Review by Fiona Duncan, published 7th December 2011.
Who says youth is more accommodating than age? When it comes to hotels, the grey brigade are far more accepting: they'll happily settle down to a cream tea at a trendy new place, say The Pig in Hampshire or the Beckford Arms in Wiltshire, and they'll just as happily do the same in genteel, antique-stuffed addresses. The young, in thrall to the style police, would only countenance the first two.
They are the losers. Give them a few years – they'll get there. The style brigade would throw a wobbly if they found themselves at Read's. They'd acknowledge that it was seamlessly run, and they'd have no objection to the fine, unfussy, contemporary British food, but whereas we embrace its aura of contented middle age, the urban trendies would be restlessly looking for the iPod dock and averting their eyes from the brass candle wall lights.
They are missing a heart-warming experience. That aura of contentment emanates as soon as we pull up in front of an elegant Georgian house whose sympathetic proportions instantly soothe. As we approach the front door, so it opens. Bags are taken and we are ushered immediately to our room, one of six, shown around, and left in peace.
Like the others, our room is large and elegant and so is the bathroom. And traditional, old-fashioned even. The Roberts radio is pre-tuned to Radio 4, which is fine, though even for us, the decanter of cream sherry and, yes, the brass wall lights and the repro Sheraton furniture are two tads too old hat. But the Savoir bed is superb and the graciousness of the room, with its bay windows, has a further calming effect.
Read's is the real deal. Rona and David Pitchford bought the house 11 years ago, moving from a nearby restaurant. David, the chef, has held a Michelin star for 20 years (only Aaron Paterson at Hambleton Hall has held one longer, by one year) and still orchestrates the kitchen every day, though nowadays he has a team of seven to help him; for a long time there was just one. Rona runs front of house with the lightest of touches. They may be grandparents but they are still a dream team.
The bar/sitting room, where guests gather for drinks before dinner, could also do with some judicious updating in the furniture department, though the collection of Christmas cards and illustrated faxes sent to the Pitchfords from their friend Ronald Searle are a unique delight.
Our friends Nigel and Lexi join us. Talk about age being no barrier: Nigel, in his eighties, still writes and gives delightful talks about his years as an opera singer. Lexi knows Read's: when she ran a clothing company, she used to bring 20 partying factory ladies here for their annual works treat. "Rona couldn't have been kinder," she reports.
Our food, kicking off with a delicate cone of brandade de morue, is as assured as you might expect. As for the starters, they're so pretty – wafer-thin tarts of tomato and rocket from the garden – that Lexi and I want to wear them as hats, perched daintily on our heads. And the "best buys" page of the wine list is a godsend.
- Macknade Manor, Canterbury Road, Faversham, ME13 8XE (01795 535344; reads.com). Doubles from £165 per night, singles from £125, including breakfast; dinner, b&b from £135 per person. Access difficult for guests with disabilities
WHAT TO DO
There's much to see and do close to Reads, from birdwatching at Oare Marshes (at the bottom of Church Road, Oare, near Faversham;kentwildlifetrust.org) and brewery tours at Shepherds Neame(shepherdsneame.co.uk) to visiting Whitstable, especially during its oyster festival (whitstableoysterfestival.com) or playing golf at the famous Royal St George's on Sandwich Bay (royalstgeorges.com). The charming towns of Rye and Ramsgate (which has an unexpectedly pretty Georgian core) are also within easy reach, as is Canterbury where the Goods Shed is a fantastic organic food market and restaurant.
WHERE TO EAT
Good food is easy to find, not just at Reads. Elizabeth Carter of the Good Food Guide has described the area between Whitstable, Canterbury and Faversham as the Golden Triangle, with a surfeit of fine dining options in the way that Ludlow had a few years back. Places that stand out are The Sportsman (thesportsmanseasalter.co.uk) at Whitstable, with a Michelin star; The Dove (doveatdargate.co.uk) in the village of Dargate – excellent, rustic pub food from a great chef – he cooks, his wife serves; and JoJo's tapas bar (jojosrestaurant.co.uk) in Tankerton. They are backed by excellent local producers: fish supplied from Oare and organic produce from Saffrey Farm, Faversham, which is open to the public on Saturday mornings. Macnades Farm Shop, opposite Read's, is also a good place to buy local produce. And just down the road from Read's is Brodgale Trust (brogdale.org) which houses the national collection of fruit trees.