Category Archives: Restaurants and hotel restaurants with Michelin stars

Whatley Manor review: a Cotswolds gem revisited (with added oxygen)

There is always a worry when it comes to revisiting a hotel which you totally adored on the first visit – what if it’s not going to be as good as you remembered it? I know people who won’t go to the same place twice for that very reason, and others who, having found the perfect place, refuse to go anywhere else.

Thankfully Cotwolds luxury hotel Whatley Manor was every bit as good as I remembered it to be from my first visit. Whatley Manor is certainly not a budget option, but there are few hotels who can offer a luxury spa, private cinema, Michelin-starred restaurant and acres of beautiful gardens, which means a stay here is more than worth it.

Whatley Manor review
The entrance to Whatley Manor is in a beautiful courtyard

The drive into the courtyard at Whatley Manor sets the scene for a memorable stay; the large wooden gates sweep open for you as you approach, as if welcoming you in to a secret world. This time I even looked the part, as Vauxhall had kindly lent me a brand new Astra for my jaunt (more details below) which looked much smarter than my bright yellow Fiat.

Staff miraculously appeared out of nowhere to welcome us, take our bags and valet-park our car, and a very indulgent stay had begun.  General manager Sue Williams has now been at Whatley Manor for just over a year, having previously run the equally grand Cliveden House hotel, and has thankfully resisted any drastic obvious changes (although much work has been going on behind the scenes).

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Touches such as bright yellow wellies and beautiful artwork makes Whatley Manor a lovely place to visit

There is still a lovely country house feel to the hotel, with its stone floors, mullioned windows, sprawling grounds and little touches here and there, from chess boards set up ready to play, wellies to borrow and cosy sofas dotted all around.

Built in the 19th century, Whatley Manor became a hotel in 1987 and is now owned by hotelier and keen equestrian Christian Landolt, but still has the feeling of a grand home – although the private cinema and a high-end spa make it a cut above your usual manor house. Continue reading Whatley Manor review: a Cotswolds gem revisited (with added oxygen)

A treat for the mind and the body, Whatley Manor is one of the best hotels in the Cotswolds

Just when you think you’ve stayed in the best hotels in the Cotswolds, along comes Whatley Manor and tops the lot. From the moment the gates opened to reveal a beautiful cobbled courtyard, the entrance garlanded by wisteria and lavender, through to the spa, private cinema, a Michelin-starred restaurant and superb gardens, Whatley Manor didn’t disappoint in any way.

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Whatley Manor is surrounded by 12 acres of land

Our suite, overlooking the lush garden terrace at the back of the hotel, was immaculate and managed to walk the line between modern luxury and classical English charm. There was ample storage space, a very smart bathroom, a good-sized bedroom and a contemporary-design lounge with vast sofa. Continue reading A treat for the mind and the body, Whatley Manor is one of the best hotels in the Cotswolds

Hampton Manor: top-class food and a step back in time

It might be just a few miles from the M42 and Birmingham Airport but Hampton Manor feels a hundred years from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Within a couple of hours of arriving at the 19th century gothic building – built by Sir Frederick Peel, son of Prime Minster and police force founder Robert Peel – I  had unpacked, explored the hotel and some of its 45 acres of parkland, found the gate leading to the pretty parish church, walked around the village of Hampton and was sitting in the traditional White Lion pub with half a pint of local ale. It all felt very relaxing.

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Hampton Manor is set in 45 acres of parkland – ideal for a country walk
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The traditional village of Hampton-in-Arden, just a short walk away

When I finally headed back to our room – the spacious De Mountford room with a very smart bathroom, including a walk-in shower with a fixed wave-like shower curtain – I felt as if I’d been away for a week.

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Our smart bedroom, which was kitted out with a massive flat-screen TV, Bose radio, kettle, homemade cookies. It also had a large bathroom with separate bath and walk-in shower

Continue reading Hampton Manor: top-class food and a step back in time

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal review: food for thought

Turning up to lunch at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal with a copy of the menu from The Fat Duck at Bray (also by Heston Blumenthal, where my dining companion Simon had eaten just the week before) is some serious fanboy behaviour. It is also guaranteed to provoke comparison between the two, which could have been an unfair contest.

Now I haven’t yet been to The Fat Duck, but judging by Simon’s description and Exhibit A – said menu – it sounded like a magical journey into another world, where Alice in Wonderland meets your very own childhood memories and you lose touch with reality for the day. Whereas Dinner, after all, is just a restaurant.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal review
Not your average menu…

Thankfully, Heston is more than capable of standing up to the competition, even when it is himself. Thus while Dinner, Heston’s restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in London’s Knightsbridge, could have looked terribly prosaic for having a menu with – yawn – starters, mains and desserts listed on it (while The Fat Duck had a map, and a reverse timeline, and illustrations, and needed a magnifying glass in parts) the dishes listed on it are so far from ordinary that you can forget about the other place down the M4 altogether. Continue reading Dinner by Heston Blumenthal review: food for thought

Hambleton Hall, Rutland: warm, welcoming and wonderful food

Some hotels just get it completely right – and Hambleton Hall is one of them. From the traditional and immaculate bedroom, to the excellent food, lovely gardens, cosy bar and superb attention to detail, I can’t think of a single negative comment to make about my recent stay. Except that it’s not just round the corner from where I live – but I can hardly blame Hambleton Hall for that.

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Hambleton Hall is surrounded by Rutland Water and its grounds go right down the shore

If this all sounds too gushing, then I defy anyone to not come away from a night’s stay without feeling incredibly content.

Part of Hambleton Hall’s charm must come from the fact that it is rather small compared to some other country house hotels, with just 15 bedrooms in the main house, so it all feels rather luxurious and exclusive.  There is still ample room for you to find a little corner all to yourself, either in the downstairs living room, bar and reception area – all beautifully furnished – or in the gardens where little seats and tables are dotted around to make your own.

Hambleton Hall Rutland
Hambleton Hall has beautiful formal gardens, beyond which is an open-air swimming pool and a field you wander across to get to the lake

Continue reading Hambleton Hall, Rutland: warm, welcoming and wonderful food

A stay at St James’s hotel and club in London: Michelin star in Mayfair hotel

St James’s Hotel in London might be five-star luxury but thankfully it has none of the formal starchiness you might expect from a super-posh hotel. The staff are so cheerful and relaxed that I found myself having all sorts of random conversations with bartenders, doormen and managers during my stay, which made the hotel feel more like a very friendly club.

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My rather plush suite at the St James’s Hotel in Piccadilly
St James's Hotel
St James’s Hotel in London’s Piccadilly

[Note: this review was first published in 2015 so some of the details might be out of date]

However there’s no disguising that St James’s is a luxury hotel in one of the most expensive areas in London. While London is hardly famed for its cheap hotel rooms, the £1,600 price tag of my suite managed to top my previous record, the £1,500-a-night Prince of Wales suite at iconic country house hotel Cliveden. However the 300-year old Cliveden comes with 376 acres of Grade I-listed formal gardens, a maze, a spa and two swimming pools (including the famous outdoor pooll), while St James’s, well, doesn’t.

But if you want to stay in a luxury five-star hotel in the heart of London, one of the closest hotels to Buckingham Palace, then you do have to pay a premium. Tucked away at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac off St James’s Street, the 60-room hotel does have cheaper rooms, with prices starting at £300 a night. Continue reading A stay at St James’s hotel and club in London: Michelin star in Mayfair hotel

Luckham Park luxury hotel near Bath: my very own Palladian mansion for a night

It isn’t every day I stay in a 17th century Palladian mansion but after just a few hours at the Luckham Park luxury hotel near Bath I was walking around as if I had lived there for years.

I would grandly descend the staircase from my room – no, make that my set of rooms –  and then sweep out of the front door of this five-star hotel and spa as if I owned the place. It was especially fun to sweep  out of the front door, because directly ahead was a fabulous mile-long drive lined with 400 lime and beech trees.

Luckham Park luxury hotel near Bath
Lucknam Park luxury hotel near Bath – my country home for a night

‘This is my driveway,’ I would tell myself as I rounded the corner to the view, and then reverse to do it again. ‘I have a mile-long tree-lined driveway leading right up to my front door.’

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The view from the front door of Lucknam Park’s mile-long driveway

There more to this five-star hotel and spa than just the drive of course: it is a hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant after all, but the drive really set the scene for a luxurious country house hotel stay. I later discovered that the trees, which were planted in 1827, played their part in British history, their sweeping branches having been the perfect camouflage under which to park the Spitfire and Hurricane planes from the nearby aerodrome during the Second World War. Continue reading Luckham Park luxury hotel near Bath: my very own Palladian mansion for a night