Pennyhill Park stands as a quintessential gem among England's finest hotels, boasting an exquisite spa experience that epitomises luxury. Within this distinguished establishment, the Latymer Restaurant beckons guests on an unparalleled gastronomic journey, promising to delight even the most discerning connoisseurs with its thrilling culinary offerings.
We drove the Mustang California sedately through 123 acres of parkland along the tree-lined access road past the tennis courts to the hotel entrance and parked outside.
The hotel buildings are set higgledy-piggledy around the main country house, built in 1849 by James Hodges, an accomplished civil engineer who would later manage the construction of Montreal's Victoria Bridge. The historical roots of Pennyhill Park's land trace back to its pivotal role as a beacon site during the national defence against the Spanish Armada in 1588.
It is a little like Doctor Who's Tardis as you enter through the venerable yellow and red brick facade into a vibrant modern lobby. To the left are two reception desks and to the right, a comfortable lounge dominated by an imposing gothic stone fireplace. The decor is seductive, a mixture of soft textured armchairs, mosaic tables, fine wooden desks and plush carpets all in gentle muted brown and green tones. A suffused light emanates from an ethereal copper chandelier of illuminated flower petals.
The reception is super professional, friendly and welcoming. In fact, someone tried to push in front of us and the young lady handled it with impressive panache, indicating we were next, kindly but firmly.
We were promptly escorted to our suite and greeted with a delightful welcome gesture—a bottle of Ridgeview champagne and Montezuma chocolates, both of which were delightful.
The recent redecoration of numerous rooms has elevated the experience at Pennyhill Park Hotel. Our stay was marked by spaciousness and an airy ambience, offering stunning views overlooking the outdoor pools and the serene spa. The sheer vastness of the bathroom, boasting a huge shower and a luxurious freestanding bath, was a delightful indulgence.
Throughout the hotel, opulently designed wallpapers added an elegant touch that caught my attention – so much so that I found myself wanting to replicate them at home. Particularly striking was the main staircase in the lobby, bedecked with a stunning purple wallpaper complemented by gold bannisters, creating a fabulous and luxurious impression.
After a quick change, we headed to the spa as the evening light faded into a breathtaking orange sunset.
You know your experience is going to be wonderful the moment you walk into the spa lobby. Soft, deep pile carpets guide you to a baroque gold and black desk, staffed by warm, welcoming staff. This Spa has it all. There are 8 pools and jacuzzis. One small plunge pool starts inside and you then swim through a small tunnel outside into a larger hydrotherapy wellness jacuzzi featuring massage showers.
The indoor pool, warmer than most baths, was surrounded by plenty of sunbeds for lounging and reading in between swims. There are saunas, steam rooms, power showers with numerous settings, a state-of-the-art fitness suite, 23 relaxing treatment rooms, a nail bar and an inviting cabin outside serving snacks and drinks.
Another hydrotherapy pool with a waterfall has two smaller pools beside it. There are endless pools and areas to explore. If you are feeling brave try out the Drench Bucket, which is supposed to refresh and cleanse your body and mind. It just made me shriek, which impressed my partner no end. Similarly, the plunge pool reminded me of a sunken oubliette. It was great fun actually, but make sure you know the quickest route to the hottest jacuzzi.
The 18-metre outdoor pool, heated to a comfortable 30 degrees, transformed into an incredibly romantic setting at night. Illuminated by lampposts and the warm glow emanating from the hotel and spa windows, it was a picturesque sight. Sun loungers are everywhere and there are little nooks and crannies around for privacy if you so wish.
That evening, I spent two enchanting hours swimming until the sky turned completely dark, surrounded by twinkling stars visible through the mist rising off the steaming pool water.
However, the main event was yet to come. We were dining that evening at The Latymer, a Michelin-starred restaurant with 5 AA Rosettes. Indulging in the full tasting menu and wine pairing with Head Chef Steve Smith and his team.
We dressed in blue velvet to mark the occasion and wandered down to the restaurant. It exuded an intimate and opulent ambience, characterised by oak panelling, a beamed ceiling, and sumptuous interiors that enveloped us in luxury.
Our gastronomic journey commenced with a Basingstoke cheese and truffle amuse bouche, setting the tone for an extraordinary evening. The carrot appetiser, a delicate balance of softness, sharpness, and crunchiness, was a delightful surprise. Then followed a potato croquette in sherry and mustard, then a delicate pumpkin. Everything was so good, that you started to get impatient for the next course, before even finishing the last one. My BBQ pork apple and quince was a marvel.
A standout moment was savouring the Carlingford oyster from the glacial fjords of northeastern Ireland—a delicacy resonating with an exquisite, sweet, nutty essence directly harvested from the sea.
The harmonious accompaniment of a diverse bread selection paired flawlessly with the assortment of Grant Harrington Ampersand butter jars, crafted from an age-old Scandinavian recipe predating industrialization. This artisanal process involves churning and ageing creamed milk in wooden vessels, resulting in an exquisite, velvety texture and a delightfully rich flavour profile. So indulgent are these butters that they warrant a dedicated course to fully appreciate their exceptional creaminess and captivating flavours.
The culinary journey continued with impeccably prepared dishes like the tender sweetbread and savoury cep mushrooms, leading to the highlight of the meal – a giant scallop paired with a light yet rich Condrieu wine, a Montez du Monteillet. The juicy, single scallop, celeriac leaf and smoked eel, offered an exquisite combination of flavours and textures. Each piece could be blended with the eel or a slice of crunchy Granny apple.
The selection of wines, curated by the knowledgeable sommelier Sergio, was another major coup. His enthusiastic storytelling about each wine, the region, grapes, soil, and historical anecdotes added depth to the tasting experience. Asking him questions elicited passionate engagement; Sergio is not just a sommelier but a masterful storyteller, making our dining experience both unique and enthralling.
The Evolution white wine, a blend of seven grape varieties from Oregon, was an unexpected revelation. Its complex mix of flavours, ranging from pear and blackcurrant to raspberries and a sweet-to-dry aftertaste, was truly remarkable.
Another triumph arrived, a juicy raw aged Hereford beef served with a blueberry sauce that provided a rich, tangy sweetness, enhanced by the crunchy dried artichoke leaves. Complimented by a full-bodied peppery Clos du Joncuas, that presented a beautiful bouquet of flavours.
Head chef Steve Smith also offers a vegetarian and pescatarian tasting menu, which my partner enjoyed, meaning we greedily relished two menus. I highly recommend this as you can share, though my partner singularly failed to hold up her side of the bargain, as she enjoyed it so much.
Choosing among the remarkable cheese selections proved to be a challenge. As expected my Cumbrian Wensleydale was divine. Even though I typically prefer bread over biscuits with cheese, the accompanying biscuits were sumptuous and went a long way in softening my stance. This course paired perfectly with one of my favourite wines, a sublime Bandols.
The dessert selection, featuring fig ice cream and a passion fruit and lime tart with a hint of mint, offered a perfect conclusion to the meal. The dessert wine, a Domaine Ostertag Les Jardins Gewürztraminer, presented a fresh and minty flavour, complementing the sweet offerings flawlessly.
Sergio's expertise in wine selection was unmatched, making him a standout sommelier. The chef's personal visit also added a warm touch to the dining experience. Lastly, the final dessert of mascarpone chocolate and coffee; pungent, potent and earthy, provided a memorable end to the culinary journey.
Wrapping up our night with a glass of Tattinger Reserve was the perfect finale to a phenomenal experience.
Our following morning was spent at the spa again, relishing in the pools and indulging in hydrotherapy.
Our stay culminated with lunch at the Hillfield Restaurant, offering a splendid view of the spa gardens and pools, a serene and rejuvenating experience. The impeccable food and service, characterised by speed, friendliness, and efficiency, was an exemplary model of hospitality. And my god, the desserts were gorgeous, they do a Knickerbocker Glory, undoubtedly the finest-named dessert of all time. One of my all-time favourite lunch spots that blends casual indulgence with style.
With 124 rooms, Pennyhill Park Hotel combines luxury, gastronomy, and top-notch service to create an unforgettable stay. It boasts perhaps England's finest spa, offering five-star treatments and exceptional facilities, alongside stylish bar and lounge spaces to enjoy throughout your visit.
The hospitality is perfectly pitched, warm welcome and friendly, yet also efficient and professional. The English Rugby team train there for a reason. I suspect this is the only time footballers are jealous of rugby players. Pennyhill Park stands as one of England's truly exceptional hotels, with the Latymer Restaurant offering an utterly thrilling gastronomic adventure, a lucullan feast, that will please even the most discerning connoisseur.
From £295 per room per night.