They say you should never meet your heroes or try to recreate a great memory. One of my best memories of 2008 was a visit to Pennyhill Park, where I was taken as a surprise birthday present by my girlfriend. I recall the entire experience as being out of this world and to be honest, very little since has matched up to it. So it was understandably with some trepidation that I repaid them a visit. However, I had nothing to fear, for my recent stay proved to be every bit as relaxing, luxurious and full of culinary excellence as I remember.
The original residence on Pennyhill’s 123 acre grounds was built in 1851. However, it was in 1982 that it was converted into its current guise as a 123 bedroom country house hotel. Many of the original Victorian and Edwardian characteristics have been retained, but the conversation has also lead to a few tasty additions. With a 9 hole golf course, tennis court, fishing lake, a well equipped gym and a host of delicious dining options, the hotel has got something to suit every mood and occasion.
The Five-Star hotel also has what is widely regarded as the finest spa in the UK. Their range of treatments includes everything from Aboriginal Kodo massages (highly recommended) and beauty therapies to mud baths. If you don’t fancy any of that, they also have more free facilities than you could use in a lifetime. How does eight swimming pools and the most advanced thermal sequencing experience sound, including herbal saunas, aromatic laconium, tepidarium, ice cave and schnapps steam room sound? I don’t even know what most of it means, but I walked out so relaxed that my girlfriend had to check for a pulse.
Head on to one of their individually styled rooms where you will find yourself surrounded by the epitome of traditional British opulence, with touches of restrained luxury throughout. Whether you are staying in one of their apartment-like suites or ‘slumming it’ in their guest rooms, the high standards remain the same. Big comfortable beds, classic antique furniture, spacious bathrooms with heated floors and of course the obligatory flat screen television with DVD player adorn every room.
Rooms start at around £250, but this also includes free entry into the spa for the time that you are there. On both occasions that I’ve visited, I’ve actually ended up using the facilities until early evening on the day of checkout, so you really do get decent value for your money. If you are flexible with your days, they also have some fantastic weekday deals which could well make it worth taking a day off from work.
The Latymer Restaurant
One of the biggest jewels in Pennyhill’s impressive crown is The Latymer, a fine dining restaurant which has recently been awarded a Michelin Star. In contrast to many similarly positioned restaurants, The Latymer is a genuinely pleasant and relaxed place to dine. The outdoor area overlooks the lush golf course and is a perfect place to start with an aperitif whilst perusing the menu. Head into the main restaurant and you will be met by a smart drawing room style area with cosy armchairs and oversized tables. Dress code appears to be easy going too, with not a stuffy suit in sight; this is also reflected in the lively mood of the guests and a generally upbeat atmosphere.
However, the food and drink are a more serious affair. Head chef Michael Wignall’s modern European cooking is complex and carefully crafted without being intimidating. After all of five seconds of deliberation, Miss Pancake and I decided on the 10 course tasting menu. Quite frankly, the entire meal bordered on good to brilliant and was great fun too. Highlights included Marinated fois gras, caramelised pear & caviar, camomile espuma and a sour dough crisp; a delicate dish of Poached langoustines, Moroccan smoked lobster, scallop and white asparagus velouté; and a clever Salt cod boudin, poached quail egg, asparagus, almond and olives. Delicious desserts included Earl grey panna cotta, shortbread, blackcurrant jelly & Earl grey ice cream and the wonderfully exotic Alphonso mango, strawberries, longan fruit with lemon cream.
Not to be outdone, Sommelier Davide Vaccarini also brought his A-game along, with some stunning pairings. Fois gras was cleverly matched by a sweet Giardini Arimei, Muratoril; the deep honeyed flavours of the Gewürztraminer Late Harvest perfectly complemented the Mango dessert; and best of all was the Lealtanza Club Reserva, Rioja – a very limited production wine which was deep, fruity and complex whilst remaining light and easy enough to drink a lot of.
Just when we though the meal had ended, we were presented with a weird and wonderful plate of petit fours. Not wanting to appear wasteful (as if!), we decided to have a final drink to accompany our lovely sweet things in the grandly named Ascot Bar. A mellow glass of single malt from the impressive whisky menu and a cocktail later and it most certainly was the end of a superb dining experience.
Rooms price: Officially starts at around £250, although they have some good value packages to choose from
Cuisine type: Modern European
Dinner for two (excluding drinks): £58/head for 3 courses or £78/head for 10 courses
Pennyhill Park Hotel & The Spa
Surrey GU19 5EU
Tel: 01276 471774