Boys Hall Hotel, Ashford: overnight review
Priest-holes, poster-beds and parties! This is the story of how Boys Hall, a neglected Jacobean manor, not only got a makeover but also a new lease of life
BOYS HALL HOTEL - Romance and mystery galore!
When Marcus Collings first saw a picture of Boys Hall in The Times in 2001, it was love at first sight. And after several trips to Ashford to assess the town’s potential, this former marketing director embarked on a life-changing journey.
In 2003, Marcus bought the property with his business partner and began a gruelling four-year renovation. Previously occupied by three sisters and their families, Boys Hall had to be converted from a communal home to a business with a homely feel: a total transformation which required it to be stripped down and sensitively reconstructed, all within the constraints of its Grade II listing.
But the dedication paid off. Boys Hall was transformed into a boutique hotel with eight exquisite rooms, each with their own unique features, including a priest-hole (originally one of four) that now serves as a wardrobe in the Oriental Room and in the Lavender Room, a bathroom you literally have to climb into, as it is eight inches higher than its adjoining bedroom
The Loft, where I stayed the night, is a departure from the more traditional style of the other rooms and its black and white theme gives it an airy, spacious feel emphasised by semi-skylight windows.
A sense of romantic mystery pervades the building. An ancient wisteria winds around it, covering the walls with a profusion of purple pendants in late spring. A sunken garden, entered by flights of narrow steps, provides a nocturnal playground for a family of foxes.
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In the dining room, a table for two has been set into a generous window bay which, framed by heavy curtains, creates a sense of intimacy. Built in 1616 by the Boys family (previously known as de Bois, then Boyce), the Hall is the keeper of many secrets. The coats of arms carved into its fireplace attest to connections with eminent local families, including the Knatchbulls.
However, the remains of a tunnel in the cellar, which originally connected the building with the nearby William Harvey pub, hint at a less respectable activity: smuggling.
Marcus has preserved a rare Kentish treasure here and brought it to life. As a wedding venue, Boys Hall t is booked up every weekend until September, it is a popular conference centre and, located near Ashford’s road and rail hub, ideally placed to profit from Olympic tourism.
June marks the launch of a new weekly fine-dining spot on Thursdays. Marcus has recently signed up to Produced in Kent, signalling his commitment to local suppliers whose excellent fare features on the Hall’s menu. This includes: fish from Griggs of Hythe, meat from Rook & Sons of Ramsgate and wine from Biddenden vineyard (we recommend the excellent Ortega!).
My Clever Journalist Friend and I were enthralled by the beautifully decorated tables – single orchid blooms scattered over the cloth, lighted candles everywhere and, on the central table a stunning arrangement of ivy.
As we sat down, we were presented with a basket of delicious home-made bread flavoured with herbs and parmesan, a bit like Brioche in texture, but without the sweetness.
For my starter, I chose beef carpaccio with capers, parmesan and pickled shallot. Cut a little thicker than its Italian counterpart, this will appeal to any meat eater who enjoys ample, juicy portions.
My main course of poached Cornish sea bass with crab ravioli and Mersham wild garlic was also generous and in fact would work extremely well as two dishes, the tender ravioli as a hors d’oeuvre, followed by the sea-bass as a main course.
My only comment would be that the sea bass, beautifully cooked as it was, might have benefited from being served dry – perhaps with a light salad - rather than with the slightly spicy broth that accompanied the ravioli.
My dessert of pain perdu with Calvados caramel was an interesting take on classic French toast. It had a pleasing, crunchy finish and was complimented by thin slivers of caramelised apple and a delicate mouthful of vanilla ice-cream.
MCJF chose twice-baked Winterdale souffl� with wild garlic pesto as her starter, which she found a touch on the dry side but full of flavour. This was followed by tasty lamb fillet with pea mousse and honey-glazed carrots and a light dessert (portions are extremely generous) of Chapel Down panna cotta with poached rhubarb.
We washed this down with a bottle of Biddenden’s crisp white Ortega (2010) and finished the meal with coffee (an excellent brew) and chocolates.
After a good night’s sleep – undisturbed by ghosts or smugglers, alas – we met up for breakfast in ‘our’ window seat but sadly couldn’t manage the full English or indeed the kippers Marcus was keen for us to try! But we both loved the addition of unexpected touches like a dish of fresh raspberries and a selection of delightful home-made Danish pastries filled with raspberry jam or apple.
Waving a reluctant goodbye to our wonderful host-with-the-most Marcus and his small but perfectly formed team, we drove off back into reality but thoroughly refreshed by our stay in place of so many charms.
Where: Boys Hall Hotel, Boys Hall Road, Ashford TN24 0LA
01233 633772 or firstname.lastname@example.org
What: Romantic surroundings, good home cooking
What’s the damage: beef carpaccio �7.45, Cornish sea bass with crab ravioli �16.95, Chapel Down panna cotta with poached rhubarb �6.95
House wines: white, red or ros� �16.95
When: Thu evenings (pre-order and pre-book only)