Down Hall, Essex, England, UK
One of the benefits of living in London is that it has a plethora of divine country escapes on its doorstep, with a host of welcoming hotels mere minutes from the city centre.
Down Hall is one of them. Just 45 minutes on the train from Liverpool Street and a short 10 minute text from Bishop’s Stortford, this 14th century country house features contemporary bedrooms, a brand new spa and a AA Rosette awarded restaurant. If you need an idyllic country escape from London, you’ve found it.
With 99 bedrooms, each individually designed to reflect the elegance and character of the historic property, the hotel feels much smaller than it actually is. The main lounge, with its open fire and elegant sofas, is the perfect space to take afternoon tea, or just curl up with a book, while the cocktail bar, adjacent to The Grill Room restaurant, overlooks 110 acres of gardens and woodland the hotel is set in; calling out for a leisurely afternoon stroll in the sunshine.
If, however the idea of being sociable and active is too much, fear not, as the newly-opened Eden Spa offers a hydrotherapy pool, mood lit sauna with full height timber cladding and tiered seating and a state of the art steam room with starry night feature lighting. Is there anything more satisfying than a spa circuit? If it all gets a bit much, there’s also a relaxation room to chill in pre or post, though it could do with some blankets to up the cosiness.
It would be foolish not to indulge in a spa treatment while you’re there, especially as there are four brand new treatment rooms - including one double - and ESPA products. The hot stone massage comes highly recommended; I’d never tried one before but can confirm it was even more relaxing and satisfying than a classic aromatherapy or Swedish.
After floating back to one’s room on a cloud of massage-induced bliss, room service may tempting option, but you’ll want to drag yourself down to The Grill Room for supper. With two AA rosettes, the restaurant specialises in Anglo French cuisine from head chef Matthew Hill, who was recently appointed following experience at top London eateries, Tom Aikens Restaurant Chelsea and Bleeding Heart Farringdon. Using ingredients from the kitchen’s own vegetable patch or local suppliers, signature starters include braised pork cheeks, pulled ham hock, air dried ham and spiced apple purée; and leg of guinea fowl stuffed with walnuts and tarragon, marron purée and orange gel.
I can heartily recommend starting with the roast pigeon, with sweetcorn bacon and popcorn granola, which was incredibly succulent and full of flavour. The roast chicken breast and thigh, with baby aubergine, celeriac and black cabbage was a great choice for main - juicy, tender meat that melted in the mouth - and green olive gnocchi with artichokes salsify and pine nut dressing garnered some rather satisfied noises from the other side of the table.
Puddings include the likes of gluten free passion fruit parfait, mango cheesecake with coconut sorbet, lime and mint sauce and chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream, but when faced with a pick and mix cheese board with Reblochon as an option, there’s not really any contest.
Retiring to chambers, one can expect a sterling night’s sleep, thanks to a sturdy mattress and pillow perfection - not too soft, not too high. Usually a terrible sleeper, I was out like a light; probably partially due to the aforementioned supper.
There are things to do in and around the local area, if you so desire it, but when faced with a country house hotel with stunning grounds, a stellar restaurant and spa, there’s not really any point in straying from the grounds. The prospect of being in the countryside there within an hour of finishing work on a Friday, indulging your palate and waking up far from the city hustle with a full English and a hydrotherapy pool stretched out before you is one I imagine will be tickling a lot of fancies right about now.
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