More people these days are going for to escape London for fun on saturday. I don't blame them – we've recently gone from BBQ, swimming and sunshine to cloudy ceiling-fan mugginess. As a cyclist I'll admit that I have been arriving to events so sweaty that I've had to ask the host for a towel.
I, probably like you, had not heard of The Woburn Hotel (pronounced woo-burn), but a quick Google explained it was in Milton Keynes and I was suddenly worried I'd swapped one concrete enclosure for another. I needn't be worried, The Woburn Hotel is straight out of Escape to the Country – sat in the middle of a 3,000 acre Woburn Abbey Estate in Bedfordshire. It is a picturesque town complete with local pubs, churches, antiques stores as well as its own Champagne bar. Your accommodation is partnered using the nearby Woburn Estate meaning you will get free entry to the gardens together with your stay. It's an offer we took up and something that isn't to become missed.
The Woburn Hotel: Accommodation
The Woburn Hotel is split between rooms and mini cottages disseminate in the grounds around the main building. I was remaining in one of these simple small cottages called 'Cainsmore'; it truly felt as an authentic rural cottage in the heart of the countryside. Despite staying close to the main town (and even the road), the design is such that you keep an eye out to lush grass and well-groomed gardens. It's peaceful, comfortable and just what you want on the night away.
The room is split between a lounge and bedroom providing you with space to be able to disseminate throughout your stay. Only a note: the courtyard rooms can be found around a little carpark, also it seemed unfortunate (especially considering the big carpark provided by your accommodation already) to have cars so near your door, as this space will make an excellent place to sit down outside otherwise. That aside, we loved our temporary bolthole also it provided an ideal spot to return to in the evening.
The Woburn Hotel: The Food
One of the major causes we came up to The Woburn Hotel was to eat at the hotel’s much-awarded restaurant. Olivier's Restaurant holds a couple AA Rosette Award and it is a three-time winner of 'The Foodies Guides' Restaurant from the Year' award for that region. I'm told the Chef, Olivier Bertho, has trained and worked in France for 10 years. It can be just me, however i will not help but pine for rustic countryside classics when I'm in those surroundings.
At Oliver's, it is a far fancier affair. We began with a tian of duck liver with orange chutney and Pain d''Epices (we're quite a distance from rustic here), and grilled scallop with crispy crab bonbons served alongside a crab mayonnaise and avocado dip. I should've guessed from the lack of pluralisation that the scallop would be, just one scallop (delicious though it was), the crispy crab bonbons meanwhile seemed an odd addition, with avocado dip completing that which was a confused starter. The liver meanwhile was more generous, although served in a not overly appetising pyramid in the middle of the plate.
It wasn't the very best start, but with the main courses we began to understand why this restaurant has won rosettes. First a roasted rack of lamb with navarin jus, honey roasted carrot purée, spring onion and polenta. This was great french cooking; the meat was perfectly pink and went well with the unique jus (not to mention a little mint sauce). Polenta can be hit or miss but this was a delicious cake-y one which did a good job of absorbing the juices and balancing home plate.
Our other dish showed delicate flair: a baked cod loin with crispy wrapping of local chorizo. The squid rings seemed a needless addition when i was more than pleased to flake the fish with the creamy saffron mash. However, the edges were bizarre because they didn’t really match the meal, and it almost felt like they had originate from another kitchen. The tomato mozerella salad had a giant mound of guacamole on top, as the gratin dauphinois was a little dry and also really small for two people sharing. Having said that, overall it was a nice meal and definitely an infinitely more refined dinner then you’d expect inside a country hotel, but then again we hadn't visited the neighbours yet.
The Woburn Hotel: Breakfast
Having witnessed some pretty accomplished cooking the night before we were just a little disappointed to find breakfast the next day was buffet-style. Nothing can beat a freshly cooked full English; it doesn't have to be fancy or reimagined, but hot and fresh are pretty key. We had some hash browns which were sad and floppy, eggs never survive for very long and also the bacon had started to do that thing where it simultaneously sticks together and crumbles apart simultaneously. It is a really disappointing a part of what is otherwise a really accomplished hotel. Keep a few chefs around each morning?
The Woburn Hotel: Things to Do
Just a couple of minutes from the hotel sits Woburn Abbey. This amazing building has developed in the same family since the 17th Century. It first opened towards the public in 1955 and you are able to explore 22 rooms each with an impressive private art collection (there's over twenty Canalettos in the dining room!). There's also a whole load of 1700s French and English furniture, silver, gold and perhaps best of all, an army of knowledgable guides to let you know about it.
If big ol’ houses aren't your thing then the Abbey is set in 3,000 acres of Deer Park, the place to find nine free roaming species of deer. Just driving through past these wild deer is enough to warrant a trip from London.
The Woburn Hotel: The Verdict
The Woburn Hotel has plenty to provide for tired, sweaty Londoners. Approximately an hour out of the city and you may be surrounded by deer, local pubs and using your own mini-cottage. A trip to the Abbey isn't to be missed and dinner at Oliver's is a good option for those wanting to come with an affordable 'fine dining' experience. The breakfast is better avoided (espeically when not included) – but with hugely comfortable rooms you will be just like happy grabbing some pastries from the town and enjoying the views.