Review by Fiona Duncan, published 12th April 2009.
"Has anyone got a torch?” asked my sister. We were in the bar, spread-eagled like everyone else (Davina McCall; other half-recognised faces) on leather sofas. Not one of us three middle-aged matrons could read the menu because the lighting was so fashionably dim, and Caroline had just neatly put an end to our challenge: to stay at Babington without once feeling too old and too uncool. Reading glasses were fished out of handbags and menus scrutinised in what light we could find.
It’s 10 years since Babington first opened as the country outpost of Soho House private members’ club in London and eight years since I last stayed. I hadn’t much liked it then. Too knowingly hip, too purple and grey, too full of spaced-out media trendies and their fractious offspring; too unrelaxing.
At first it looked as if nothing had changed. Arriving on a Sunday afternoon we found the place awash with pesky kids with names like Ptolomy and Linus, whose youthful, spiky-haired fathers were indistinguishable from the youthful, spiky-haired waiters. “Here we go,” I thought.
But I was wrong, up to a point. The media trendies are still there in force but, keeping pace with its founder, Nick Jones, Babington has definitely grown up.
Still Britain’s only really hip country house hotel, this Somerset retreat for Soho House members, local day members and one-off hotel guests has just emerged from major redecoration and expansion.
“It’s so Telegraph now,” says Lulu Anderson, who used to be fashion editor on the Telegraph Magazine before moving to nearby Mells and opening a little shop full of pretty, quirky clothes at Babington. “Stars come here; metropolitans come here; Sloanes come here. They all mingle and relax.”
She’s right. If the little-changed bar persuaded me that Babington remained just as I remembered it, our subsequent move into the hotel’s beautiful new glass, stone and mirrored conservatory restaurant, the Orangery, convinced me otherwise. Here was a traditional hotel at work, but one with conviviality at its core. Service was proper, the food (from an open-to-view kitchen) excellent, the atmosphere buzzing for some, romantic for others. Breakfast next morning, also served in the Orangery, any time you like, was superb.
Minimalism is gone. Rustic chic is the order of the day now, especially in the new spa overlooking the fine walled kitchen garden, and in the original pool complex (which feels cramped and needs an overhaul). There’s also a gym, a cinema and a crèche for those pesky children, who are confined, unless visiting day members, to five family suites in a separate block. Plus the bar for chatter and the panelled library for quiet.
So, Babington has come of age. It has much more to offer now, and space for all: to be busy, to be quiet, to party, to entertain the kids. Come with an open mind – and don’t forget to bring a torch.
Babington, near Frome (01373 812266; www.babingtonhouse.co.uk). Doubles from £195 per night; breakfast £14.50. Access possible for guests with disabilities.