A leading Midland hotel's refurbishment has been money well spent, reports Adrian Caffery.
With kisses goodbye and a ‘‘be good for nanny and grandad’’ we set off for first night away from our two-year-old daughter.
Anticipating a little parental anxiety, we’d booked a hotel not a million miles away from our Droitwich Spa home. In fact, it was only ten miles away.
Yet the peaceful Brockencote Hall, which lies in 70 acres of parkland with a fishing lake and a charming half-timbered dovecote dating from 1600s, seemed a world away.
The Victorian mansion is down a leafy lane off the Bromsgrove to Kidderminster road and is a five-minute walk from the attractive village of Chaddesley Corbett.
In the 1940s, following a major fire, Brockencote was remodelled as a French-style chateau by the well-travelled Butler family (of the Mitchell and Butler brewery).
Its potential as hotel and restaurant was seen by Joseph and Alison Petitjean, who first viewed the property just two days after their wedding in France in 1985.
They invested heavily in Brockencote, adding a conservatory and a new building to match the original, and traded successfully for 25 years.
But by 2011 the hotel had become dated and the Petitjeans realised that it required a major overhaul to remain attractive to its well-heeled clientele.
They put Brockencote on the market and it was snapped up by Sir Peter Rigby’s expanding group of luxury hotels, the Eden Collection.
A multi-million pound facelift, completed in the summer, has breathed new life into the buildings, combining the traditional with the contemporary.
But Brockencote’s Victorian elegance remains clearly recognisable, especially in the entrance hall and in the library, where we enjoyed a splendid cream tea.
The cash splash was most noticeable in our bedroom, number four.
Our super comfy bed was 6ft wide and high enough for Ronnie Corbett to require a step-ladder, should the diminutive comedian ever be lucky enough to stay.
You’d expect such a large bed to make the room look smaller. Not this one. This was one of Brockencote’s feature suites.
It was also large enough to accommodate an abundance of quality, handmade furniture as well as an oversized marble fireplace.
In contrast to the timeless charm of the bedroom, the bathroom was ultra-modern, apart from the large picture of a pair of cherubs who thoughtfully diverted their gaze as I used the walk-in shower.
The suite was packed with welcome little touches – shoe horn, clothes brush, bottle opener, wine glasses, cafetiere, fresh fruit, homemade biscuits, enough tea and coffee to last a week, and a fridge stocked with fresh milk and four bottles of Wenlock still and sparkling spring water,
But for all this, my favourite thing about room number four was the unimpeded view from the four tall windows – all the way to the Malvern Hills.
Below our windows was the restaurant terrace (complete with water feature) and beyond the haha was a round field the size of a cricket pitch with one lonely, mature tree in the ‘outfield’ giving it the look of Kent’s Canterbury ground of times past.
Under the Petitjeans, Brockencote had built up a solid reputation for fine dining with two AA rosettes. But the hotel is now aiming for the very highest culinary accolades.
After the takeover, Simon Haigh, executive chef at Mallory Court in Leamington, which has been awarded a Michelin star 12 years running, was brought in by Sir Peter to oversee a review.
Adam Brown was then appointed head chef, switching from The Arden Hotel in Stratford, another hotel in the Eden Collection.
He trained under Gordon Ramsay and David Everitt-Matthias at Cheltenham’s two Michelin star Le Champignon Sauvage, and uses only the freshest ingredients in creating his unique and interesting menu
Our dining experience was one to remember, not least because of the staff who were all exceptionally welcoming and helpful.
Over pre-dinner drinks in the conservatory, we perused four menus – the Seasonal, the Market, a six-course Taster and a vegetarian menu.
Our four appetizers were a delight, except for an onion mousse which tasted to me like something that should be served by the pint in a Bushtucker trial in I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!
Talking of Bushtucker trials, I’ve always been a little squeamish about trying any cuts of meat a little our of the ordinary – probably influenced by my vegetarian wife.
So I made a mental note not to order the dish that included smoked tongue and plumped, instead, for the pan-fried beef (cooked medium rare on the recommendation of the chef).
We were led into the spacious and elegant restaurant and my beautifully presented starter of Cornish crab with sweet wine and apple jelly and garden radish tasted heavenly.
I had my doubts about my main because I’ve always enjoyed my meat cooked medium well. But it was sumptuous and made me wonder what I’ve been missing all these years. The beef came with marrow, heritage carrots and something that I struggled to identify but wished I’d had a lot more of. I checked the menu again and it turned out the mystery food was smoked tongue.
Sometimes being an idiot pays off.
The very civilised 11.30 checkout meant we had time for our breakfasts (red berry compote, full English, a pain au chocolat and several rounds of toast, in my case) to go down while reading our complimentary Sunday paper.
It was with heavy hearts (not to mention heavy tummies) that we dragged ourselves from that bed, and from Brockencote as a whole.
We could have made a proper weekend of it by visiting Harvington Hall, a moated Elizabethan manor house famed for its priest holes that’s just one mile away.
But we were keen to relieve our babysitters of their duties and we were back home before our daughter had even had time to start missing us.
Double rooms start at £135 per night for two people with breakfast (Sunday-Thursday) and from £155 on Fridays and Saturdays. A three-course festive dinner menu is available until Christmas Eve costing £39.50 per person. The Seasonal menu (available year-round) is £44.50pp for two courses and £59.50 for three courses. The six-course Tasting menu is £75pp. Lunch is £22.50pp for two courses and £29.50 for three. To book, call 01562-777876 or click on www.brockencotehall.com
Seared scallop, pumpkin, sea purslane, baby squid
Charred mackerel, sweet wine & apple jelly, coriander
Roasted quail, celeriac, confit leg, apple & autumn truffle
Roasted calf’s sweetbread in maple & orange, chervil root, hazelnut
Pressed rabbit, foie gras and smoked eel terrine, chicory and golden raisin
Roasted monkfish tail, cepes, parsley root and cocks comb
Pan fried Cornish brill, Jerusalem artichoke, sprouting broccoli, cockles
Breast & leg of local wild duck, chestnut, braised salsify, maple glazed chicory
Sirloin of beef, home smoked ox tongue, heritage carrots, red wine onions
Loin of fallow deer, apple and potato terrine, beetroot & bone marrow
Selection of six British and French cheeses from the trolley
Milk chocolate delice, Gianduja chocolate mousse, toasted barley ice cream
Muscavado semifreddo, baby pear, bitter chocolate ice cream
Golden plum, date cake, caramelized honey cream
Fig tatin, brown butter ice cream
Success has snowballed
Brockencote Hall head chef Adam Brown has beaten off competition from Michelin-starred contemporaries to win a prestigious national cook Success has snowballed ery contest.
Adam’s Tangerine Snowball iced dessert wowed judges and diners at the finals of UK Visionary Dining Chef, an annual competition staged by national consultancy visionarydining.com
His fellow competitors included Aiden Byrne, the youngest British chef to win a Michelin star and whose Cheshire restaurant is the AA’s current Restaurant of the Year; Kenny Atkinson, twice winner of BBC2’s Great British Menu; and Martin Wishart, whose Edinburgh restaurant holds a Michelin star and four AA rosettes.
Adam’s winning dish of iced tangerine mousse in a white chocolate shell, served with a carrot sorbet and a buttermilk granita, which took ten hours to prepare, won the award for innovation.
The panel of judges, headed by Mark Sargeant from ITV’s Saturday Cookbook, described the dish as ‘‘stunning on several levels, with refined textures and flavours and flawless, cutting-edge technical execution’’.
Diners at Brockencote Hall can now judge for themselves as the desert has just been added to the menu.