Sandwiched between Marlow and Henley, in the Berkshire countryside, is Hurley House Hotel, an elegant pub and restaurant with 10 bedrooms. The pub area has been lovingly renovated with flagstone floors, a copper-topped bar and comfy armchairs next to a welcoming fireplace while the dining room is refined but cosy with dark woods, warm lighting and racing-green leather booths for two. Friendly staff are laidback, and always on-hand to offer suggestions.
Michael Chapman (formerly head chef of Michelin-starred The Royal Oak at Paley Street) is at the helm, steering a daily-changing menu that champions locally sourced ingredients. Start at the bar with a G&T and a jar of silky smoked mackerel pâté with pickled cucumber and toasts while you study the menu.
In our case this included starters of delicate Wiltshire fallow deer carpaccio with pickled shimeji mushrooms and truffle, blow-torched Brixham mackerel with celeriac remoulade, horseradish and refreshing chunks of apple, and burnt leeks, salt baked celeriac, berkswell and foraged mushroom; this is a kitchen that’s serious about veg.
For our main course we chose Gressingham duck breast, its crisp skin hugging soft, pink meat alongside earthy heritage beetroot and hazelnuts (though a plate fellow of confit leg croquette was over-seasoned). Also flavourful Berkshire hogget with tender braised cannelloni, sweet roast Chantenay carrots and salt baked swede. Portions are generous, so resist ordering extra sides (roast Jerusalem artichokes, buttered January King cabbage, chunky house chips) if you can.
For dessert, order the textbook, rich chocolate fondant served with a milk ice cream that’s worth a visit alone.
Expect intriguing twists on classic cocktails – a Kashmir Gimlet with jasmine tea, perhaps, or a buttered popcorn Old Fashioned – an artisan gin and tonic list, local beers from the likes of Rebellion brewery and an extensive wine list from independent vineyards curated by Alex Sergeant (former sommelier at the Michelin-Starred Harwood Arms) and offering bottles from £20 plus a good selection by the glass (including a stunning, silky, savoury Rully).
There are 10 bedrooms upstairs, all elegantly decorated in neutral tones and luxurious soft furnishings, but each with their own character. From the not-too-soft king-sized beds draped in high thread-count sheets and the option of hard or soft pillows to the coffee machine and imaginative mini bar treats, every detail has been thought about here. Book room 10 at the back of the hotel to avoid potential road noise and wallow in its free-standing bath.
Help yourself to a stonking spread of yogurt, homemade muesli, smoothies and pastries, or settle into a booth and order a generous portion of eggs royal (perfectly poached eggs and a piquant hollandaise), French toast, creamy porridge with bananas and toasted hazelnuts, or a hearty full English with Trealy Farm black pudding.
Rooms start from £155 b&b. hurleyhouse.co.uk
Written March 2017