Great British Menu winner’s amazing hotel dining experience

PUBLISHED: 16:48 16 October 2020 | UPDATED: 09:04 19 October 2020

Whatley Manor is an elegant 19th Century Grade II-listed manor. Photo: Pride of Britain Hotels

Whatley Manor is an elegant 19th Century Grade II-listed manor. Photo: Pride of Britain Hotels

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Celebrity chef Niall Keating celebrates a second Michelin star at his Cotwolds restaurant

The Dining Room is the hotel's signature restaurant. Photo: Pride of Britain HotelsThe Dining Room is the hotel's signature restaurant. Photo: Pride of Britain Hotels

Amid a torrent of doom and gloom this year, I think I might have found someone who’s had a ‘good’ 2020. No, don’t laugh, there are some people out there who can look back on the past 12 months with satisfaction...and I am not just referring to manufacturers of PPE and plastic screens.

The ‘someone’ in question in my case is chef Niall Keating. In the past 12 months he has not only won the BBC’s Great British Menu, but also been awarded a second Michelin star for his innovative cooking in his signature restaurant, The Dining Room, at Whatley Manor Hotel and Spa in Wiltshire.

So, things are looking pretty chipper for Niall, one imagines. I jest, to some degree about him having a good 2020, of course. Frankly, anyone who works in the UK hospitality industry can’t fail to see the past year through the rather foggy-tinted specs of the lockdown and ongoing effects of coronavirus rules and regulations.

Even in a good year for Niall therefore, one imagines it has been something of a challenge to maintain that subtle blend of enthusiasm, high standards and teamwork which distinguishes brilliant dining establishments from the rest. That goes for all his colleagues too – a hotel, spa and dining venue such as Whatley Manor has established its somewhat stellar reputation for high standards of hospitality on the basis of first-class attention to detail, friendliness and impeccable service standards.

Niall Keating's menus deserve all the plaudits he receives. Photo: Pride of Britain HotelsNiall Keating's menus deserve all the plaudits he receives. Photo: Pride of Britain Hotels

How much more difficult it must be for teams to maintain those standards in the face of masks, social distancing, extra hygiene requirements and all the other cacophony of challenges they need to work with in this ‘new normal’.

However, having just returned from an overnight stay and dinner at Whatley Manor I am pleased to report that the team did not miss a beat. They were impeccable from first to last.

READ MORE: 4 fabulous places we recommend for dining

Furnishings were elegant and in keeping with the style of the whole manor. Photo: Pride of Britain HotelsFurnishings were elegant and in keeping with the style of the whole manor. Photo: Pride of Britain Hotels

Frankly, my high regard for Whatley Manor and all it stands for had started long before I even met a member of staff. Sweeping down the long drive towards this elegant 19th Century Grade II-listed manor, not a grass was out of place and the buildings shone like butterscotch beacons in the late autumn sun.

The wonderful courtyard around which the manor was originally built now provides a hotel entrance which is surely one of the most picturesque in the UK. And, having been wonderfully welcomed by the attentive reception team - who reinforced the hotel’s hygiene rules with grace and subtlety - I am pleased to say our suite for the night was overlooking the aforementioned courtyard too.

What a room to stay in for the evening. More like a cottage really. Laid out on two floors with a relaxing living room area and a choice of two bathrooms, this was a beautifully appointed suite which makes the very most of the surroundings. Furnishings were elegant and in keeping with the style of the whole manor. This was a most welcome start to our stay.

The Aquarias Spa is billed as a place to restore mind and body. Photo: Pride of Britain HotelsThe Aquarias Spa is billed as a place to restore mind and body. Photo: Pride of Britain Hotels

An explore was on the cards before dinner and the gardens at Whatley Manor offer every opportunity to enjoy the surroundings. Laid out in a mix of formal and modern style, with some quirky architectural and sculpture pieces to mix the mood, they were an utter delight to walk around. We lingered in the warm sunshine, counting ourselves very lucky to be in such wonderful surroundings.

When someone mentions that your dining “experience” starts at 7pm you could take that one of two ways...but I am pleased to report that our experience was an adjective overload zone. Stellar. Jaw-dropping. Magnificent. I could give you ten more to describe the meld of talent, innovation and creativity which Niall brings to his plates. That second Michelin star and the 5 AA red stars he and the team have achieved have been richly earned.

Again here, a word too for the waiting staff. Interacting with diners and being attentive and explaining courses whilst ‘masked up’ cannot be easy but they carried it out with elan and excellence. The tasting menu had transported us to another level in terms of dining experiences...those judges know what they are doing to hand out the gongs to the team.

Service at breakfast was much in the same vein...only this time in another beautiful room – Grey’s Brasserie, where the menu for lunch and dinner also offers some fabulous choices in elegant surroundings.

All too soon it was time to experience that long drive in the wrong direction but we vowed to return soon. This fabulous hotel gets every last detail just right and although one could talk about a stay being a once-in-a-lifetime experience, frankly once is just not often enough!

Find out more here about staying at Whatley Manor

GIVE A STAY AS A GIFT

Andy Cooper was hosted by Whatley Manor Hotel & Spa in Wiltshire, a member of the Pride of Britain Hotels collection (never more than 50 hotels, to guarantee quality and exclusivity). The hotel has 23 bedrooms, holds two Michelin stars, and 5 AA Red Stars.

An overnight stay costs from £279 per room (two sharing) including full English breakfast and use of the Aquarias Spa. To book call Pride of Britain Hotels on 0800 089 3929 or visit prideofbritainhotels.com for full details.

Pride of Britain Hotels gift vouchers are an ideal Christmas or birthday gift and can be used as full or part payment for accommodation, meals or any service (spa treatments, experiences etc) at any Pride of Britain member establishment. Vouchers are valid for two years from the date of purchase.

RELAX IN THE SPA

The hotel’s Aquarias Spa, conveniently housed in a separate part of the complex away from the main entrance to the hotel is billed as a place to restore mind and body, to reset and recharge…and it really does.

Visitors can immerse themselves in a series of experiences such as indoor/outdoor hydrotherapy pool; heated stone recliners, salt scrub showers and a thermal suite. Again, in this COVID-aware world steps have been taken to ensure the guest experience is not hindered whilst also respecting the rules in relation to social distancing.

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