What? Hurley House is a boutique hotel with style. A no expenses spared renovation has seen it transformed from a roadside pub to a destination hotel for out of towners. Ten chic bedrooms keep it feeling exclusive and a Michelin-starred chef means the restaurant boasts fine dining, with a more formal dress code in the evening. A spa and impeccable service add luxury to a relaxing stay.
Where? Just a 40-minute drive from central London, Hurley House is positioned in the village of Hurley, conveniently located in between the quintessentially English riverside towns of Marlow and Henley. Hurley House, Henley Road, Hurley, Berkshire, SL6 5LH, www.hurleyhouse.co.uk
First Impressions: An effortless drive saw us arriving at the hotel earlier than expected – it took only 40 minutes from South London. Our room wasn’t yet ready but we were relived of our bags (they were waiting for us in our room later) and given a warm welcome by everyone we encountered. The manager arranged a taxi for us and half an hour later we found ourselves speeding off to Henley to explore.
The anticipation of any hotel stay had built after our day of walking, rowing (!) and eating so returning to our room to get ready for dinner meant we were pretty excited – no matter how many times you’ve browsed the website, you never quite know what to expect when you open that door. A giant bathroom matched the giant bed in scale and luxurious touches like Floris toiletries (the Queen’s appointed perfumer) meant we almost didn’t want to head down for dinner. Almost.
The Look: Hurley House is the epitome of country chic. Flagstone floors, rich leather sofas and a colour scheme straight out of the Farrow & Ball pamphlet suit the country setting, with luxury in the form of tweed wool throws, giant power showers and heavy bed linen and towels embroidered with the letter ‘H’. The restaurant has a slightly different look to the rest of the hotel which distinguishes it – think dark wooden panelling, studded tan leather chairs and watercolour paintings of vegetables. Oh, and there’s a floor-to-ceiling display of wine, because nothing screams luxury more than a wall of fine wine.
The Restaurant: Hurley House boasts Michelin-starred chef, Michael Chapman. Ridiculously talented, his touch is seen throughout the day, from breakfast through to supper. Heading down for our evening meal, the hotel had a sophisticated feel to it, with many of the tables already occupied by well-heeled couples. We’d got chatting to a local earlier in the day who told us the overall consensus was overwhelmingly positive towards the hotel, and looking around I could tell that many of the guests were indeed locals – gaining their support is a success in itself.
Speaking of success, house-whipped butter and warm bread came out with pots of beautifully garnished humous and mackerel pate. Top marks. The menu is wonderfully seasonal, with the origin of produce proudly declared – think Cornish mackerel, Isle of Wight tomatoes and Wiltshire spring lamb – and every dish as temptingly described as the next. Cornish brown crab and smoked Loch Duart salmon was a feast for the eyes thanks to colourful spirals of cucumber, purple radish and bite-sized chunks of ruby grapefruit. The day’s special was smoked eel which came thoroughly recommended by our waiter – don’t let the thought put you off, we could have mistaken it for any other more familiar fish.
Aged Herefordshire fillet was a stonking choice and turned out to be the standout dish of the night. Served blue, as requested, flakes of braised onion, mushroom and a splattering of jus came with doorstopper chips. Eat one and you’ve practically eaten a whole potato so order one to share with the table. My Scottish halibut was a little overcooked for my liking and a wedge of raw tomato a little unnecessary but a stuffed courgette flower added oomph and a bottle of Robert Sinskey Napa Valley organic Pinot Noir kept us very happy.
Puddings didn’t let the side down. Prepared by the pastry chef at the glass-panelled section of the kitchen, you can head over and watch her work her magic. Chocolate and caramel ‘Snickers’ carried all the best bits of peanutty, chocolatey familiarity and a shard of caramel was toned down by a scoop of creamy peanut ice cream. The banoffee pie was also good and equally aesthetically pleasing, and a scoop of salted caramel ice cream proved that they know their ice cream.
After three epic courses we were almost too full for breakfast the next morning, but once again, the power of words lured us in. The HH Full Vegetarian combined bubble and squeak with two perfectly poached Norfolk Brown hen’s eggs and a generous layer of hollandaise, whilst the baked eggs, chorizo and plum tomato was even more hearty, with extra toast on the side which we obviously smothered in more of the whipped butter and a selection of jams. Breakfast is a laid-back affair and you feel as though you could sit for hours reading the papers and heading back and forth to the table laid with pastries, fruit and juices. It pretty much sums up the whole hotel – impeccable service with a friendly warmth. Nothing is too much trouble and when I dropped my thick linen napkin on the floor for a split second, it was swiftly replaced.
The Area: Think Henley, think rowing. Early evidence of the regatta came in the form of seating stands and marquees ready and waiting for June but we did our part and got in the spirit by hiring a little wooden rowing boat and splashing up and down the river. The Angel On The Bridge is a prime spot for catching the rays over a pint (and watching aspiring rowers like us jolt past) whilst a little cafe named Spoon was a great spot for a morning coffee, juice or healthy lunch.
Marlow is even more picturesque than Henley. It has gained a reputation as being a destination for gastronomy, thanks mainly to Tom Kerridge’s The Hand & Flowers and lower-priced The Coach. There was even a new Ivy Garden getting ready to open its doors. You can take a girl out of London…
Later in the afternoon we headed to the picturesque village of Turville which you’ll recognise it from The Vicar of Dibley. Work up an appetite and climb the steep hill up to the windmill before heading back down and taking a spot in the garden of The Bull & Butcher for the afternoon. Bliss.
Go With: If you’ve got a wedding to attend nearby then Hurley House is the perfect base (they even host weddings so you may not have far to go) but you don’t really need an excuse to get away with your partner for the weekend. Country walks and fine dining await. Arranging a big get together? The private dining room is the perfect spot for a big group. Close the curtain and let the wine flow.
Final Word: Comfort meets luxury – what more could you want? If only we had a walk-in shower, claw-foot bath and impossibly comfy mattress back in the big smoke…
Like This? Try These: The Kings Head, Cirencester. The Wild Rabbit, Kingham. Thyme, Southrop.
Hurley House: Henley Road, Hurley, Berkshire, SL6 5LH, www.hurleyhouse.co.uk