Laid-back luxury is the order of the day at the superlative Hurley House Hotel in Berkshire, says Jessica Jonzen. She checks in to discover all that this local bolthole has to offer, from the sublime menus to the elegant yet cosy décor
When you have small children, a night away takes on almost mythical status. It’ll be a break from the bath – story – bed – back out of bed – my toe hurts – how was the world made? routine. A night of great food and scintillating conversation with my husband. The chance to wear a nice top without having yoghurt wiped all over it.
But sometimes the reality of getting away from it all can be a bit too much like hard work. Once the initial euphoria of being temporarily child-free wears off five miles down the road, you realise you have approximately 14 hours, most of which you’ll be sleeping through, before the slightly passive-aggressive text messages start, checking when you’ll be back. You don’t want to waste any time stuck in a jam on the A38.
When my husband and I went to stay at Hurley House Hotel, the car had barely warmed up as we pulled in to the car park. Less time on the road, more time relaxing – win-win.
After a £6 million renovation by its Syrian-born owner, Bassam Shlewet (who sold his TTT Moneycorp Group to RBS), the former Red Lyon pub between Henley and Maidenhead is a sight to behold. Smartly painted and bedecked with neatly clipped topiary, you can see that Hurley House is a refined offering before you even step inside. Flagstone floors, a roaring fire in the inglenook fireplace and a smart, well-stocked bar beseech you to wind down with a glass of something cold.
Our room – the elegant Room 1 (there are 10) has a private patio garden and the bathroom, with its underfloor heating, roll-top bath and powerful shower is stocked with Floris goodies. All rooms come with king-size beds and Hypnos mattresses, topped with monogrammed 1,000-thread count cotton linen, espresso machines and minibars. Fancy a massage? The Treatment Room offers a tantalising range of treatments and packages.
Every detail at Hurley House is considered, from the handsome tan leather wingback chairs in the bar to the smart light fittings and the fine vintages in the wine cellar. It has the look of a gentleman’s club, but with none of the stuffiness. I enquired as to who the interior designer was and was told that Mr Shlewet chose ‘everything’. He is clearly a man with good taste.
This extends to the food, where Head Chef Michael Chapman demonstrates that Hurley House has substance as well as style. Formerly of the Royal Oak Paley Street, Chapman has worked with Marcus Wareing at Pétrus and held a Michelin star, and is evidently out to get another.
His inventive menu is playful and provocative, so much so that we ordered three of the five starters. We simply had to try the monkfish, the smoked salmon with homemade crumpet and Granny Smith apple, and the duck liver parfait with brioche and rhubarb chutney. All three dishes were sublime. Frankly, we would have liked to try the other two.
Main courses of Scottish halibut and Aylesbury duck were expertly cooked, but it was the puddings that really marked the meal out as special. We decided on the Blood Orange Bavarois, which came with honeycomb and chocolate ice cream, and the Sugar Meyer Lemon, with iced coconut parfait, lemon sponge and lemon sherbet. We agreed that it would be worth travelling for hours to stay – and eat – at a place like this.
After a nightcap and a restful night’s sleep, the text messages enquiring of our whereabouts began. My husband had had the foresight to bring his bike so he could extend his minibreak. I decided to linger with the paper and a fresh fruit salad for breakfast (even I couldn’t manage the cooked breakfast after the excesses of the night before). After all, I didn’t have far to go.
Rooms at Hurley House Hotel start at £180 per night; hurleyhouse.co.uk
Images: Mark Bolton Photography