Charlotte Shepherd reviews the Whatley Manor Hotel and Spa, Malmesbury

WHATLEY Manor Hotel and Spa describes itself online as ‘quintessentially British’, and it is easy to see why.

Arriving on a cold winter’s night, we were welcomed into a hotel (beautifully and tastefully illuminated for the festive season), with fires in huge fireplaces and squishy sofas that demanded that we instantly relax.

Once a private manor house the hotel has, since 2003, made a name for itself as a go-to destination for those looking to completely unwind and de-stress.

It was obvious from the moment we arrived, down the tree-lined avenue, that this was a destination with a difference. There was nothing corporate about it – it felt like a private and much-loved family country home that had opened its doors to us for the night.

Set in the heart of the Cotswolds, yet within shouting distance of Malmesbury, Whatley Manor exhibits oodles of charm. The staff bent over backwards to make our stay enjoyable, with a fine attention to detail at every turn.

The hotel is not content to just trade upon its reputation (it is already well-known for its Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant and tasting menu), and carried out a refurbishment of its brasserie restaurant, Grey’s, which re-opened in November.

A collaboration between head chef George Dingle and executive chef Niall Keating has produced a menu showcasing British comfort dishes, which we were eager to try.

But first we were shown to our room, a suite (one of 23 bedrooms), so vast it was hard to actually know where to put ourselves. We could choose to lounge on the two chaise longues in the sitting room, or perhaps one of several chairs in the bedroom.

And then there was the bed. It was so enormous that we almost regretted not bringing the children - four of us would comfortably fit in the bed without a squash. The room has lost none of the style of the original manor house, but of course with bang up to date touches including two Bang & Olufsen TV systems, and a Dualit drinks machine.

After a quick swim in the hydrotherapy pool in the Aquarias Spa, which was as luxurious as expected, we made our way for a pre-dinner drink in the bar attached to Grey’s brasserie.

The bar sets the scene perfectly for the new concept restaurant, and it was easy to imagine ourselves in a 1920s jazz club. The wonderful music of Chet Baker helped to set the scene even more. Both bar and restaurant have comfortable banquette-style leather seating and there is a feature fireplace in the restaurant which was much appreciated on this cold evening.

Having worked up an appetite in the pool, we were now keen to move onto the main event. The menu is perfectly balanced and brasserie style and includes steaks (cooked on a hot stone), crispy duck leg, sea bream and starters including ham hock, three cheese baked eggs, pate and a sharing board of baked camembert.

I chose to start with a prawn cocktail, wanting something light before the main event. It was a generous portion with good sized and tasty prawns and a well-balanced sauce. My husband’s starter of baked crayfish and macaroni thermidor was more unusual. It would be easy for the cheese to swamp the taste of the crayfish, but this didn't happen and it was eagerly devoured.

For the main, my sirloin steak severed on a hot stone raised the dining experience to an “event”, and the beef was delicious and tender. My husband’s Glazed ox cheek with spiced red cabbage, parsnip and kale was so succulent and the perfect winter’s night meal, he was reluctant to share much with me, save a tiny taste.

Puddings of an apple custard with ginger and cinnamon ice cream, and a cheese board proved the perfect end to the evening, before we made our way to one of the squishy sofas in the sitting room.

One of the highlights of the whole experience was thanks to sommelier, who although relatively young, was incredibly knowledgeable. We put ourselves in his hands and he chose wines to accompany our meal, including a British white for me, which pushed me to try something new.

Breakfast the next day was served in the main dining room, which was awash with beautiful flowers. It gave us a chance in daylight to look out over the gardens. As we had come to expect, the breakfast offerings were superb - my tasty poached eggs and avocado on sourdough toast were a work of art on a plate.

It was time for us to leave, but we realised that there is so much more to see and do at Whatley Manor and many more reasons to visit in the future.

As well as the spa, there is a cinema and a new space called the Green Room, which plans to host culinary events such as tapas nights in the coming months.

Whatley Manor is not standing still. But while we were there, the staff were more than happy for their guests to step off the treadmill of life and do just that!

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