Review: Castle House hotel, Hereford
PUBLISHED: 14:00 30 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:37 20 February 2013
Jo Belfield finds wraparound service (and fluffy bathrobes) at the hotel that exudes excellence
Location, service, food, ambience the vital ingredients that make or break a hotel.
Ill add to that a few personal yardsticks: the quality of the bread, the size of the bed, the hairdryers (I hate those where you have to hold your finger down on the on button) and are there robes in the bathroom?
So to Castle House in Hereford, the 17-room hotel that Herefordshire farmer David Watkins liked so much he bought the company.
An elegant Georgian villa with a fascinating history and standing in one of the citys prettiest, most tranquil street, minutes away from the
Cathedral and shops.
How could it fail when this is a family business? (Davids charming, enthusiastic and go-getting children George and Rebecca are learning the trade by working behind the bar and in the reception and dining room). And the owner is smart enough to leave the kitchen and management to experts like Chef Claire Nicholls and General Manager Michelle Marriott-Lodge.
Claire is a local girl, with experience of international cuisine from her extensive travels and time living in Hong Kong, absolutely dedicated to excellence and one of Englands premier female chefs. And her larder is packed with local foods including the pedigree Herefordshire beef (and an increasing amount of other produce) from the Watkins family Ballingham Hall farm. This place is a shining example of farm-to-fork principles.
A mixture of traditional and boutique townhouse chic. Historically there has been some criticism in national press reviews of Castle House of the glitzy, no-expense spared swagged and silken dcor of the rooms and suites the legacy of previous owners. These are gradually being updated but the quality of the fixture and fittings and their quirkiness have their own charm and add to the comfort of guests immeasurably. (Look at the excellent guest reviews on www.tripadvisor.co.uk if you want to see what the punters think.
So all good there, but what about those important little extras? Lets start with the bread and the rest of the dinner we tried out on an overnight stay. The bread at table was warm, freshly-made and interesting and so delicious it had disappeared in the few minutes it took for our starters of Pan fried bream with pea, potato and caper salsa and pea and mint emulsion, and Beetroot tarte tatin with goats cheese mousse to arrive. They earned 10 out of 10 from the judges for presentation and taste but what came next was the real joy. Fillet of Herefordshire beef from the herd we had seen on a tour of the Ballingham Hall estate that very afternoon) with champ potato, roasted mushrooms, cabbage and pancetta and Butty Bach jus and the Duo of lamb (braised shoulder and cutlet) with butternut mash, courgettes and aubergine and thyme jus.
The Watkins, father and son, rear their cattle lovingly and Claire Nicholls treats her ingredients with respect, so the quality of the meat and its flavours are allowed to speak for themselves.
Puddings are simply divine, and very imaginative. It was a difficult pick but the Caramel crme brle with bitter chocolate jelly and salted peanut galette and the artistically named Study in Blackberries were a triumph and greedily demolished despite their beauty. A bottle of smoky Pouilly Fum Jean Pabiot 08 (30) and a half bottle of fruity Fleurie at 14 were chosen from the well-advised list.
Castle Houses superb food extends to its luncheon, evening and afternoon tea bistro/bar menus and David Watkins must be pleased to have gained an extra gem in Claire Nicholls when he acquired Castle House.
And so to bed. Our room was the recently completed Ballingham Suite which is in the house adjoining the main building and next to a suite kitted out for less-able visitors with a ramped entrance, walk-in shower and fixed grab rails, king-size bed, wide doorways and French doors into the garden.
The Ballingham is as understated as the main house rooms are opulent. Deliciously comfortable, contemporary and with a hairdryer firing on all cylinders.
Herefordshire should be proud of Castle House and proud of the Watkins family and their spirit of entrepreneurialism, adventure and thirst for excellence. Whether youre a Herefordian looking for a treat or an outsider wanting to discover the pleasures of the county and its foods this is the place to stay.
Just one gripe, could that possibly be justified in this paragon of virtues? We couldnt find any bathrobes and a hotel of this quality really should have them
Look in the bottom of the wardrobe when you visit. Thats where ours were hidden! And that about wraps it up.