This is an imposing Queen Anne mansion. Go on, admit it, you can’t remember who Queen Anne was and didn’t know she was a builder. The Elms dates from 1710 and the exterior has all the elegant proportions of a stately home of that period. It was designed by architect Thomas White who was a pupil of the renowned Sir Christopher Wren, designer of St Paul’s Cathedral. The house was sold in 1946 and was turned into a country house hotel.
The Elms is set in formal gardens and is surrounded by ten acres or so of parkland. This is very rural Worcestershire, and the house offers idyllic views over the Teme Valley and a good number of other counties. This is a perfectly-located base for trips to enjoy local festivals such as the annual celebration of Asparagus, and to soak up a little history in Worcester and its neighbouring towns. Malvern and Evesham are within easy reach.
The hotel has been completely refurbished but many of the public rooms retain the air of the traditional stately home. Dark wood, leather sofas and chairs and open fires exude old-fashioned charm that tourists so love – or would if they could find it. Paintings and busts of people that must have been famous all add to the impression that this might still be someone’s ancestral pile.
But The Elms is indeed a hotel and one that, surprisingly, is catering for families. Yes, families can book into any hotel but youngsters are more often just tolerated rather than welcomed. I had been expecting a Jolly Campers establishment with a uniformed glee club, but a childless adult here would have to seek out the child-friendly elements – there is nothing excessively kiddy-oriented at the Elms.
There is a baby-listening service so parents can leave the room and go for a thoroughly adult dinner with no worries about returning to a red-in-the-face and tearful tot. There is plenty to amuse those little ones during the day with their own Bears Den crèche (Ofsted registered). For older children, there’s an air-hockey machine, tabletop football, board games and an Xbox. Sounds as good as home! You might even coax the kids outside for croquet, outdoor table tennis, football, trampoline and there is an outdoor adventure playground.
The Elms boasts a family spa with a 12-metre swimming pool, thermal retreat with steam room, sauna and ice fountain (I am not sure I like the sound of that), Rasul mud therapy room, state-of-the-art gym equipment, and an indoor/outdoor Hydro Spa – that’s a spot for all the family to enjoy.
Our room was attractive and cosy. Stunning views over those aforementioned counties. The bathroom was well appointed and had a selection of high-end Spa toiletries, as one would hope at a hotel with a pampering annex. Tea and coffee-making facilities in the corner so we unwound, soaked and snoozed till dinner.
Head Chef Daren Bale has built The Elms’ fine dining reputation. He has won many accolades, including 2 AA Rosettes, Best British Cheeseboard, and Worcestershire Life’s 2007/2008 Restaurant of the Year. The dining room is elegant and striking with tables set with brass candlesticks and tall, white candles that gave one the impression of perhaps a classic French restaurant, the style of restaurant that encourages guests to speak quietly and probably about the arts or the latest in the Financial Times.
Pressing of Goose and Foie Gras, Pear, Pickled Wild Mushroom and Haricot Bean Dressing was my starter. The terrine was dense and flavourful. This would have made a very classy lunch item. The presentation was appealing and the garnishes appropriate for the goose.
Velouté of Jerusalem Artichoke, Langoustine, Peas and Lemon was my companion’s choice – a delicious bowl of delicate seafood and soup. This is the sort of dish that you’ll likely not cook at home. Not too difficult to replicate but this style of food is best enjoyed in a stunning, high-ceilinged, tall-windowed, imposing-fireplaced dining room. But perhaps you have one of those, chez vous.
We had seen lots of lambs on our drive to Worcester so it seemed a fitting, if slightly cruel, irony to eat some on our arrival. My guest ordered English Lamb with Stuffed Courgettes and pronounced this to be a well-balanced and thoughtful dish. The courgettes were filled with melting and evidently slow-cooked meat, with peppers adding a sweet note.
Pancetta-wrapped Monkfish, Chicken Confit Ravioli, Butter-glazed Carrots & Ginger took my fancy. Yes, I know it’s a classic choice but it’s popular because it is, done well, a memorable dish. It was indeed done well at The Elms. The previous plates had indicated that it probably would be. The flesh of the seafood was moist and the pancetta added just the right slightly salty counterpoint. I was a little uncertain about the garnish of chicken ravioli but this too worked well, adding a soft and savoury gastronomic cushion. I can recommend this monkfish as the best I have had in many months.
We wanted to try The Elms’ celebrated cheese board, so had to skip the desserts. I would, however, have liked to have tried the Pear and Cranberry Strudel with Peanut Butter Ice Cream. That ice cream sounds novel.
We have marvellous cheeses here in Britain and it’s refreshing to find a restaurant that promotes them. So many establishments boast that they celebrate local produce but then present French cheese with only a nod to these Isles in the guise of a slab of Cheddar. We wanted to taste some very local cheese and so selected Blue Cheshire – Nantwich, Bosworth Ash – Staffordshire, Old Worcester White and the star of the plate, St Eadburgha made in the Vale of Evesham. This unique cheese is made at Gorsehill Abbey Farm by Michael and Diane Stacey. St Eadburgha is a Brie style of cheese and it’s organic but most importantly it is creamy and delicious. This should be in the cool-box of every homeward-bound tourist from Worcestershire. I am only sorry it was not in ours, but a return trip is in order.
The Elms is an ideal hotel for extended families. It isn’t a cheap option but it introduces younger members of the family to a real hotel. Children will find plenty to do, parents will have space and quiet to themselves, and grandparents can enjoy grandchildren in small doses and then escape to an armchair and a good book, or a terrace and a glass of something reviving. A unique family holiday destination.
Stockton, Abberley, Worcester, WR6 6AT
Tel: 01299 896666
Hotel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018