Hambleton Hall is historic, glamorous and indulgent and we spent two nights of unadulterated luxury here at the beginning of April. Its location is stunning with dramatic views of Rutland Water which is a skimming stone’s throw away.
The Hall was built in 1881 as a hunting box by Walter Marshall. Marshall’s fortune made in the brewery business and he settled in Rutland to enjoy the fox-hunting. Above the main entrance, as you see here, “Fay Ce Que Voudras” or “Do As You Please” is carved into the stone arch and it hails back to ‘The Hell Fire Club’ in the previous century. On a sundial you’ll also find the inscription “Nunc Hora Bibendi” “now is the time for a drink”. How apt then that this is now a hotel which welcomes exactly that. Good old-fashioned luxury, open fires crackling at every turn, sumptuous feather stuffed sofas, a holiday and hideaway in equal measure.
My appreciation for afternoons in a drawing-room, reading a novel with a particularly fine glass of chilled white wine has overtaken any prior need or want for a spa or modernist chic. Damn you Hambleton Hall!
Service is second to none, personal, not fussy and with an incredible amount of attention to detail. Our room was the Cherry Room and was beautiful, no pillow menu because none needed, everything in this room oozed quality.
From the furnishings to the fluffy bathroom towels, no expense spared anywhere in this hotel. Penhaligons toiletries in the bathroom, Nina Campbell patterned wall covering and curtains, monogrammed bed linen, padded coat hangers and little things like a waterproof walking map and emergency flapjacks! The room had a tin of love heart shortcake biscuits dusted in caster sugar which, once discovered lasted all of two bites. Each time we came back into the room Mr ran to the cookie tin to see if the baking fairy had replaced the ones we’d gobbled. There was also a flat screen television and Blu-ray DVD player.
The hotel is perfectly placed for walking, around the stunning ornamental garden, the village, or further around the peninsula. We couldn’t have picked a better time to visit, spring flowers, a carpet of bluebells, plenty of birds to spot and lambs high kicking in the fields. You can swap your wellies for waders too as Rutland is a mecca for anglers making the most of the pike and trout.
Afternoon coffee in the room to escape the rain after a long walk in the woods was another enjoyable experience. A large tray arrived within minutes of a phone call order and it contained a large cafetière of Monmouth coffee, served on warm fine bone china with warmed milk and home-made biscuits. It was great to see a storm gather outside the window as we tucked into our afternoon treat. That evening, we drove to the nearby The Olive Branch in Clipsham, a Michelin starred pub, for an early supper.
The hotel gave us our own front door key but we had a relatively early night so didn’t need it. The next morning, we called down to the kitchen with our breakfast order and it is probably one of the best I’ve ever eaten, Mr and me were King and Queen of The Cherry Room, certainly for the morning, as we sat in bed with our breakfast trays full of treats. The full English consisted of decent pork sausages, a properly cooked tomato that hadn’t been flash-grilled, one that collapsed like a water-poor sandcastle, full of flavour. The bacon smoked, lean and thickly cut and the mushrooms divine. The fried eggs were perfectly round and the yolks golden, clearly a delivery from the happy hens. The coffee from Monmouth had a deeply toasted caramel flavour and really hit the spot. The orange juice was freshly squeezed and we were given a basket containing warm bread and pastries from The Hambleton Bakery.
There’s also a swimming pool for the summer months and a tennis court and croquet lawn.
Hambleton is popular with non-guests and with a destination like this on your doorstep it would be rude not to. The formal gardens rival some of the best the RHS have on offer and sitting on the terrace taking in the sights and scents of the well planted beds is a great way to meet friends and take in afternoon tea. If the weather’s bad they have feather-plumped sofas where you sink like an anchor and you can enjoy the amazing floral displays inside, magnificent parrot tulips and trumpet lilies were bursting out of huge ginger jars on our visit.
The owner Tim Hart is delightful and meets us before we take dinner in the restaurant. We talk about the hotel and the bakery and we discuss the decor. He says his wife is the interior decorator here and she heads up Hambleton Decorating.
Graeme Matheson is the Restaurant Director and a nicer Scotsman you couldn’t wish to meet. The Sommelier is Dominique Baduel and is charming. I don’t get to meet the Head Chef and Director Aaron Patterson, but I wholly recommend the fruits of his kitchen labour. He’s held his Michelin star since 1982 and when you try the dishes you can see why.
We begin with canapes, beetroot macaroons sandwiched with goats cheese were not only beautiful to look but were a series of taste sensations. Initially, the crunch from the perfectly baked macaroon, then as you took a bite a marshmallow-like softness and then the divine sweetness of the beetroot and as if you needed an encore a hit of cheesy cream. Parmesan tree crisps were too beautiful to eat but of course we did. The fish goujon were crunchy with a dense white fish middle and served with a well-seasoned tartare.
We moved into the dining room and it was surprisingly less formal than I had imagined. There were a few hotel guests but mostly non-residents filled the tables and there was a lovely crackle of chatter. The wine list is vast and features some fine producers from a range of countries. We let the sommelier choose our wines and we weren’t disappointed.
To begin we had the Rolly Gassman Gewurtztraminer 2009 which was delicious and had hints of rose and violets on the nose and apricots in the mouth.
Next up the Domaine Landrat-Guyollot Pouilly-Fume La Rambarde, 2009, 100% Sauvignon blanc. Grapefruit, lemon, lively, loved it.
The Eric Texier Cotes du Rhone-Brezeme 2008 is deep garnet in colour with a big boy bouquet of ripe and spicy fruit.
Then Mr had the Au Bon Climant a Californian producer of Pinot Noir and this really was pure essence of the grape – beautifully balanced and fragrant with lots of fruit, no excess tannin, acid, sugar or alcohol.
I also loved that Dominique went to the trouble of steaming off a bottle label for another diner who loved their wine so much. He returned with it stuck to a piece of paper
We were given an appetiser of beetroot panacotta with horseradish. As you can see from the photograph it sat with creamed pistachio and sprinkled with sunflower seeds along with a stick of that gorgeous beetroot meringue. Sweet, sharp, crunch, crumble, and finally a kick in the back of the throat from the horseradish, everything was going on in this little dish and was a delightful start.
The menu for Sunday night composed of two set menus, a tasting menu for an entire party and a la carte. We went a la carte and Mr chose ‘Assiette of Spring’ (£21.00) with a poached egg and morel mushrooms. It’s really hard to put into words how delicious the individual flavours of the ingredients in the dish. I think the pictures do it more justice than my description but what a plate of food, the earthiness of the morel, the crunch of the radish crisps, the runny, creamy egg yolk, the perfectly cooked broccoli, and the asparagus which reminds us all that Spring has definitely arrived. This all topped off with a saffron hollandaise which was heaven.
My pan-fried foie gras with caramelised endive, walnuts and orange was divine. Foie gras is one of my favourite dishes and it was perfect. Peeled grapes, candied walnuts, artichoke crisps, the taste of orange poached foie gras. Nothing fought, they all worked perfectly.
For the main course Mr chose assiette of rabbit with quinoa and liquorice flavoured sauce (£35.00). Just look at the details in the pictures. Each cut of the rabbit in a different way, the neck, shoulder and loin and the leg, stuffed with onions.
My sirloin of Hambleton beef with potato puree, bone marrow and a red wine sauce (£38.00) was the naughtiest plate of food I’ve had for a long time. The salty bone marrow rolled into a ball and deep-fried and looked like a giant herbed malteser and something that should be in an exhibition sitting on top of its bone marrow stand . The Romesco, cabbage, bacon and caramelised spring onion all worked so well and oh if I could only get my potato to taste like that! No seasoning needed at all. The béarnaise sauce was again another treat worthy of note and any regular cook would weep at the results.
We took a selection of cheeses from the groaning double-decker cheese trolley (£13.75) with a glass of 1992 Dow Quinta Do Bomfin port (£9.50).
Lincolnshire Poacher (tastes a lot like West Country Cheddar); my favourite the oozy and equally smelly Reblochon; Tunworth from Hampshire which is sweet and nutty with mushroom notes; Cote Hill, the only soft cheese made in Lincolnshire;Tete a Moins a semi-hard cheese pared with a blade held at right angles to the surface and using the same method as employed by the monks of the Bellelay Abbey; Cherwell Goats, the specialist East Sussex Golden Cross goats and a French Chaource. These served with a choice of crackers and a basket of fruit and nut bread. I really, really wanted a dessert, some take up to 25 minutes to prepare, and I had my eye on the lasagne of rhubarb with an elderflower Panna cotta (£15.50) but I just couldn’t manage it.
We took coffee in the dining room and petit fours arrived with a “Happy Birthday” message. I mentioned when I booked that it was Mr’s birthday and the hotel staff had taken the trouble to write him a birthday card as well.
We retired for another restful night’s sleep and woke to see fires being lit and the smell of freshly brewed coffee.
We returned to the dining room for breakfast and found plenty of choice. Lots of delicious bread, the home-made Hambleton muesli, a gigantic bowl of freshly prepared fruit, yogurt and a menu of cooked food. I had the fried breakfast.
All food, drink and other restaurant items are subject to a discretionary service charge of 12.5%. If your budget can’t stretch to an overnight stay or the a la carte menu the hotel offers set menus £38.50, £47.50 or the tasting menu £67.00. There’s even ‘lunch for less’ available Monday to Saturday excluding bank holidays and you can grab two courses for £22.00 with an extra course for £5.25.
You know you’re on to a good thing when two days feels like a week and you just don’t want to leave I cannot think of many better ways to spend a weekend. Bed and Breakfast for The Cherry Room £265. We stayed one night courtesy of Tim Hart and Hambleton Hall.
Will we be back? Absolutely. Without question. That kind of hospitality is worth every single penny and a better hiding-hole will take some beating.
Hambleton Hall is a proud member of the Relais & Châteaux Group and they are one of 500 unique properties in 60 countries, clearly a benchmark for excellence.
01572 756 991