Review by Fiona Duncan, published 4th February 2007.
I have a thing about Cotswold hotels. Despite the fact that they often occupy beautiful old houses, too many of them are bijou tourist traps, with teddy bears and trinkets, high prices and low standards. Decent, affordable places where the less well-off can escape for the weekend, with children if they have them, are few and far between. From its website, and what I'd read about it, the Priory Inn at Tetbury sounded like a breath of fresh air: inexpensive, contemporary and family-friendly, with the accent on food.
Oh dear. It should be emphasised that the young couple who have staked everything on their project, Tanya and Dave Kelly, are doubtless committed and probably operating on a tight budget. In the two years since they bought and refurbished the place, they've had some very positive reviews and a Remy "emerging talent" award for food.
But, loath to say it as I am, you can't drive for several hours to your base for exploring the glorious, golden-stone Cotswolds and pitch up at a plain, pebbledash former roadside café on a busy main road opposite a car dealership without your heart sinking into your trainers. And yes, inside it's contemporary, but that shouldn't be an excuse for absence of character.
Public rooms, opening off the central entrance lobby, consist of a practical coffee bar with a couple of leather sofas and toy box for children (who are extremely well catered for here) and a large restaurant, with old stone walls, hung with (hideous on my visit) art for sale, and exuding all the atmosphere, and acoustics, of a school dining hall. As for the bedrooms, bright, attractive canvasses add a dash of colour to the muted beige-and-cream scenario, but there are no personal touches, and the feel is more motel than designer. The beds, though, are extra large and very comfortable. My bathroom was minute.
Two friends, Julia and Anna, joined me for dinner. We'd starved ourselves all day in anticipation, and were looking forward to a major catch-up, so the combination of slow service, uncomfortable chairs and noise from a) the piped music, b) the two singer/guitarists at the far end of the room (live music Sundays only) and c) shrieking children, almost (but not quite) defeated us.
The unimaginative menu was fairly priced and passable (decent pizza and puddings, the rest ordinary). The Priory trumpets its sourcing of local ingredients, but no matter how nearby the suppliers, the chef still has to be able to cook well. The wine list was equally modest in price if overblown in description: "tenderly crafted" with "velvety mouth-feel" and "aching to be drunk". Breakfast was just banal, with sliced packet bread - couldn't they find something freshly baked from one of their revered suppliers?
Nothing, however, was overpriced. I've been in worse places and paid much more. The hotel offers several packages, including treatments in the beauty salon next door (my curious Indian head massage consisted of a good shoulder massage plus a ruffling of the hair), complimentary tickets to Westonbirt Arboretum, and visits to local food producers. Yes, the Priory is inexpensive, contemporary and family-friendly. But, sadly, it's not the Cotswold base for me.
London Road, Tetbury, Gloucestershire (01666 512251; www.theprioryinn.co.uk). Doubles available from £99 to £109 per night, including breakfast.