Review: Eastwell Manor, Boughton Lees
- Credit: Archant
Escape from the mundane into an elegant country house experience complemented by a rather gorgeous spa
It's just five miles outside Ashford yet you feel in the heart of the countryside as you drive up the long sweeping drive towards elegant Eastwell Manor and its rolling acres.
The original house was demolished in 1926 and replaced by this faux historical pile, which has been the subject of ongoing refurbishment since being acquired in 2016 by Champneys.
However, the UK's original health spa's very first investment was in transforming the old Pavilion into a classic Champneys Spa, revamping the gym and pool as well as the treatment rooms and Spa Restaurant.
And it was to the Spa that My Blonde Mate and I were first headed, leaving a wet, cold afternoon behind as we entered a tranquil space of calm where everyone was in white robes and nibbling salads in the restaurant or lounging beside the pool.
Soon suitably robed and flip-flopped ourselves, we headed upstairs for our treatments. Two hardworking gals, we'd both opted for much-needed massages: mine a Hot Poultice massage and MBM's a Lava Shell version.
Floating out, shoulders no longer under our ears, we headed straight for one of the relaxation rooms, reluctant to leave the warm, fragrant cocoon of the spa.
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What followed next was certainly a bit of a contrast. Driving up the the manor to check in, we found we'd been assigned the Earl of Northumberland honeymoon suite. Lovely, but MBM had left her partner at home, I am still inexplicably single (I know!) and much as we like each other, we weren't planning to snuggle up for the night.
With the clock ticking and our dinner reservation getting ever closer, eventually a room near the spa was found and I did the decent thing; left MBM with the four-poster and the standalone copper tub and trundled off with my bag into the night towards my rather more contemporary quarters.
Knowing my appalling sense of direction, I don't think she ever expected to see me back in the reception area but, dear reader, I made it and thought I'd warm myself up by the fire. Which wasn't lit. I've been coming to Eastwell Manor for years and the logs are always blazing, even in summer! I do hope it's not part of the second phase of improvements to the main house, which are now in progress. I love all the panelling, embossed plaster and air of rather faded grandeur.
Harmony was restored with a glass of very welcome champagne in the Manor Restaurant, all turquoise seating, soft lighting and mullioned windows. And a rather glorious feast lay ahead, with a menu that defied expectations that it might possibly be a tad 'safe.' It certainly wasn't, and the wine list was considerably smarter and shorter than the tome I remember from past visits.
My pan-seared scallops came with squash purée, crackly braised pork belly and a red wine jus, elevating a classic to new heights of rich, meaty deliciousness.
MBM opted for the woodland grouse, nicely balanced by spiced blackberries, chanterelle mushrooms and pistachio. Local, seasonal, different; a great start.
To follow, I had the Kentish venison, which delivered up both loin and faggot, plus celeriac mash, juniper and bacon Savoy cabbage, carrots, curly kale and a port jus. Keeping it hearty, MBM chose the fillet of English rose beef, cooked perfectly as requested and accompanied by chips and wild watercress, to which she added seasonal greens.
The Cabernet Sauvignon we were enjoying was going down so well we decided to share a cheese plate to finish (which included my favourite Ashmore). Puddings did, however, look most tempting with choices like caramel and apple feast and a Burgundy pear tart.
Morning dawned not quite so wild and windy and we reconvened back in the restaurant for breakast - a buffet plus menu choices for cooked. We both had a traditional English, which didn't come with the promised black pudding (not a major issue, just a bit odd) nor toast (definitely odd).
A place still of great charm, but at the moment rather of two halves: spot on in the Spa, a bit haphazard up in the big house.
What: Country house manor and luxury spa hotel
Where: Eastwell Park, Boughton Lees, Ashford TN25 4HT
When: Manor Restaurant open for dinner 6.30-9pm; Spa Restaurant open for lunch 12-2.30pm
How much: Scallops and braised pork belly £16.50, Kentish venison £32, line-caught seasonal fish £30