Review by Fiona Duncan, published 22nd June 2008.
I’m woken by a distant roar. Terrible traffic noise in this place, I note groggily, before remembering that the whooshing sound is entirely acceptable, for the culprit is not a main road, but an arc of falling water: the weir at Marlow.
It’s a charming sight: foaming river spilling over shallow walls; church and elegant 1832 suspension bridge; enviable waterside houses with their boat houses; great weeping beech on the opposite bank, green lawns below. A coxless four practises deft halts and turns, a swan skims the water, ducks waddle and quack.
I return to my crisply sheeted bed. The recently refurbished room is, like the view, soothing: 19th-century illustrations of fish (The Compleat Angler is named, of course, after Isaak Walton’s classic book) framed on cream-painted walls, with sweeping curtains across French windows leading to a balcony; but also telltale standard-issue reproduction furniture, a luggage rack and a trouser press.
Telltale? Here’s another clue. For those who don’t remember, the brochure reminds us that for much of the 20th century the hotel was an illustrious, privately-owned magnet for the well-heeled, with its share of stars and even royalty (the Queen once dined here with the president of Hungary).
But in 1980 it was sold to Trusthouse Forte. Which sold it to Granada. Which sold it to Macdonald Hotels, which runs it now. It is illustrious no more. All the rooms are the same. Trouser presses are the order of the day. Plus a letter, pushed under my door just after my arrival, that begins unpromisingly: “Dear Mr Duncan,” and continues “as you are leaving tomorrow... we sincerely hope you have enjoyed your stay.”
Funnily enough, it was less the underwhelming food than persistent questioning about whether we were enjoying ourselves, at each and every dish, that marred our dinner (we were a party of four), constantly interrupting our conversation and causing waves of irritation.
The restaurant, Bowaters, was in full, cheerful swing, and the evening was punctuated by the parading of giant sparklers and jolly choruses of “Happy Birthday” by waiters for celebrating guests (corporate groups made up the rest). We were celebrating, too: the arrival of Gerard who, supported by two large, rustic sticks, had completed another leg of his 25-mile-a-day charity walk from the source of the Thames to the barrier at Greenwich.
We had expected to dine in the hotel’s signature restaurant, Dean Timpson, specially created for the eponymous chef not much more than a year ago, but the venture had come to a premature end. While I’d advocate lunch in the lovely conservatory or a barbecue in the garden on a summer’s day, we won’t be hurrying back for a night, where dinner in Bowaters, without wine, and bed and breakfast for two will set you back about £330. Not when I know that for £100 more we’ll find 20 times the quality along the river at Bray, at the peerless Waterside Inn.
Marlow, Buckinghamshire (0844 879 9128; www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk/compleatangler). Doubles from £170 to £450 per night, including breakfast. Ground-floor rooms available for guests with disabilities.