Review by Fiona Duncan, published 18th January 2009.
Tough times ahead, and we’re all looking at ways to tighten our belts. When it comes to choosing hotels, whether luxury or budget, we’re more likely than ever to keep our beady eyes on their cost: that unexpectedly hefty bill could cause a wipeout at reception, not merely a wince. And yet value for money is something that’s hard enough for even the most conscientious British hoteliers to deliver in the good times, let alone the bad, given the burdensome costs of staffing, food, property, maintenance, VAT and the rest.
I worry for the country house hotel, the sort of place where the bedrooms are pleasant and thoughtfully equipped without being memorable, but still cost serious money because the rest of the establishment has serious attractions: perhaps beautiful gardens, attentive service, a fine dining restaurant, afternoon tea, tennis and croquet on the lawn.
My bedroom in a hotel such as this would be pretty enough, and undoubtedly spacious. It would have a pleasant bathroom with piping hot water, a power shower and quality toiletries, and in the bedroom a flat-screen TV and DVD player with complimentary films, plus books and current magazines to browse, a tea and coffee tray, minibar and newspaper.
There would be flowers, attractive pictures and fabrics, perhaps an oak beam or two, and most important, a large, luxurious bed. If I pay £250 a night for that lot in a fully-fledged hotel, I’ll be doing well.
But I need to budget. At the Royal Oak, in Goodwood country, my room is not large but I have a decent bathroom with piping hot water, power shower and l’Occitane products, a flat-screen TV and DVD player, free films, books and magazines, a tea and coffee tray, and a fridge stocked with fresh milk, soft drinks and chocolate. There are flowers, attractive fabrics, oak beams and, most important, a large, luxurious bed. It’s a weekday so I’m paying £95. At weekends it would be £125, including breakfast.
I’m not in a hotel, of course. There’s no croquet here, or expansive gardens, just a pretty Georgian brick and flint pub in a pretty Sussex village. The food is excellent, the atmosphere warm and friendly, the bedrooms all one could ask for and more.
No great hardship then, to forego the fully-fledged hotel for this – in fact, in terms of dining it’s probably a whole lot more fun. In a buzzing, firelit restaurant we eat the sort of food we crave – perfectly judged scallops with butternut squash purée, fillet of sea bass on a warm potato salad with tapenade, crunchy pork belly and rib eye of beef – not the fiddly, foam-spattered dishes beloved of try-hard hotel dining.
Pook Lane, East Lavant, Chichester (01243 527434; www.royaloakeastlavant.co.uk). Doubles from £90 per night, including breakfast. Ground floor rooms for guests with disabilities.