Review by Fiona Duncan, published 23rd August 2009.
Although I admire it, the renowned Chewton Glen Hotel, with the highest of standards and every "extra" you can think of, is just not a place I'd care to blow £400 a night. Some agree with me, many don't. Someone who does agree told me about Westover Hall, just along the coast at Milford-on-Sea. "Not as luxurious as Chewton Glen," she said, "but quite as much luxury as anybody needs, plus a more relaxed, intimate atmosphere. And it has fabulous sea views, which Chewton Glen doesn't. I'm sure you'll love it."
Not at first. My arrival in the dark did the hotel no immediate favours, as Westover Hall is one of those Victorian magnates' mansions (in this case German industrialist Alexander Siemens) that could, at a cursory glance, just as easily have done service as a prep school. The mass of dark-oak paneling in the large, square hall made me think of Matron and Match Results and the black-suited foreign staff lent a corporate, hands-off air.
My non sea-facing bedroom, while light and soothing and perfectly pleasant, struck me as not up to the price, while back downstairs the bar was too cramped and fellow guests looked about 110 in the shade (this was midweek; a younger Mr-and-Mrs-Smith crowd change the hotel's character at weekends). To cap it all, the much-vaunted food in One Park Lane, the fine dining restaurant (there is also a bistro) was a disappointment.
I'll return to the food, but first I must reveal, lest you have already chucked the paper to one side, what the morning brought, which was, if not a volte face, then certainly a radical rethink. The night before I couldn't decide if the place was more of an old people's home or a boarding school; now, with sunshine filling the rooms, I noticed how fine the paneling, how beautiful the stained glass (depicting scenes from the Enchanted Forest) of Scottish artist Oscar Paterson, and how wonderfully eclectic the tiled fireplaces by Pre-Raphaelite William de Morgan. And then there was the view (adjacent modern housing aside) across a swathe of wild grasses leading to the sea and the distant Isle of Wight. Friendly staff; light and airy bistro for breakfast; tempting terrace. Really nice place, I decided over my cafetière of coffee, fickle creature that I am.
I have heard much better first-hand reports of the food than was my experience. Aping current fashion, each dish on the menu is announced by its principal ingredient – Scallop; Lamb; Raspberry and so on – followed by more detailed descriptions that sound intriguing but wildly complicated (Seared Foie Gras, Sweet Pickled Rhubarb, Roasted Hazlenut Candy, Cabernet Sauvignon Foam). To cut to the chase, the kitchen wasn't up to the descriptions or the complication, and the result, on my plate at least, was almost inedible. This is a shame, because Westover Hall has a lot going for it, and yes, food apart, I'd much rather be there than Chewton Glen.
Telegraph rating (out of five)