Phil's Travels - Somewhere Impeccable, England (02.17)
Phil's Travels - Somewhere Impeccable, England (02.17)
Recently The Sunday Times claimed that this place "is done with impeccable taste and tastes impeccable". My lovely wife and I have always wanted to experience this place and finally after several decades of being together I took the plunge and booked for one night and dinner. Just to be sure, I had booked some 10 months ago. The reservationist was very helpful and friendly, and set the tone for the entire experience to come.
We caught a late morning train and a cab to the place, and arrived around 14.00. Our room was not quite ready, so we adjourned to the lounge for hot drinks and possibly the world's most expensive, but truly delicious, macaroni and cheese. Post a few emails and our refreshments, our overnight accommodation was ready and we were escorted to our room, or should I say, our suite, to which we had been very generously upgraded. The suite, named Opium, was packed full of eclectic Asian exotica and overlooked a private courtyard garden with pond. Our receptionist escort gave us a quick tour of the premises, accepted all our queries in the very best of graces and made a great job of handling our issues. Impeccable indeed.
In fact, every single member of staff was universally amazing, friendly and so helpful. Nothing was too much trouble. So much so that the wine waiters were all over me when I mentioned my addiction and between courses they even took me by the hand through the kitchens (where I said "Bonsoir" to the chefs) to their trophy room, the cellar. I left that evening with a whole bunch of empties for me to take home, including a couple from said trophy room. Even the cheesy cheese-man was charming in his peculiar way.
Having settled in and spread out inside our Asian habitat, we decided to make the most of the remaining daylight with a walk around the grounds. And what grounds! Even in the depths of winter, the gardens were a special place. The vegetable garden, orchard, mushroom valley and ponds must be utterly stunning and a riot of colour in the spring and summer. The car park was equally remarkable for the vehicles parked therein. It took me a while to figure out why the venue encourages its guests to walk around the grounds, but I think I have the answer. The place was surrounded by a murder of crows, all cawing and flapping around the estate's perimeter, and obviously desperate to raid the gardens, but too afraid to do so with all the mobile freebie scarecrows wandering around. Very clever.
The murder was especially thick over the medieval church next door, so we just had to borrow the keys from reception and to pay a respectful visit to this highly atmospheric and moody site. My lovely wife was not too keen on entry to the church, but I had a quick look around inside and left a note in the visitors' book (if you go, look out for the note from someone from Paddington), the first person in a month to bravely do so (clearly not a popular attraction in the area).
Our dinner was sublime. High quality food and faultless service. The sommelier persuaded me to take a journey of discovery (which is like a red flag to a vinous bull) and on his strong recommendation we ordered a wine from the Jura (made from a rare grape variety) called Plou Plou (with a name and heritage like that, I could not resist). Plou Plou has a distinctive palette and is light in colour (a little like a Gamay-based wine), but with good length. It was particularly delicious when paired with its local cheese, a very mature Comté reserve.
If the staff were genuinely impeccable, our room was a little less so. The bed was super comfortable and the quilt one of the best ever, but the bed was on a slight platform that stuck out around the bed, resulting in several stubbed toes and a few choice words. The wardrobe was large and had everything in it, but the doors were a Chinese puzzle and could not be opened unless done so in a very specific sequence. The bathroom was huge, with all the trimmings you could possibly imagine, but the motion sensitive fan was louder than my Croatian Airlines jet from Zagreb. The key hole under the knob on our suite door was so close to the knob that getting the key in place after imbibing a good amount of Plou Plou was something of a challenge.
Despite all the food and Plou Plou the night before, we managed to make breakfast and I ordered Eggs Benedict to truly benchmark the impeccable-ness of this beautiful place. If the Benedict Index is a true measure of quality, unfortunately the place failed to make the cut. This world-famous kitchen made the cardinal sin of hard-poaching the egg! That said, my lovely wife's egg was perfectly cooked and she even offered to exchange it with mine, but it is simply not the done thing to stop the Benedict analysis in mid-flow. Final score for my plate: only 3 (tough muffin, ok bacon, very poor egg, zingless Hollandaise); which is only a little higher than the Ritz Hotel London I rated some years ago. Perhaps there is an inverse relationship with my Benedict Index, wherein the more luxurious the venue the lower the Benedict score.
Checkout was easy and our taxi was ready and waiting dead on time. We could not leave without buying a small teddy souvenir and drove down the drive with a longing look back. So, the big question. Is it truly "done with impeccable taste and tastes impeccable"? Impeccable is a loaded word, full of perfection and faultlessness, and this place is probably as close as you can get to such an experience. It is therefore highly recommended, if only for once in one's lifetime, but still ever so slightly 'peccable'.