This morning offered one of those rare occasions that has left an indelible impression on us. Ever the hungry Americans, Nick and I went in search of breakfast in Surrey. (Mind you, fast food as we know it in the states barely exists in the UK – it’s just not done!) As we were driving down a country road, we came upon the stunning Woodlands Park Hotel and took a chance.
When we asked a dapper-looking hotel employee if they were open for breakfast, he glanced at his watch, smiled broadly and told us to park and come on inside. His first words as he greeted us at the front door were “I must warn you, as you walk through these doors you will enter a house of sin and debauchery.” The hotel earned its reputation as a party house well before the end of the 19th century.
Imagine our surprise when we realized they’d set a beautiful table by the window and re-opened the Benson’s Brasserie just for us! My kudos and compliments go to the chef – I enjoyed perhaps the best Eggs Benedict I’ve had in years. The Hollandaise was superbly creamy and rich, with well balanced seasonings. We liked the food and hospitality so much that we’re going back for a proper Sunday lunch in the Oak Room, a magnificent wood-paneled space with a view to the grounds.
Though we weren’t guests in the hotel, after breakfast, Joe – our personal concierge and the man who invited us in – took us on a splendid tour of the property, sharing insight and fascinating historical tidbits. There is a tricky poltergeist residing in room 39, which many guests have experienced and come back to visit.
Built in 1884 by Rowland Plumbe and funded by the fortunes of the Bryant and May match company, Plumbe “was commissioned with a free hand, unfettered in the slightest degree by economical considerations.” The grand country retreat of Frederick C. Bryant, the house was once considered the most modern house in all of England, with every convenience including an Otis elevator and electric lighting. As a jewel of Edwardian Society, the home regularly hosted the likes of the then Prince of Wales who went onto become King Edward VII, one of his 11 known mistresses Lillie Langtry, and the notorious playwright Oscar Wilde.
After a meticulous restoration in the early 1980s, the hotel now offers luxurious accommodations with all modern conveniences for a reasonable price in a lovely country setting. If you’re feeling decadent, opt for the Master’s Chamber, Lillie Langtry’s favorite room, or the splendid Oscar Wilde Suite.
And without a doubt, ask for Joe and spend some time with him. His philosophy? “We are in the hospitality business. Why come to an historic place and not be treated to a tour and a bit of knowledge about what makes it so special?”
Joe, you are an absolute delight.
Woodlands Park Hotel
Cobham, Surrey KT11 3QB
0845 072 7581