Ashdown Park Hotel, East Sussex
Ashdown Park Hotel, Wych Cross, Nr Forest Row, East Sussex RH18 5JR
+44 (0)1342 824988
Review by Patricia and Dennis Cleveland-Peck
The drive wound it way through woodland and then suddenly before us stood a massive grey building - or rather series of buildings - rather reminiscent of a benign Gormenghast with turrets, archways, towers, and even an old chapel. Ashdown Park, situated in a 186 acres estate was first a manor house, then a convent before becoming a hotel.
Once inside we were welcomed and taken past elegant public rooms, along corridors and up staircases to our room - or rather suite. It was on a corner and so afforded us two magnificent views, one over the lake with the huge expanse of Ashdown Forest beyond and the other over the terrace where people were sitting enjoying afternoon tea – an Ashdown Park speciality –in the last of the afternoon’s sunlight.
In our bedroom the curtains and bedcover were made from an attractive magnolia patterned fabric and the bed (as we were to find out) was supremely comfortable but the rest of the furniture in the suite was slightly underwhelming and there was no fridge or min-bar. The bathroom on the other hand was excellent with plenty of shelving, fluffy bathrobes and all the unguents and lotions for which one could wish.
I am sure all guests are irresistibly drawn down to the lake and we were no exception. Enjoying a stroll we admired the huge old trees, watched families playing mini-golf and watched deer watching us.
Back in our room, we prepared for dinner as the sun set over the forest and the silver disc of a full moon rose to hang over the tower of the old chapel. Quite magical.
The atmosphere in the busy Anderida restaurant (it can serve 100 covers) was pleasantly buzzy with a piano softly playing tunes like As Time Goes By. The candle-lit tables and the décor added to the pleasing ambience and the service was friendly and very professional. When serving the big party next to us a phalanx of waiting staff came to the table simultaneously and put the plates down with synchronised gestures. Even for us as a couple, the main course arrived under cloches which were then whisked off at the same instant by two waiters – a touch of theatre you rarely see nowadays.
So what of the food?
Patricia had a starter of ‘Diver Caught Scallops, Cauliflower Puree, Pork Pastilla, Sour Apple Pastel & Pork Scratchings.’ This combination was delicious – but as it featured a scallop (singular) and cost £13.50, so it jolly well should have been. Dennis had ‘Black Treacle Cured Salmon, Peanut Dressing, Passion Fruit, Spring Roll and Soft Shell Crab.’ This he quite liked but found lacking in a predominant taste.
The main courses however were excellent. Patricia had the local “Lamberhurst Wild Duck, Celeriac, Parsnip Tatin, Parsnip Puree, Drumstick and Savoy Cabbage” The Duck was tender and full of flavour and the parsnips and other elements complemented it well. A small copper pot of ‘ Duck and Offal Hotpot’ was served separately – a good idea as it was very rich.
Dennis thoroughly enjoyed his ‘Whole Dover Sole Meunière’ and was impressed by the skill with which it was filleted at the table. He pronounced the flavour exquisite. This, accompanied by new potatoes and buttered greens, aptly indicates how a top quality product simply served, can be superb.
There were plenty of puddings from which to choose: Pear & Nut Cheesecake, Chocolate Sphere, Salted Sticky Toffee and Banana Pudding and a Blackberry Apple and Liquorice Knickerbocker Glory as well as a comprehensive British cheese board. Instead of a pudding however, as we already felt replete, we opted for Irish Coffees which were very well prepared.
Breakfast the next morning was of a very good standard with a laden buffet and an excellent full English breakfast. Although it was all very tempting we tried not to over indulge because as a coda to this Sleepover we were about to participate in Ashdown Park’s annual Mushroom Hunt which we knew finished with a 3-course Mushroom- inspired lunch.
This is a very popular event and some 60 people, aged from 5 to 75, gathered in the ground floor part of the Old Chapel and were split into groups before setting off with Kenneth Sweet the estate manager and two fungi experts. It was explained that we should be looking for all sorts of fungi, not just edibles and that we were not to worry as chef was not relying on our findings for lunch
It was a lovely sunny autumn day as we began to penetrate deep into the old woodland which at one time formed part of Ashdown Forest. We spread out and soon dozens of different fungi had been found and we learned something of how to identify them, at the same time being warned that in this field the margin between dinner and death is narrow and that great care must be taken. It was a thoroughly enjoyable morning which culminated with a wonderful lunch in the magnificent surroundings of the upper storey of the Chapel.
The meal consisted of Mushrooms on Toast with Fried Duck Egg and Walnut Oil followed by Pot Roasted Ox Cheek with Mushroom en Croute, Truffle and Parsnip Puree and finished with Steamed Orange and Ginger Sponge Pudding with Clotted Cream Ice Cream and Almond Tulile. Baron Phillipe de Rothschild Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon flowed and everyone pronounced the event a great success.
Price for a double room starts at £199.00 and includes breakfast.
In the Anderida Restaurant a three course dinner costs £38.50 per person and house wine starts from£24.00 per bottle
The Mushroom Foraging and Luncheon costs £44.00 per person.