Review by Fiona Duncan, published 14th May 2006.
There was a moment of Fawlty-esque chaos on my arrival. With the reception desk temporarily unmanned and the phone trilling unanswered through the house, a sudden influx of guests, both for dinner and to stay the night, caused a confused pile-up in the lobby, with French waiters running helter-skelter, juggling as best they could suitcases, cocktails and plates of food. Suddenly a small, bespectacled woman appeared and gave a few deft commands, swapping jobs with the waiter who had just hurled himself at the ringing phone, and the storm subsided.
Langar Hall is Imogen Skirving. The stuccoed, caramel coloured Georgian house reached by an avenue of limes has been in her family since 1860. When Imogen inherited, she began to take in paying guests to made ends meet. It was a success. She added ensuite bathrooms, then thought she might employ a chef…and gradually transformed her home into a hugely popular, instantly likeable hotel, or – more accurately – restaurant-with-rooms.
The gracious, charmingly decorated house still feels like a home, not least because of the amount of guests that leap up in the dining room and greet their hostess like long a lost friend. “She’s got an 8ft personality in a 5ft frame” commented the man at the next table. “We come here as often as we can”. Trotting round the pillared room (white tablecloths in the evening, Indian ones by day) she has a word for everyone, and her key staff echo her warmth, if not her winning eccentricity. Children are welcome, with a big basket of toys in one of the comfy, attractive sitting rooms (there’s also a bar and a pretty garden room serving light meals all day) and a play area outside.
Langar’s style can best be described as ‘quirky romantic’ with a strong dash of India (Imogen has close ties). She has an eye for design and loves fabric and wallpaper. “I must show you my latest find,” she said, and returned to my table trailing a long roll of exquisite Louise Body hand-printed paper. All the bedrooms (with free wireless internet) are different and full of personality; mine had long been a riot of pink in honour of Barbara Cartland, who used to stay, but was now strikingly redecorated in silver and black, though the divine bathroom, with its Moghul arches screening the bath, and bird of paradise walls, remains unchanged.
The heart of the hotel is the restaurant, literally in the middle of the house, set back from the flagstone hall. It’s reputation for unpretentious good food (‘classic English with a twist’) is justified, at least as far as I could judge. On a Sunday night I restricted myself to a deliciously crunchy goats cheese and red onion marmalade filo tart, which was perfect, and a plate of local cheeses. The lamb is from Langar, the game from Belvoir Castle estate, the Stilton from the surrounding villages. A two-course lunch costs £13.50, while the set dinner (there’s a la carte as well) is £23, or £30 for three courses: very fair. An interesting wine list accompanies.
Though the hotel is popular for weekends, it’s not to everyone’s taste. The restaurant gets very busy, often with a wedding or birthday party in progress. Best to come here for a night or two midweek, perhaps en route north or south. It’s a great choice for lone travellers, who are made to feel particularly welcome.
Langar Hall stands in the Vale of Belvoir, right next to the village church, overlooking a series of medieval carp ponds. Come here while it’s still in its prime: a wonderful place, a real one-off – just exactly like its owner.
Langar, Nottinghamshire (01949 860559; www.langarhall.com. Doubles from £90 to £210 including breakfast. Standard double: £150.
Full of Imogen’s personality, especially when she’s around (which isn’t always).