Apparently, the Victorian country house hotel Brockencote Hall stands in 70 acres of Worcestershire countryside. I’m not really sure what 70 acres looks like but when a hotel is bordered on three sides by fields of sheep I definitely class it as in the country. On the remaining side, huge pines stand guard between the hotel and its very own lake. On a grey misty morning, the scene is atmospheric, even imposing; when the sun comes out it's rather beautiful (I mean, seriously, a hotel with its own lake!)
Inside, the mood – in terms of both decor and service – is one of understated elegance. A big, light reception area features sofas around an open fire, a wide wooden staircase curving up to the bedrooms, and opens onto dining rooms and a "library" (more on that later) which in turn leads to Le Colonial, a giant, high-ceilinged conservatory with more sofas, dining tables and its own bar. We're early so we head in there for lunch (see below) and a couple of beers while we wait. This is an extremely conducive way to savour the prospect of what is already shaping up to be a very pleasant stay, but unfortunately they manage to get our room ready an hour early...
The Feature Suite we’re shown to is just lovely. It's big but not too big, there's bags of natural light from the two large windows that look out on a few of the sheep in their field just outside, and the decor, in light greens and blues, manages to feel luxurious without being in any way gauche. Meanwhile, I love the high, wide bed, and the sofa at the foot of it in front of the TV. The wet room bathroom's good too, with a nice bath and only a disappointingly weak shower to let it down. All in all, I feel like I could live in this room for a lot longer than the two nights we're here.
Eating and drinking
“Why not have dinner at Brockencote on our first night and save some cash on the second evening by going to a local pub,” we say. No chance. I've been to some Michelin starred restaurants that don’t serve food this good, so we eat here on both nights – first from the Seasonal Menu (£44.95 for two courses, £59.99 for three) and then (with at least a nod to economy) by going for two courses from the Market Menu (at £32.95; three at £42.95). I can see why the first menu is more expensive but the second does not disappoint.
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One of the most delicious things we eat we haven't even ordered: a substantial amuse bouche of thick corn chowder with succulent, sweetly charred slabs of corn sliced off the cob. It’s served in a glass pot and when the waiter lifts the lid smoke wafts out. If smoke comes out of your dish but doesn't make sense with the rest of the ingredients, or if the dish is not good, that's annoyingly pretentious. But when the sweet perfume adds an extra dimension to the flavours and scents of an already delicious dish it's fun and exciting, which sets the tone for the rest of the meal.
My first starter is salmon, cooked at a low temperature in a water bath to give an incredible soft-but-solid texture, and served with quenelles of a salty-sweet crab mousse, plus purple heritage potatoes and beetroot crisps for crunch and colour. My second is a variation on a theme – subtly cured trout with a light and delicate potato and horseradish mousse and a hit of salty lumpfish caviar.
The pick of my two excellent fish mains is actually from the cheaper menu. I’m not normally a cod fan but the oily, meaty flakes of this roasted hunk are as far from the wet tissue-paper consistency I dread as possible. Just as good is the wild mushroom risotto of barley it’s sitting on, each grain with that satisfyingly bouncy bite. You can mess about with clever ingredients and techniques as much as you want (and I love that) but nothing convinces me more of a chef’s talent than perfect cooking and seasoning like this. I’m a bit too wrapped up in my own food to pay as much attention as I should be to my wife’s but she’s making similar noises to me as she tucks into scallops with chicken hearts, and onglet steak with a beef and snail faggot.
Next comes another unexpected course – a palate-cleansing yet creamy lemon sweet – after which it all became a cheesy blur. The cheese board is a thing of wonder – composed of French and British covering all the requisite categories an extending as far as the eye can see. Another “money-saving” tip: go for the cheese on your first night, ask them to pack up what’s left over (and if that isn’t a substantial amount you have my respect) and snack on it in your room after dinner the next evening with the extra biscuits, grapes and celery they sneak into the box and a selection of DVDs (available from reception).
This is slightly backwards but I had to give dinner top billing: start the evening in Le Colonial with a sharpening cocktail, like the zingy orange martini, and finish with a digestif (or probably another cocktail) in the Library, which is everything you want a room called the Library in a house like Brockencote to be – wood-panelled, low-lit, cosy, comfortable and lined with books. And be aware, you will feel much more comfortable here and in the dining room if you dress for dinner.
I don’t want to end on a negative because my experience of the food and drink at Brockencote was almost entirely positive so I’ll just mention the one duff note – the mushroom linguine I had from the bar menu, which tasted very vinegary (I’m guessing because the mushrooms came out of a jar and weren’t rinsed properly) – before telling you that breakfast is as excellent as you would expect from having read about dinner, and features, along with all the healthy options, duck eggs and some of the best kippers and black pudding I’ve ever had.
Price: Rooms start at £140 for a deluxe room
Address: Chaddesley Corbett, Near Kidderminster, Worcestershire DY10 4PY
Radio Times Travel rating: 9/10 – "Food lovers looking for a luxurious and mellow way to celebrate a special occasion can stop looking..."
Brockencote Hall is part of the Eden Hotel Collection of seven hotels across the south of England and the Midlands. You can arrange a tour taking in as many as you like by booking at the hotel you want to begin with