Miller of Mansfield

“Thames-side village pub turned hotel and restaurant which isn't quite sure of its identity”

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 6th April 2008.

For the first time, I followed the advice of a Mr and Mrs Smith guide, and it all started promisingly. I was looking for a place in the Thames Valley and, leafing through the latest Mr and Mrs Smith Hotel Collection, was delighted to come across this 18th-century inn at pretty, riverside Goring. As we left London we felt in tune with the Smiths; we even found we had a quarrel in common, when we read that they had bickered just like us about whether to take the M4 or the M40.

Our hopes were high. There are only 34 hotels described in the book, "a completely fresh, knock-out collection of hotels with that all-important wow factor".

Mr and Mrs Smith and Mr and Mrs Duncan have not just a quarrel in common, but also a bed. Like us, they were given Room 4, described by them as a "penthouse perch" and by the hotel as a "luxury suite".

Which is where we parted company with our new friends. For if Room 4 was either a "penthouse" or a "luxury suite", then I'm the Miller of Mansfield.

The hotel itself, given its recent makeover by new owners, has a lovely façade. Inside, we were ushered upstairs by the charming young manageress, Sara. But staircases are like soothsayers: they bode well or ill, and this steep and shabby one, I fear, hinted strongly at the latter. Halfway up, brown armchairs, a sofa and a meagre bookshelf on the landing represented the residents' lounge.

Another flight and we reached one of the two "luxury suites" or garrets, as Mr Duncan rudely called them. Luxury? An expanse of white, crudely painted floorboards, a large bed, tiny plasma telly on the wall, oriental rug (thank goodness) and kitsch, coloured-glass chandeliers. Suite? Steps down to a smaller room with a day bed and a junk shop wardrobe that fell on top of me when I tried to open the door.

In the bathroom, a monsoon shower over a deep, stylish free-standing bath, but nowhere to put wash bags, and awkward taps and gel dispensers. It all felt ad hoc and we couldn't get comfortable. The other rooms I saw were similarly funky in decoration and similarly ad hoc and overpriced. I kept thinking of another inn, Gurnard's Head in Cornwall, also rough at the edges, but with bedrooms that cost about £50 less a night, no style-conscious pretensions upping the ante, and downstairs a great, genuine atmosphere.

Downstairs at the Miller, we found a place that wants to be a hip fine-dining restaurant with rooms, with a happening bar, but is still, despite its irritating new black-and-purple colour scheme, a rather ordinary pub with a large, eclectic, under-used dining room at the back.

And so to bed. Mr and Mrs Duncan slept fitfully and left after breakfast, by now somewhat confused by Mr and Mrs Smith. We have much in common, not least that we are both husband and wife hotel pundits, and none of us is infallible. But, judging by this place, style counts for more than substance with the Smiths, while for the Duncans it's the other way round.

High Street, Goring on Thames, Reading (01491 872829; www.millerofmansfield.com). Double rooms from £135 to £175 per night, including breakfast.

The Hotel Guru verdict

Rooms
3 out of 5

Imaginative decoration in parts but wacky chandeliers alone don't make a good hotel

Service
4 out of 5

Friendly, committed manageress with a tough job on her hands

Character
2 out of 5

Weird, unsuccessful mix of old and meant-to-be-hip

Food and drink
4 out of 5

No complaints; most dishes were good, with fun touches such as kir-flavoured "caviar"

Value for money
2 out of 5

Overpriced: too rough at the edges to justify the current rates

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