Ms Rotterdam in the Norwegian fjords.
Restaurant hotels - we review the new trend
The stunning lobby at The Vineyard
After you’ve ingested a fairly long, exquisite meal, complete with great wine, a scattering of cheese and a coffee to steady your mind, the prospect of heading out into the cold for a long journey home is an unpleasant one. So hurrah for the development of ‘restaurant hotels’; establishments that started off as brilliant places to eat and have subsequently also turned into destinations to stay.
It’s by no means a new idea, but has become a lot more popular in recent years. With a trip to the two-Michelin star Hand and Flowers in the pipeline (it has beautiful, masterfully decorated rooms), I decided to try out one of the first pioneers of the movement, The Vineyard, located in Newbury, Berkshire.
Far from being a ye olde coaching inn (which is what I expected), The Vineyard is a magnificent pile just off the M4, and has had a new lobby feature installed, a magnificent corridor lined with 3,000 wine bottle which will have any oenophile swooning. As you walk through the doors, the elegant fireplace to the right and the soothing spread of metallic grey sofas will be lost on you, because there it is, hogging all the attention. The wine is set within a glass-panelled wall, and as you look down, the glass floor revealing a seven-foot drop. And more wine.
Behind the corridor is an wonderful mural by Gary Myatt (and this praise doesn’t come lightly as most hotel murals have me wondering: "Why, God, why?") entitled ‘Judgement of Paris’, depicting the pivotal moment in wine appraisal, not the story from the Trojan war. The hotel is owned by Sir Peter Michael, who has his own vineyards in California. The scene in the mural relates to events in 1976, when the world was convinced that only French wine could be considered the best; a businessman named Steven Spurrier conducted a blind wine tasting with a group of leading wine experts, and the Californian wines came out on top.
A spa treatment room
Wine is a theme that runs throughout the hotel: we were greeted by very welcoming staff, who asked us if we’d like a glass of wine in the room, and as we walked down the long corridor to get there, we saw bottles on display in various nooks. Even the suites are named after places in California and the spa's body polish treatment I tried uses grape in the main ingredients.
Our purpose at The Vineyard was to try the tasting menu with accompanying wines - whites and reds - from all over the world. After a dip in the spa’s round swimming pool, I headed back to the room, which was elegantly kitted out in neutral colours, and had huge, fluffy robes that swamped me. The bathroom offered neatly displayed Ren products (Espa is used in the spa) and, in keeping with all Relais & Chateaux hotels, was immaculately clean. A word of advice – the patio door faces the golf course, so in the morning make sure you aren’t prancing around nude when you open the curtains.
Downstairs, the dining room is formal, great for a special occasion such as an anniversary dinner or a proposal. A smartly attired man tinkled away on a piano, and refreshingly, instead of the usual non-descript piano music dirge, the familiar strains of the Beach Boys’ Wouldn’t It Be Nice made us laugh. One champagne and a Perfect Manhattan later, we were seated at our table and being attended to by the lovely Monika, who meticulously explained each dish.
We tried the £75 tasting menu, which was good value as you can choose any five dishes from the starters, mains and desserts, and then choose what price range you want your wine accompaniments to be in, starting from £7 per glass.
Dishes are small and perfectly presented; The dishes are small and beautifully presented. My pheasant terrine came with several dainty cubes of jelly and was cooked perfectly. It was followed by a delicate and was cooked perfectly, followed by a delicate slice of duck foie gras and brioche. Diver-caught scallops were juicy and just so when accompanied by the tiniest florets of cauliflower, while my main of partridge was pitch perfect with delicate curls of pancetta and black cabbage. Rosemary bread was fresh and crunchy, the butter slid on and tasted just the way it should; creamy and slightly salty.
Our sommelier explained every glass and why it was chosen. Each glass was a delight but highlights included a very nice Soave from Italy and a Chilean red with a delicious smoky aftertaste that accompanied the partridge.
After the cheeseboard, which included a gloriously soft camembert, any commute longer than a walk up the stairs would have been impossible. Sinking into a soft bed after such an epic meal marked the conclusion of a very enjoyable evening. If all restaurant hotels cosset their guests this way, you can be sure I’ll make a point of trying them all.
The Vineyard has just launched their 'Grape Escape' packages, which incudes blind wine tasting menu, spa treatments, two nights accommodation and a tour of an English vineyard. Prices start from £1,190.
Alternatively, rates at The Vineyard are available from £199 per room per night on a B&B basis. To book, call 01635 528 770 or visit www.the-vineyard.co.uk.