The Garden House at Beaverbrook, Leatherhead KT22 8QX – hotel review
- Credit: Archant
The former home of press baron, Lord Beaverbrook, is being transformed into a luxurious country hotel. Nestled within 400 acres of countryside between Dorking and Leatherhead, what better place to base a staycation in the centre of Surrey. Rebecca Younger visits the first phase of this exciting project
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2017
As owner of Express Newspapers, William Maxwell Aitken, aka Lord Beaverbrook, was one of the most influential men in 20th Century Britain and understandably had a wealth of notable friends. Winston Churchill spent many a weekend at the press baron’s Cherkley Court estate and, over a period of more than half a century, Lord Beaverbrook hosted all manner of VIPs including seven Prime Ministers and the likes of Ian Fleming and Rudyard Kipling.
It is said that those guests he wasn’t so fond of – including, according to rumour, his eccentric aunt – he would send to stay in his garden house. The Garden House is the first phase of a project led by business partners Joel Cadbury (of the Cadbury dynasty) and Ollie Vigors to transform the former Cherkley Court estate into a 35-bedroom country hotel. While it may well have been used for Beaverbrook’s ‘less important guests’, these days, there is absolutely no sense of exile within this wonderfully welcoming ‘home from home’.
In fact, welcoming guests in the right way is a key part of the ethos at Beaverbrook. A welcome hut, just past the entrance to the estate, is occupied by Dave, who offers directions and calls ahead to the team at The Garden House to let them know we are on our way. Not that it’s easy to get lost here but, they like to keep things discreet, preferring human signage to written waymarkers. Indeed Jake, the luggage porter, is waiting patiently outside the door as we approach. Dressed in a flat cap and tweed jacket, complete with Spitfire lapel pin (a nod to Lord Beaverbrook’s public Saucepan to Spitfire campaign, which helped fund the delivery of jet fighters during the Second World War), he directs us to our parking space and proceeds to gather our luggage from the car.
Inside, the 11-bedroom property is very much like many family country homes (albeit rather modest ones); a cupboard to hang Barbour jackets and alike sits to the right in the entrance hall and, by the staircase, there is a line of Hunter wellies in various sizes so guests can enjoy the grounds even in wet weather. Designed by Nicola Harding, the decor is whimsical yet enchanting; a mismatch of colours, prints and patterns has been combined with thoughtfully hand-picked pieces of furniture to create a homely feel. The Garden House evokes a true sense of nostalgia through touches of the familiar; in the snug, there are old-fashioned games while a collection of around 3,000 books - including many old edition Ladybird and Penguin classics - is scattered throughout the building.
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The warming sense of comfort continues upstairs in the quirky yet cosy cottage¬style bedrooms, which are each named after one of the herbs grown in the hotel’s kitchen garden. Ours, Lovage, had a small terraced balcony which, while we didn’t use due to nearing gale-force winds, in summer will give a satisfying outlook to the meadow behind. As well as a roll top bath (every room has one) and a separate shower big enough for an entire family (Lovage has an interconnecting door to another bedroom, Rosemary, so is actually the perfect choice for a family) the room also came with a bottle of Sipsmith Damson Vodka – not to take home but to enjoy a sip from now and again throughout our stay.
Rather unusually for such a luxurious country estate, families are catered for exceptional well at The Garden House. As well as the interconnecting bedrooms, the restaurant prides itself on being child friendly and there’s also a treehouse and hideaway in the grounds, with weekend kids’ clubs run by entertainers, Sharky & George.
Food and drink are a key part of any stay at The Garden House, not just because of its restaurant but it also has a cookery school, which doubles up as a chef’s table (thanks to a narrow window overlooking the kitchen) and seats up to 20 people.
Those taking part in the cooking classes (there are sessions for children and adults) are also able to pick their own ingredients from the kitchen garden. The fresh herbs and vegetables grown here are used within dishes from the Anglo-Italian inspired menu created by head chef Kaz Suzuki, a New Zealander, who has previously worked at Auckland’s celebrated One Tree Grill and Bracu restaurants.
Our meal was served by the roaring fire in the restaurant (you can’t get much more ‘country’ than that) and while Kaz may be from a fine dining background, he appears to have made the transition to a more casual menu with ease. A pre-dinner Elderbubble cocktail (ederflower cordial, vodka and fresh lemon juice, topped with Laurent Perrier Champagne) cleansed the palate nicely before we tucked into one of the house specials, gnoccillini of goats cheese and pumpkin (a cross between gnocci and tortellini) and black Angus beef carpaccio as starters. The in-house sommelier, Euan, suggested a Brunello di Montalcino to complement the flavours.
We had been told that the fish dishes were particularly good and so I opted for the monkfish wrapped in pancetta on a bed of puy lentils as a main, while my mother, who accompanied me on the trip, went for fish of the day – sea bass. Sides of zuccini frittas and Josper grilled chilli broccoli (two more house specialties) were a pleasant addition, while another wine pairing of Bourgogne Cuvee Margot 2013 red Burgundy (we had asked for red as a preference) was an expert match.
The puddings on offer (classics such as classic apple tarte tatin and slow baked cheese cake with Surrey Hill honey sat alongside Italian favourites of affogato and Tiramisu) were difficult to choose between but we settled on the caramalised Sicilian lemon tart to share, rounding the meal off perfectly.
After dinner it was time to retire to the snug, for a good old¬fashioned game of Scrabble, under the watchful eye of Lord Beaverbrook (a small portrait hangs to the left of the fire), before heading up to Lovage for a sloe gin nightcap and our pick from thousands of classic bedtime stories. ?
Need to know
Where? The Garden House at Beaverbrook, Reigate Road, Leatherhead, Surrey KT22 8QX. Tel: 01372 571300 Web: beaverbrook.co.uk
How much? Rooms at The Garden House start from £280 per room, per night
How to get there: Beaverbrook is situated just two miles from M25 Junction 9. Leatherhead station is three miles away
Still to come at Beaverbook
Phase Two: The House
Number of bedrooms: 18
Created by highly reputable interior designer Susie Atkinson, The House interiors are filled with glamour and style. The fabrics and furnishings are inspired by the period between the 1920s and 1950s, and tell a unique narrative of the guests who visited during the 1930s and the war. The House is set to open later in the spring.
Phase Three: The Coach House Spa and The Glass House Cottages
Number of bedrooms: 6
Set in the estate’s restored Grade II Listed coach house and an existing garden cottage, this space has been designed to reflect its beautiful surroundings, fulfilling the aim of bringing the outside in with each treatment room having a private garden. This floral theme will also be reflected in the stained glass windows, mosaic tiles and paintings by Brian Clarke. Facilities will include a gym, six treatment rooms (one with a hot tub set in private garden), a relaxation area, salon and indoor and ourdoor swimming pools. The Coach House Spa will also house a Deli, which will offer locally grown organic produce, and the most delicious and healthy food and drinks. Set to open summer 2017..