Having fallen in love with the legendary Sharrow Bay Hotel in the Lake District earlier this year, I was keen to visit their sister hotel, Ston Easton Park, within easy reach of Bristol, Bath and Wells. Set in 36 acres of parkland, guests are offered an English country house break akin to stepping onto the film set of Gosford Park and the charmingly weathered façade of the Grade I-listed Palladian mansion makes a welcome sight when illuminated on a cold winter’s night.
One of the great houses of the county, Ston Easton Park was once owned by the eminent journalist and Times editor, William Rees-Mogg, before being converted into a hotel in the 1980s, and thankfully it remains unspoilt by state-of-the-art spa blocks, championship golf courses or chef’s tables and successfully maintains the traditions without any superfluous additions. Think mahogany furniture, marble fireplaces, ticking grandfather clocks and creaking wooden staircases – there is even a resident Cocker Spaniel called Oscar. A hotel positively bursting with character and Georgian grandeur (albeit slightly faded), the small but attentive team of staff do full justice to the experience and treat you not as a guest but as though you were the owner.
A feeling further emphasised when opting for one of the four State Rooms, the largest suites in the house and located on the first floor, either overlooking the ancient parkland and the cascading River Norr or the immaculate croquet lawn and village of Ston Easton, whilst boasting high ceilings, original four-poster Chippendale beds, antique furniture and spacious seating areas. Beauty treatments are available in-room, just as they should be, and can be arranged in advance.
One of the other benefits of the property being Grade I listed is that the room proportions remain true to a Georgian nobleman’s expectations of accommodation, and therefore you get a lot of bang for your buck. Although there are just 22 rooms in the main house, making it essentially a ’boutique’ hotel, the scale of each room is seriously impressive, and a far cry from what purpose built establishments can offer. Alternatively, those inspired by Lady Chatterley’s Lover might fancy staying in the idyllic 17th Century gardener’s cottage.
As there is no official ‘Bar’, I was delighted to find pre-dinner drinks served in the comfortable Saloon from a wonderfully old-fashioned mahogany drinks trolley, and coupled with an elaborate central floral display, a roaring fire and Romanesque murals, I wondered why this hotel is only ranked as a four-star – I can’t imagine it’s for any other reason than the lack of a Spa.
After enjoying an aperitif, we were ushered into the candlelit oak-pannelled Sorrel Restaurant, which, formal without being stuffy, offers a choice of classic dishes alongside a regularly changing gourmet five course tasting menu. Head chef, Daniel Moon, who joined Ston Easton Park in 2012, is obviously confident in creating fine dining dishes whilst surprising guests by combining bold, international flavours with seasonal ingredients and highlighting the fact that most of the fresh produce comes straight from the hotel’s Victorian kitchen gardens, from organic fruit and vegetables to herbs and edible flowers.
A starter of perfectly seared scallops was complemented with a rich and creamy Parmesan risotto and finished with a drizzle of curry oil, whilst an Asian-inspired main course featured melt-in-the-mouth and crispy skinned duck breast accompanied by a duck spring roll and a sticky jus tying each element together; a medley of tastes and textures, with the all important seasoning spot-on throughout.
Whilst many hotel dining experiences have left me cold in the past, and make me return out of convenience rather than any sense of culinary anticipation, Moon’s food really enhances a stay at Ston Easton. Bathothians may not be short of a good restaurant, but it’s easy to see why they would be persuaded to venture out of the city in order to sample his contemporary cooking amidst a relaxed, yet suitably grand setting. As for guests staying the weekend, dinner here is an unmissable experience during an otherwise memorable break.
Ston Easton Park, near Bath, Somerset, BA3 4DF. For more information and reservations visit the website.