Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sopwell House

Taking advantage of the girls being away with Guides for a couple of days, we stayed at Sopwell House last night.

We first visited the Verulamium Museum. I would describe this museum as scoring very highly on quality, although there's slightly less to see than I expected: we spent about an hour there. We walked into St Albans for a bite to eat (finding that many of the pubs we passed seemed to have menus that were a little upmarket for our taste - we just wanted something basic to share, so ended up in one of the Wetherspoon's.). We walked back through past the Cathedral and through the park.

The hotel itself is pretty good. (You would hope so, as it's pretty expensive!)

Our room was comfortable and spacious, although the hotel is pretty large and it was a bit of a trek. One odd thing was the in-room tea and coffee facilities. Many of the electrical sockets were of the old round-pin variety - plugging the kettle in meant putting it on the floor in an awkward place. Also (and this is a common failing of many hotels) there was basically enough supplies for one cup, and that's assuming you don't both have a sweet tooth.

We swam in the pool. There's quite a lot of refurbishment of the spa area taking place, so changing facilities were a bit of a temporary oddness. It was pretty busy, but that's not really much of excuse for running out of robes (and, while I'm on the subject, no robes in our room either).

We treated ourselves to the Valentine's special dinner. That was really very good. We were given a glass of bubbly and canapes beforehand, and all three primary courses were excellent. My only criticism was that they were a little slow in taking our order and bringing the starters (and they seemed a little disorganised - we were asked twice whether we wanted any water and which wine we wanted).

There was clearly some fairly major function in the hotel at the same time - it sounded to already be in full swing as we came down for dinner but there was a continual stream of new arrivals in black tie or extravagant dresses coming to join the party.

Breakfast was disappointing. Stocks of some items were running low and weren't getting replenished promptly - some items were stale as a result. Overall, the choice wasn't all that great. I found the cooked breakfast to be incredibly bland - potatoes, sausages, eggs all had very little taste.

Melanie wanted a spa treatment so I had a massage as well. I can definitely recommend this. The refurbishment works impacted this as well, to the extent that they were actually using rooms at the other end of the hotel, so we all trooped back and forth in groups.

Overall, an excellent stay, but they do need to improve the breakfast quite a bit.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Nottingham: Riverbank

Went to The Riverbank in Nottingham today.

It was almost excellent, let down around the edges a little.

Let's start with the strong point: the food. This was really good. I had leek and potato soup to start, and really enjoyed it despite not being a great fan of soups. Then the roast sirloin of scotch beef, nice and pink, very tender. Followed by pistachio & almond cake, which was quite intriguing, and was well balanced by the rhubarb sorbet.

My fellow diners also seemed to enjoy themselves, even the children.

One thing I did like was that the restaurant were happy to mix items off the children's menu with the regular menu. Especially with fussy teenagers who don't necessarily like a full starter, this worked out well.

Pricing wise, it was pretty good value as well.

On the weaker side, just a few irritations:

The meals seemed to take a little while to arrive. Yes, I know they need to be prepared but my impression was that we seemed to wait just a little too long each time.

Parking could be problematic. This is definitely out of season, slightly out of peak hours, and the place certainly wasn't full. Yet there was no parking free - we had to park along the road. I hate to think what it's going to be like when it's busy.

The menu needs a couple of tweaks: they need to keep the website up to date so it matches what's actually on offer. And it's not clear what's actually covered on their "early bird" menu and what has a supplement (specifically, the steak: our reading of the menu was that the steak wasn't included in the offer and there was a supplement for the beef, whereas the supplement was for the steak and it was included in the offer).

So, in summary, excellent food at an excellent price, as long as you're not in a hurry or mind parking down the street.