We might be in London for a short holiday. We see the sights, monuments, museums. We shop till we drop and we are swept along by throngs of others looking for the same delights of retail therapy. But there is another vision of England. It’s that ‘green and pleasant land’ of manicured gardens, country houses and calm. There is just such an idyll and it’s only a short distance from central London.
A magnificent Victorian country house provides a step back in time to a gentler era where the sound of croquet balls being hit might likely be the only noise to remind one that there are other people about. Warren House has history, gentility and charm. Its fabric is original but there are modern amenities to pacify even the addicted iPhoner or business-oriented sort.
Warren House is set in landscaped gardens, with facilities for both commerce and leisure. But this area has been documented for hundreds of years. Since the Middle Ages the neighbourhood has been on the route from London to Portsmouth. Kingston Hill was well established even before Charles I enclosed Richmond Park in 1637. Small estates were established during the late 18th and early 19th Century, and in 1837 His Royal Highness Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, grandson of George III, acquired the seat of the late Earl of Liverpool at Coombe. The improved road to London brought the City within an hour’s carriage ride, and the area began to attract the wealthy.
The original Warren House was built in 1860 for Hugh Hammersley on 16 acres of land leased from the Duke of Cambridge. Hammersley was a partner in the successful London firm Cox and Co, bankers to the British Army and they must have done very good business. The estate remained his country retreat until his death in 1882, when it was bequeathed to his wife Dulcibella, an ancestor of Sir Anthony Eden, a future Prime Minister.
George Grenfell Glynn, the second Baron Wolverton, purchased the house and land in 1884 and made additions to both. His wife, Lady Georgiana Wolverton, was great friends with Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck, mother of the future Queen Mary, who lived at White Lodge in Richmond Park. Lady Georgiana continued to live at Warren House until her death in 1894.
American heiress Lady Mary ‘Minnie’ Paget bought the freehold of the property in 1907 and regularly entertained the rich and the powerful at Warren House. Many of the noteworthy features of the House – the Ballroom, the Persian fireplace, the Italian-style Loggia and the Winter Garden and its Grotto – were added by the Pagets. Warren House passed to her daughter, Dame Leila Paget. She was the first British Dame, honoured for her work with the Red Cross in Serbia during First World War. She continued this charitable work during the Second World War when she converted Warren House into a military convalescent home.
The industrial giant ICI used Warren House as a Conference and Training Centre until 2000. Since 2005 Warren House has been in private family ownership, and continues as a fine conference and events facility, but it’s also an intimate hotel and just perfect for a short break. The hotel has 46 well-appointed bedrooms, a lounge, a bar, four inside dining spaces, a fully-equipped cardiovascular gym, a sauna and a heated indoor swimming pool. Outside is a garden chess set as well as the aforementioned croquet lawn.
The hotel still sports many original features including a magnificent carved wooden staircase. One still has the sense of staying in a private stately home. The rooms have classic décor which works perfectly with the architecture. Bath/shower rooms are modern and the toiletries are covetable. Warren House is grand but comfortably accessible and timeless.
After a tough day sitting in the shade of a tree, playing garden games or reading a book, one will likely be starving and longing for dinner. The Persian Dining Room is stunningly beautiful with exotic Eastern mouldings and a striking fireplace that would be considered a centrepiece were it not for the fact that it’s in a corner.
The menu is interesting, well-balanced and tempting. My starter was a smoked haddock scotch egg. In fact there were 2 miniature scotch eggs, each containing a quail’s egg surrounded by delicately flavoured smoked fish. My guest’s starter was an equally light and innovative bowl of grilled courgettes, peas, ricotta mousse and Gremolata sauce. Both these dishes were flavoursome and very different. The chef was already showing his credentials.
My companion’s main course sounded interesting and hearty. This was a substantial serving of confit duck leg with duck liver and pomegranate, served with spiced aubergine. The leg was cooked to perfection but those livers were like butter. I am not normally a lover of anything offally but these were savoury yet not overpowering in any way. This dish is a must-try for any meat-lover when they visit Warren House.
But vegetarians are not forgotten and I was intrigued by a cauliflower steak, cauliflower beignet and crispy couscous. This was a unique vegetable dish that turned the humble cauli into a triumph of design and flavour. The slice of vegetable had organic architectural elegance and the grilling gave additional flavour; the battered vegetables were moreish and airy. Yes, only a plate of veggies but it was satisfying and memorable.
My guest has ever been a man ready to sacrifice himself on the altar of dessert, so he ordered the banana mousse and glazed bananas. The presentation was attractive with short columns of banana topped with crunchy caramel, flanking the mousse which had concentrated flavour – once again the chef showing that simple ingredients can be elevated into something noble.
We spent just one night at the Warren House hotel but that has acted as an encouragement to return. The grounds are lush and leafy, the fountains romantic, the rooms are havens for the weary, and the food is sumptuous.
Take a little time away from the capital on your next trip to London. Kingston has great public transport connections, and if it’s an hour away by horse-drawn carriage then you can bet it’s quicker by train (from Waterloo) or car. There is even a river boat for those who want extra adventure and have the lightest of luggage. Warren House is a world away from the usual London hotel chains, and won’t disappoint.
Surrey KT2 7HY
Phone: +44 (0)20 8547 1777
Fax: +44 (0)20 8547 1175
Hotel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018