“ Address: Kings Walden Road / Great Offley / Hitchin / SG5 3DS / Hertfordshire / England „
Last week on the spur of the moment, I decided that it would be nice to properly celebrate my husband's return home to the UK. I didn't want to travel far though so set about looking for somewhere near our home in Hertfordshire that had both good dining and accommodation. I was fairly flexible on the type of establishment and considered everything from pubs with rooms to country house hotels. Unfortunately, as it was the bank holiday weekend and I had left it rather late, all of the pubs I tried were already full. The country house hotels typically had vacancies and I eventually decided upon Offley Place, mainly because of the relatively reasonable prices.
Offley Place is situated in the small village of Great Offley, which is very close to Hitchin and Letchworth. The house dates back to the 17th century and is set in 27 acres of parkland. The website looks a little amateurish but there were sufficient pictures to tempt me to send an email to find out about rooms and rates. I got a reply the next morning and after a quick phone call we were booked in. It was very easy to find the hotel, the gates are right off the high street in Great Offley. After we parked and walked up to the main door I was not too impressed with the outside of the building which looked desperately in need of some maintenance with its crumbling walls. Fortunately as we stepped into the entrance hall, I was quickly able to assess that this was not the case inside as well.
Check in was quick and easy or should I say it was once we located somebody to assist us, there was nobody in the entrance hall, the bar or either of the two lounges off the hall. We eventually wandered through the dining room and managed to attract the attention of somebody on the other side of a "staff only" door. After we were checked in, the receptionist escorted us up to our room. We were delighted with the room and the bathroom, both were spacious and looked very clean and well maintained. There was a large wall mounted flat screen TV and the rest of the furniture and bedding looked expensive, brand new and very fitting for a grand country house hotel.
As my husband had been on an overnight flight the night before and we have no furniture in our own house at the moment we decided to do very little that afternoon other than lounge around this lovely room. One thing that did slightly trouble us was that there was some kind of a children's fete being hosted in the grounds directly below our window, there was no air conditioning in the room so we had to make a choice between noise and staying cool. Initially we chose the noise, deciding that the sounds of children's laughter on a summer's afternoon was no so bad really. Soon afterwards the teeny bopper's disco started. Even with the windows closed this created a hell of a racket, we realised it was not going to last the whole night but as peace and quiet was our goal we decided that this was simply not acceptable to us. I tried calling reception several times but nobody answered so we quickly repacked our bag and went back down having decided that either they move us to a room without the noise pollution or we would leave. I was not prepared to spend this kind of money on such a compromised break.
We found the staff very accommodating. We were invited to go up to two other bedrooms and see if either was to our liking. The first was still affected by the racket below, but the second was fine and we took it. The room was very similar to the other one in terms of décor, but it was larger and was one grade up although we were not charged the increased rate. As we were planning to have a lazy afternoon, we were slightly disgruntled to find the TV didn't work in this room, but decided not to complain again!
After a few hours relaxing we got ready and went downstairs for dinner. We were invited to sit in one of the lounges and look over the menu with a pre-dinner drink. The menu was simple and I thought a little bit too limited, there were only four options for each course and I thought it could have done with a couple. None of the starters particularly appealed to me, which is very unusual because normally I love starters. I decided to ask if there was a soup of the day but there was not so I opted for smoked fish and my husband had a ham hock terrine. None of the starters were suitable for vegetarians. The main course options included a red meat, a white meat, a fish and a vegetarian dish. We both ordered the lamb.
Shortly afterwards, our waiter came over to us still in the lounge and invited us to go to our table as the starters were almost ready. The restaurant was very impressive; well spaced out tables covered in crisp white linen, big open fireplace, huge padded chairs covered in a pale violet crushed velvet, high ceilings and deep plum curtains hung at the ceiling to floor windows. We were given a lovely corner table and we were very happy with it.
Service in the restaurant requires comments. We received exemplary service and we noticed that a few other tables around us did as well. However, shortly after we sat down a couple dressed in jeans and trainers arrived and were shown to their table. And then they were ignored. Another table of four arrived shortly afterwards and like us were served with bread, wine and water in the usual timeframes whilst this other table still sat waiting. Eventually they decided to leave, they stood up and hovered for a few minutes as if to explain their departure but they were still ignored and eventually slunk off without a word. I was somewhat troubld by this, firstly I did think that their attire was totally inappropriate for the surroundings, but if this is what the problem was then they should have been told that there is a dress code in the evenings and they could not come in as they were. I don't think they should have been shown to a table and then ignored! There was another group, who were sitting in the conservatory just off the restaurant and I noticed that they also struggled to get attention, although they were rather drunk and obnoxious though (from the start) and one even grabbed the waiter's arm and tried to drag him outside.
Anyway back to the food, well I thought it was just average for the price, I was not that enthusiastic with the lamb which was a bit too pink for my liking, we had not been asked how we liked it cooked. My husband who likes very pink meat thought the food was very good. Three courses are a fixed £35, which I thought was over priced for the quality, we did get a very nice bottle of wine for a reasonable £21.
We had a peaceful and restful night with no noise from other rooms or the corridors. In the morning we had a pleasant breakfast downstairs, which was the usual offering of self service cereal and pastries followed by a made to order cooked English.
The positives of the experience included; the standard of room and the very attractive public areas, the restaurant ambience and the excellent service we received throughout our stay. On the downside we were not impressed to find this function being held in the grounds immediately below our window and we thought it indicated that the hotel does not know quite what it is trying to offer. The food in the restaurant was pleasant but did not match up to the beautiful surroundings or the price and we did notice those different service standards.
One night's accommodation with breakfast for two cost £125. I thought this was good value for money and compared extremely favourably with similar establishments I had considered for the weekend.
17th century house hotel offer 16 eloquent rooms decorated to offer modern day convenience with period time surroundings.