Short break - Rowton Hall Hotel and Spa, Chester
- Credit: Pics; John Cocks
February means Valentine’s Day, so we head for Rowton Hall, a Cheshire hotel with a reputation for romance.
We are lounging in a relaxation room gazing at a stainless steel globe over which a constant stream of water gently trickles. Strange the things you see in spas. But the glistening artwork is doing the trick. We relax into the experience, avoiding the lovely swimming pool and its water glistening under soft lighting. We’re already too relaxed to contemplate any exercise. Soon our therapists arrive to lead us away, me to an hour-long Collagen Infusion Facial, (£75) he to have a Babor Sensory Journey full-body massage (£65) from which he emerges feeling like a new man, muscles un-knotted, joints un-creaked.
Would we like our treatments together in the same room, they had asked? Erm, no thanks, we replied without hesitation. Some love-struck clients passing through the shiny portals of the spa at Rowton Hall Hotel plainly cannot be parted even for 55 minutes. Bless. But then these cosy couples are often in the first flush, this being a hotel which caters not just for many a romantic break, but also a steady stream of weddings: the full package, from fizz on arrival, through civil ceremony to reception and a choice of 39 individually-designed rooms.
Our room, the Henrietta Maria, is a handsome suite with a four-poster bed, lots of shiny mirrored furniture and views over stone balustrades to the eight-acre gardens. There’s also a cosy side room with a large soft sofa and a second telly. A romantic hidey hole? Oh yes, definitely.
There is an intriguing mix of ancient and modern about Rowton Hall, the ancient represented most strongly by the intriguing dark wood panelling on the ground floor which once graced the Chester Grosvenor. But Rowton Hall has plenty of history of its own to boast about. In 1645, the Battle of Rowton Heath was fought nearby, a dismal Charles I watching his forces defeated from a vantage point on Chester’s city walls. Rowton Hall itself was built in 1779 as a home for the Hignett family, one member of which had died in that battle fighting for the Royalists. It remained a family home through many generations of various families until becoming a hotel in 1954, Last year, it was bought by Anderbury, the group which also operates the St George Hotel, Llandudno, and Hatherley Manor hotel and spa in Gloucestershire.
Head chef Chad Hughes has upped the game in the kitchen, as we found out when we dined at the hotel’s Langdale Restaurant. There is much to be excited about. An amuse bouche of tandoori spiced chicken bon bon in a creamy curry sauce was sensational. A starter of pork belly (£8) arrived as a juicy, falling-apart hunk of meat with little fragments of pickled apple and a cauliflower purée. Our other starter of home-smoked Loch Duart salmon (£10) was a pretty plate of fish swimming in a lush fennel butter sauce.
A main of Celtic Pride fillet of beef (£28) proved a sophisticated affair, the puck of soft beef accompanied by a little soft pithivier oozing beefy goodness and a carrot on which balanced shards of shallot and lovage emulsion.
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A side of star anise-glazed carrots (£4) proved soft as butter and exotically flavoursome; how often can you say that about a carrot? Our other main was hogget of lamb (£27) - loin and slow-cooked breast, with pickled red cabbage, carrot and swede, the piece de resistance being a ‘shepherd’s pie’ served in a glass like a cappuccino with the mash as foam.
Puds proved even better: a feather-light, zingy lime soufflé with cardamom ice cream (£9), and caramel-topped floating island with lemongrass custard and ginger ice cream (£8) - both very accomplished desserts.
Restored in the spa, well-fed in the restaurant, there was was one unexpected treat yet to come. The breakfast options included kippers with a ramekin swimming with caper and shallot butter - a first even for this avowed kipper-phile. Whatever you do, in the midst of your romantic reverie, don’t miss out on those kippers!
Rowton Hall Hotel and Spa, Whitchurch Road, Chester, CH3 6AD, 01244 335262, rowtonhallhotel.co.uk