Don’t you just love restaurants with rooms? Not quite a hotel, these are places where the restaurant is the main focus and the rooms attached are cosy but stylish.
There’s something deliciously decadent about going out for dinner and staying over. It’s the perfect edit of the longer weekend mini-break: you’ve dined and slept in style, enjoyed a change of scene and returned home refreshed to face the rest of the week. All without having to spend more time preparing for your absence than you’re actually going to be away.
How to get the most of a midweek break
For a successful bijou escape, don’t waste time travelling – it’s an overnight stay, after all.
•Allow an hour tops for your journey, whether by road or rail, and if the perfect destination is only 10 miles away, don’t rule it out it simply for lack of distance.
•Stuck for somewhere to go? Recommendations from friends are good, as are press reviews, but I’ve often struck gold with a simple internet search using gastro pubs/restaurants with rooms as key words with the towns/villages/counties I want to visit.
•A good website will offer a sense of personality, easily accessible information, lots of images, downloadable menus, reviews, directions and contact details. It should also tell you about the people behind the scenes.
•Passion is an over-used word these days, but my best experiences have been in places where the owners are hands-on. Their attention to detail really shows and you can tell they care.
Finding a winner for dinner
Not long ago I made a spontaneous decision to stay en route to a meeting I had the following day. Looking for somewhere I could stay that very night, my internet search revealed a restaurant with an enticing menu and good-looking rooms, where the owners were the chef (Nick) and restaurant/hotel manager (Sally). When I called, Sally was nonplussed about my imminent arrival and dietary requirements. ‘See you soon,’ she rang off cheerfully.
A couple of hours later, we were ushered into a pretty ensuite room with crisp bed linen and fluffy white towels, comfy chairs and a desk at the window, upon which was a tray of home-made biscuits, tea and coffee and a jug of milk. ‘I won’t be able to eat those,’ I apologised, for the shortbread looked delicious. ‘No gluten, eggs or dairy for me.’
‘We made them specially for you,’ Sally smiled. ‘And that’s soya milk in the jug.’ Dinner was even more special. In the small but busy restaurant downstairs, Sally handed me a personalised menu that explained which dishes Nick had refined to cater for my weird diet. I truly felt I had my own personal chef, where nothing was too much trouble. And – understatement alert – it was delicious.
Then it was upstairs to bed – no journey home, no clearing up, merely that blissful knowledge that breakfast would be waiting downstairs in the morning, before hitting the road. And that’s everything a midweek mini mini-break should be.
Five to try
Wild Thyme, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire www.wildthymerestaurant.co.uk
Housed in a Grade II Cotswold stone building, Nick and Sally Pullen’s restaurant has three ensuite rooms. Nick’s modern British menu with Mediterranean influences is created with fresh, seasonal ingredients and a superb wine list compliments it perfectly.
The Cross Keys, Kippen, Stirlingshire www.kippencrosskeys.com
This ancient village inn, set in beautiful countryside, is a bit of a surprise. It’s a proper old-fashioned pub (no Farrow & Ball here) but the menu is sensational. Three comfortable ensuite bedrooms are tucked away from the noise – essential when you’re staying in a pub.
The Harbourmaster Hotel, Aberaeron, Dyfed www.harbour-master.com
A chic 13-room hotel in a seaside Welsh village, it’s nonetheless run with the feel of a boutique restaurant with rooms, so you won’t miss the personal touch. Choose from warehouse rooms, more traditional rooms, even a cottage. As you’d expect with a seaside establishment, there’s an excellent fish menu, but game, local beef and poultry get a strong look-in, too.
The Bushmills Inn, Bushmills, Co. Antrim www.bushmillsinn.com
Set near the Giant’s Causeway, you might not want to tear yourself away from here. A gas-lit bar, a secret library, even a cinema, for goodness sake! Rooms are quirky, spacious and well designed; the bar offers live music in summer months and the restaurant features the very best of local produce. Thursday night is movie night, so you could also squeeze in a film as well as dinner.
The Three Acres, Shelley, West Yorkshire www.3acres.com
Nestled in beautiful Pennine countryside, the award-winning family owned and run inn and restaurant has a 40-year reputation for excellent food and first-class service. Generous rooms with sumptuous ensuites, a comprehensive wine list and hearty selection of real ales, roaring fires and a menu you could eat your way through, what’s not to like?