Monday, October 15, 2007

Gravetye Manor - Where Luxury Meets Value for Lunch

I have been sitting at my desk, staring at the bill for lunch at Gravetye Manor and trying to decide what to say about our experience there last Saturday. I could say that the stone mansion, built in 1598 is lovely, that the gardens, created by one of the greatest gardeners of all times are even lovelier. I could say that once you drive up the mile long driveway the concerns of modern life seem far away and all of this would be true. But the most memorable thing about our recent lunch at Gravetye Manor was that we left thinking it was a great experience and a good deal. At a one star Michelin restaurant in a Relais and Chateaux property, in a place where we least expected to find value, we had a wonderful lunch, arguably a perfect lunch, for a fair price. In the twelve years that I have lived in Britain, I’ve never said that before.

So what made this lunch perfect and why do I consider £81.56 to be great value? For American readers, I know, I know, £81.56 represents $163.12 which is a monstrous amount of money to spend for lunch but you’re just going to have to go to your exchange rate “happy place” and take my word for it that this is a good deal.

As for Gravetye, lets begin with the setting. In the pantheon of English gardeners, William Robinson (1838 – 1935) looms large as the pioneer of the natural English garden movement. Gravetye was Robinson’s home for more than 50 years and as the Gravetye marketing bumf correctly states, “the variety and charm of the arrangements of trees and shrubs, the landscaping and the layout of the different types of garden at Gravetye is still his creation and memorial.” There are few settings for any hotel or restaurant that are quite as lovely as this one.

Moving on to the service, it was both expert and attentive. After suffering for so long from the well meaning but untrained army of young Eastern Europeans who are the engine of London’s hospitality juggernaut, it was blissful to slip back into the hands of proud, skilful professionals who take their direction from Mark Raffan, the Chef de Cuisine and Director, who trained at both Gravetye and with the Roux brothers at Le Gavroche and who was once the personal chef of the late King Hussein of Jordan.

As for the food, it was creative without being fussy, beautifully presented and delicious but what made it great value was this: the 3-course Table d’Hotel lunch for £23 which we both chose. To accompany our three courses, the highlight of which was an excellent English iteration of a bouillabaisse with a variety of fish from the south coast, we chose a reasonable £23 Chateau Hourbanon 1997 Medoc. After lunch, we had coffee in one of the oak panelled sitting rooms, followed by a walk in the justifiably famous gardens.

According to Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report which gave Gravetye a lifetime achievement award in 2006, “this timeless Elizabethan stone manse was Britain’s first luxury country house hotel, and nearly 50 years later, it still ranks among the very best of its genre.” Bearing in mind that you can spend much, much more at Gravetye than we did, I really appreciated the fact that we were able to have a fabulous experience at one of Europe’s premier hotels without breaking the bank and without being made to feel that we were anything less than very important guests. We’ll be back.

Gravetye Manor
Near East Grinstead
West Sussex RH19 4LJ
Tel: 44 (0)1342 810567
Fax: 44(0)1342 810080

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