Just one night at the Spread Eagle Hotel Midhurst felt like a really long stay – but in a good way.
I arrived there one Sunday afternoon, and by the time I left 24 hours later I’d had a 90 minute massage, swam, sauna’d, steamed and lounged in the spa, had dinner, slept, had breakfast, explored Midhurst, returned for lunch and in between times had squeezed in an awful lot of doing absolutely nothing at all, such as relaxing in comfy sofas reading books and playing Scrabble. By the time it came for me to leave it seemed as if I’d been there for a week.
I’d heard about the Spread Eagle through its sister hotels, Ockenden Manor and Bailiffscourt – owned, like the Spread Eagle, by Historic Sussex Hotels – both of which I’d reviewed for ALadyofLeisure.com and really liked.
Guests expecting something similar to either Ockenden Manor or Bailiffscourt might have to adjust their expectations however: the Spread Eagle is very much along the lines of a comfy old coaching inn rather than a smart spa hotel like Ockenden Manor, or set in acres of beautifully tranquil countryside like Bailiffscourt. Dining at the Spread Eagle isn’t a patch on the Michelin-starred restaurant at Ockenden, and the spa, while modern and pleasant, is smaller than either of its sister hotels.
However what you get at the Spread Eagle is a very relaxed, old world charm: the bar with its roaring fires is the perfect place to while away a rainy day or a wintery evening and our bedroom right at the top of the building complete with four poster bed, wonky floorboards and even its very own wig closet, really brought home we were staying in a 15th century inn (thankfully with a very smart 21st century bathroom).
My 90 minute Mediterranean float massage, coming straight after an hour battling London traffic, was so relaxing that I suspect I nodded off halfway through and started snoring (my excellent masseuse Andrea was far too polite to confirm this).
After coming back to life in the spa, which was very well equipped with towels, toiletries, lockers and a 16-metre pool, it was time for dinner.
The evening meal was probably the least successful part of the stay, mainly due to slow service – it took 20 minutes from sitting down to being given water, bread or the wine list, and then only after asking three times – a dark and drafty dining room (a distant door kept being left open) and rather hit-and-miss food.
The design of the menu itself was hardly designed to put you in mind of fine dining, being an extremely plain typed list of dishes, low on description but heavy on capital letters. We nearly missed the ‘jars and toasted soldiers’ section entirely but thankfully we gave them a try because they were rather interesting: we had one jamjar of whitebait with tartar sauce, and another of warm butternut squash puree with toasted almonds and parmesan, both of which were very nice even if the white toast it came with was tasteless and crumbly.
The starters of a casserole pot of mussels, prawns, squid and scallops with saffron and provencal vegetables baked under puff pastry were as delicious as we had hoped. However while the organic rib-eye steak was declared ‘excellent’, my grilled fillet of brill with crispy potato and smoked salmon cream was almost inedible: it was two-toned, half-glassy and solid in texture and had it not been warm I would have thought that it just hadn’t been cooked.
Thankfully there was enough steak to go round, and the meal ended on a high note with the desserts: red fruit sorbet with crisp tuille and dark chocolate mousse with Grand Marnier parfait. They looked great, tasted great and showed a sense of fun and occasion which would have been nice throughout the meal.
Breakfast the next morning was a vast improvement: efficiently run by the lady on duty, there was a good choice of cold dishes (and even a bottle of vodka next to the tomato juice for those wishing to spice it up a bit) and the cooked breakfasts were quick and hot.
The central location of the hotel – it is right in in the middle of Midhurst, which has many beautiful old buildings aside from the Spread Eagle – made it a perfect base for a morning’s explore round town, and as we headed out groups of friends were already gathering in the bar for mid-morning coffees and meetings which gave it a very pleasant and bustly air.
We thawed out back at the bar at lunchtime over some lovely hot chocolate and Scrabble before finally and reluctantly bidding farewell to the Spread Hotel and its very friendly staff, one of whom took us on an impromptu tour of the rest of the hotel. The Spread Eagle isn’t as grand as the other hotels in its family but it is definitely still a treat.