WHAT’S IT LIKE? Brandshatch Place is a Georgian redbrick mansion built in 1806 in 12 and a half acres of grounds, as a country home for the Duke of Norfolk. If you are escaping London’s busy roads then it’s best to go straight inside when you arrive, as the first thing you hear when you step out of the car are the F1 machines tearing around Brandshatch Racing Circuit half a mile away. It’s an exciting sound but if you don’t like it, don’t worry. The track is only open during the day and Brandshatch Place is the perfect retreat, as it has an excellent spa and a leisure centre with squash courts, swimming pool and steam and sauna and whirlpool.
The property first became a hotel in 1977. After several extensions and restorations it became part of the Hand Picked Hotels collection, set up in 1999, by Julia Hands. The group has 17 four-star country house hotels located throughout the United Kingdom and Channel Islands and a brand philosophy to provide a “home away from home”. Brandshatch Place certainly has this feel, with homely touches like the line of wellington boots for guests to borrow and a bowl of apples as you enter the reception hall. There’s a small bar and in the centre of the house is the drawing room with comfy leather chairs.
WHERE IS IT? Just off the A20 in the village of Fawkham, Kent and half a mile from the famous Brandshatch Race Circuit. 20 miles from London City Airport and Gatwick is 30 miles away. Trains leave from London Blackfriars and London Victoria to Longfield (2 miles from the hotel) and take around 50 minutes.
ROOM FACILITIES Rooms have traditional décor, spread over the two floors and are all slightly different sizes because of the original character of the house. All rooms have free broadband internet connection, a safe, iron and ironing board, trouser press, mineral water, tea and coffee making facilities, a selection of magazines, a hair dryer and thick white bathrobes. My Junior Suite (room 28) overlooked the front lawns and had three large windows. It was spacious with a sofa, chair and table and a good-sized bathroom with Gilchrist & Soames toiletries (and a powerful shower in the bath). I found the bed comfortable but quite short (there was a wooden board at the toe end). There was a large flatscreen TV and you can borrow DVDs from reception too. There’s a turndown service for all rooms.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS The bar is a small room just off reception and next to the drawing room. It has an extensive wine list and also serves wine by the glass (house white was £5 a glass, so it is probably better value to consider a bottle) and complimentary olives and mixed nuts. The Dining Room restaurant seats 68 and serves modern British. The restaurant has two AA Rosettes. There are two rooms – the back room feels more intimate – with white décor and mirrors. When I ate here on a Saturday the restaurant was full and you would be wise to book in advance. We had the set menu for three courses (£32). Three types of bread were offered (white, brown or chive) and the chef Steve Redpath surprised all diners with a complimentary glass of Champagne and three delicate canapés. Starters included chicken liver and foie gras parfait, Scottish king scallops and Golden Cross goats cheese.
I chose a risotto of Chanterelles with Parmaseam crisp, which was delicious and a perfect sized portion. Between the starter and main course we were served a small cup of tomato soup (another surprise). I had the roasted rump of lamb with Anna potatoes, spinach and tomato. The lamb was beautifully cooked and the portion was generous. I also tried the mushroom pudding with truffle potato and steamed broccoli. The atmosphere was lively and the service was attentive. The restaurant has a cheese menu, which I was keen to try for dessert as the five cheeses are from Kent or Sussex, served with figs and biscuits. The food was superb and I understand why one customer flies his helicopter in every month for lunch (there’s a helipad on the lawn outside). A delicious hot and cold breakfast buffet is served here too from 7.30am-10am.
BUSINESS AND MEETINGS There are five meeting rooms all with free wifi access, adjoining the central drawing room (making it a good breakout area as there is also a small terrace just off the lounge). The biggest room has a capacity for 160 people and the delightful panelled Oak room is a good choice for private dining or smaller meetings. The hotel is licensed for wedding ceremonies for 75 people. For incentives or team building exercises there’s plenty to do in the area with Brandshatch down the road, London Golf and Tree Jumpers (a tree and rope-based activity centre for team building and problem solving) popular options.
LEISURE FACILITIES The modern part of the hotel is home to the leisure centre and spa, which also has a separate entrance. Members of the leisure centre can use any of the other Hand Picked Hotels leisure facilities around the country. There’s an outdoor tennis court, a gym, two squash courts and a swimming pool, as well as sauna, steam room and hydrotherapy whirlpool with a starry ceiling. When I was there the leisure centre was quite busy so it’s best to go for early swims (there are times dedicated for adults-only). The Espa spa was excellent (you must book in advance for treatments as it was fully booked when I was there). I had a full body massage (£55 for 1 hour). The masseuse asked how I wanted to feel after the massage and I opted for energised rather than relaxed and she chose the aromatherapy oil for this effect. She concentrated on specific parts of me, which I had told her were tight, and worked on my shoulders to great effect. I also enjoyed the unexpected pressure on my forearms and the gentle massage around my knees. Afterwards you can head to the relaxation room but I opted for a refreshing swim and steam room.
VERDICT A cosy, friendly four-star offering in a pretty part of Kent. It’s perfect for slowing down and relaxing indoors. The restaurant is superb and the Espa is a real bonus.
HOW MANY ROOMS? 38 bedrooms (13 Classic rooms, 3 Junior suites, 20 executive suites and two master suites).
HIGHLIGHTS Cosy spacious rooms with a great view of the lawns if you
are on the front or corner of the house. You can borrow DVDs from
reception and there is free broadband connection.
PRICE Internet rates for a midweek stay in May started at £85, but check the website for dinner, bed and breakfast offers.
CONTACT Brandshatch Place Hotel and Spa, Brands Hatch Road,
Fawkham, Kent DA3 8NQ. Tel+44 (0)845 072 7395; handpickedhotels.co.uk