Ultimate Luxury at South Lodge Hotel
by Gemma Dunn
Nestled in the heart of the scenic Sussex Downs, the ever-opulent South Lodge Hotel counts fine wine, award-winning cuisine, and unrivalled views amongst its five-star offerings.
Residing under the Exclusive Hotels Collection umbrella, South Lodge makes up a quarter of one of the most dynamic and successful privately owned hotel groups in the UK.
Boasting a portfolio of four luxurious hotels across the South of England, Exclusive’s concept is refreshing in that it offers guests a unique, secluded stay in each of its properties, while also ensuring that its locations are not so remote as to deny access to the surrounding areas.
My abode for the night, South Lodge Hotel is a leafy, picture-perfect country house situated in Horsham, West Sussex. Represented by Small Luxury Hotels of the World and Pride of Britain Hotels, this celebrated venue was already one of the finest hotels in England, but since enjoying a stylish investment programme, has been propelled to new heights in five-star hotel luxury.
Moreover, as an unassuming guest, it certainly didn’t take me long to realise its magnificence. Tucked away off the A281 Brighton Road, the winding driveway and snippets of parkland on route to the car park are at once, enchanting – not to mention the sentiment once the 19th-century house comes into view. Set in 93 acres of parkland, and bordering the South Downs National Park, the South Lodge estate offers stunning vistas from each and every angle.
Inside, the luxury continues. From its 89 guestrooms to its terrace, bar, and two stunning restaurants – The Camellia and The Pass, both 3 AA Rosette establishments, The Pass with a Michelin Star also – the hotel certainly befits its 5 AA Black Star standing.
Yet, it hasn’t always been a front-runner in the hospitality field. Built in 1883 as a modest dwelling, it was only after its auction purchase by the Pecorelli family in 1985 that the house was transformed into a hotel. Looking to preserve the character and charm of the once-family home, any additional work that has since gone into South Lodge has been completed with its original elements in mind.
A fan of the fusion between past and present, to say I was excited to be enjoying a mid-week break at South Lodge is an utter understatement. After practically skipping into the grand reception area, my guest and I were warmly welcomed and, after a brief tour, escorted to our room: the Evelyn suite.
From master and junior suites to deluxe guest rooms, no two rooms throughout the hotel are the same. Taking the whole sleep business very seriously, the beds (we had one each) were divinely comfortable, with sumptuous handmade mattresses, breathable hand-finished duvets and wait for it – a pillow menu. Yes, from lavender and manuka to an anti-snoring pillow (hallelujah!), South Lodge has considered guest comfort in every aspect.
Aside from an aesthetically pleasing décor – oak panelling, soft furnishings, plump cushions and alike – there are extras. And I mean extras. My favourites: an in-wall waterproof flat screen LCD TV to be watched in the spa bath; a walk-in rain shower that fires jets from above and the sides; a personal iPad, from which you can make bookings, order room service and so on; and last but by no means least, a showstopping 180-degree view of the rolling estate. A touching surprise was an empty vase on the windowsill, of which guests are invited to fill with freshly picked flowers from the hotel grounds.
In addition to such exclusive features, robes, slippers, toiletries, well-stocked tea and coffee facilities, a BOSE surround sound system with DVD player, and more, filled the room and injected the homely charm that one associates with a good overnight stay.
Now, if there’s one thing that can drag me away from a spa bath, it’s food. Booked in for a quintessential afternoon tea in the hotel lounge, my guest and I enjoyed a calming respite with autumnal views out of the grand bay windows.
A selection of finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones, and pastries – including some delectable mini jam doughnuts that were added to the menu that day – plus a slice of Haley’s homemade cake, made for a spectacular food-fuelled affair. To accompany, a pick from an extensive tea and coffee menu that, designed by the in-house tea sommelier, included hand-blended recipes courtesy of London-based artisan company, Camellia’s Tea House. While I opted for Japan Sencha, an uplifting green tea, my guest went for the signature South Lodge Tea Blend.
The ideal way to spend any afternoon – let alone a Tuesday – we could of stayed all day, if it wasn’t for the sobering fact that we’d already consumed our body weight in food, and yet had a dinner reservation in a few hours time. Considering an afternoon nap, but resigned to the idea that a brisk stroll would be most effective, we set off to explore the parkland. While the glistening lakes made for a striking backdrop, the discovery of the hotel’s amazing tree-swing-come-pod took up a good hour of our time.
An afternoon vino on the terrace rounded off the perfect day, and took us full circle to our evening dinner at The Camellia. An elegant dining room overlooking the lawns, this award-winning restaurant offers mouth-watering dishes that use fresh vegetables from the hotel’s walled kitchen garden and the finest local Sussex ingredients.
Unique in style, The Camellia, fronted by MasterChef: The Professionals 2013 winner and head chef, Steven Edwards, offers guests balanced, contemporary interpretations of traditional seasonal dishes.
Fancy yourself as a bit of a drinks connoisseur? The hotel’s expert sommelier, Dominic Roberts, has handpicked 200 plus wines to compliment Edwards’ creations, and better still, guests are invited to sample their wine choices pre-dinner in the newly restored cellar. Don’t mind if I do!
Two glasses of Tulbagh Winery Merlot, South Africa, and a novel selection of fresh, home-baked breads later, we were ready to start. Picking from the à la carte menu, my guest enjoyed a flavoursome and meticulously presented starter of crab cannelloni, paired with tomato and a delicious celery sorbet, while I opted for a meltingly rich confit duck leg, served with pak choi and cucumber.
In the way of mains, a beef fillet accompanied by creamy dauphinoise potatoes and charcoal, took my fancy. Cooked with precision, the prized cut of beef made for a showstopper of a course, served with colour-pop heritage carrots. Meanwhile, my guest went for a Greek-inspired dish of succulent lamb saddle, red pepper, courgette and feta, that certainly tasted as good as it looked.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that however full you are, there’s always room for pudding. Therefore, in honour of the earth’s thinking, I went all out and ordered what I can only describe as the epitome of my dream dessert. A chocolate and gin concoction, this culinary masterpiece was a force to be reckoned with, teamed with a tangy-sweet plum compote, ginger crumb and pear ice cream.
Unparalleled service and exquisite food marry together beautifully in The Camellia Restaurant, taking the dining experience from ordinary to extraordinary. This 2 AA rosette restaurant also serves up a market menu, Sunday lunch, five-course tasting menu for both meat eaters and vegetarians, plus a little lodgers menu.
In addition, guests can choose to dine out on the bar, lounge or terrace menu, which offers less formal dishes, or in the Michelin-starred 4 AA rosette Pass restaurant which, led by head chef, Matt Gillan, takes the ‘chef’s table’ concept and closely involves diners in the kitchen drama.
After an undisturbed night’s sleep and a rain shower or two, breakfast was served back in The Camellia Restaurant. Charcuterie platters, cheeses, smoked salmon, fresh breads, yoghurts, pastries, fresh fruit juices and more awaited, in addition to a wide range of hot cooked-to-order dishes on the breakfast menu. A feast fit for a king (or queen), it certainly set us up for the day ahead.
For those that have more time to enjoy the hotel’s facilities, there’s a croquet lawn, mountain bikes, all-weather tennis courts, and golf available for guests at the hotel’s nearby sister property, Mannings Heath Golf Club. Many also favour South Lodge for meetings, weddings, banqueting and corporate purposes, with a range of 12 flexible meeting and event spaces for up to 130 people.
From glorious grounds to Michelin-star dining, lavish guest rooms, and a flawless service, South Lodge Hotel’s definitive aim is to offer a home from home to many a discerning visitor – an ambition it maintains and exceeds by the bucket load.
One of all my all-time favourite getaways, this country house hotel denotes luxury in every sense of the word. The ultimate escape to reflect, relax and rejuvenate, I’m already dropping hints for a ‘surprise’ warming winter weekend…South Lodge Hotel Brighton Road Lower Beeding West Sussex RH13 6PS 01403 891711 www.southlodgehotel.co.uk