell fritter and slaw. In light of the restaurant’s name it’s probably not coincidental that lamb can often be found on the menu, and a very fine rack it was too, having been stuffed and served pink with melt-in-the-mouth lamb belly, a red pepper piperade, jus and dauphinoise potatoes with an unctuous topping of melted brie. My dessert of chocolate mousse was demolished in five seconds. Rich, yet incredibly light, it showcased marvellous technicality; a freestanding disc of mousse with an oozing coconut centre, resting on a fine chocolate sponge and finished with a chocolate spray paint to give an even finish. To refresh the palate, a zingy lime sorbet and candied lime zest made it paradise in a bite.
Breakfast, also served in the King & Lamb, was equally delectable, with a light continental buffet along with hot, cooked-to-order choices including a traditional full English, smoked kippers with poached eggs, eggs benedict and royale or French toast with maple syrup and bacon, my personal preference. If you long to enjoy this out on the terrace, your wish is the command of a delightful South African front of house team, ever ready with an amusing and informative anecdote about Stoke Place. Having stayed here prior to it being within The Cairn Collection portfolio, I can surely vouch for the positive changes that made me feel thoroughly spoilt from beginning to end.
Stoke Place, Stoke Green, Slough, SL2 4HT. For more information and reservations please visit the website.