is simply nothing better than picturing the perfect week-
end or mid-week break in our beautiful and quintessentially
English countryside such as Oxfordshire and Surrey...
FOR SOME THAT IS SUFFICIENT, but a real treat is to complement the pastoral
pleasures with other interests and, of course, a good hotel with excellent food.
Now you have the perfect ingredients for a memorable break.
Guess what? We know just the place The Talbot Inn in Ripley, a large
village just over a mile from the M25. This traditional 15th century coaching
inn was a staging post to change carriage horses on their way to the South Coast
those staying included Admiral Horatio Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton.
In fact, if you too want to play boats, join Ratty in his 'messing about in
boats' in Henley or go just around the corner to visit a motor museum that genuinely
interests the whole family or even, perhaps, visit the RHS gardens at
Wisley. The list and possibilities are endless.
The Brooklands Motor Museum is far more than its name implies for instance,
missed a trip on Concorde? The first supersonic aircraft to carry 100 passengers
is on display there and you can learn all sorts of fascinating facts as well
as go aboard and take a virtual flight. While Concorde is very special, it is
just one of many aeroplanes on display together with a fantastic collection
of bicycles and motorcycles of all ages. Obviously there are cars aplenty from
the alluringly beautiful monsters that used to thunder around the extraordinarily
steep racetrack, to the emotive machines remember that wonderful old
film Genevieve? that regularly join the annual 'London to Brighton
However, it is the atmospheric setting of the original buildings that adds so
much to the enjoyment, from the workshops to the Clerk of the Course's office,
the drawing offices with all the old kit to the original loos dating from 1907.
A perfect time capsule that has provided many a film and television programme
with the perfect backdrop.
But back to another atmospheric setting: the village retreat of The Talbot Inn,
with its relaxed style and attentive, friendly staff.
The fabric of the building has been recently and sensitively restored to the
extent that the twisting stairs and low beams upstairs create some mildly hazardous
surroundings for the bedrooms in the original inn. And woe betide anyone staying
in the room named 'Horatio' who, weary eyed, stumbles into the bathroom first
thing the beam is even lower than perceived! However, it is the character
and personality of a traditional English country inn that is all part of the
Cleverly, modern is sympathetically mixed with ancient and, as with all the
hotels in the Merchant Inn's collection, those wanting the ease of a conventional
new hotel room can plump for a room in the purpose-built wings. As the hotel
serves both the leisure and business fraternities, complimentary WiFi sits easily
alongside traditional real ales and log fires. Modern also fits in with the
inspired and stylish dining room in the original building a part of the
ceiling is lustrous copper; very effective and fits in well with the beams.
This room has been extended with an unashamedly contemporary glass conservatory
opening onto an attractive partly-paved garden for barbeques and summer dining.
A simply lovely light, cool and sunny garden room that was very popular with
the diners, many of them obviously local and regulars.
This is much more than a mere gastropub, with a modern British menu more akin
to fine dining which is only to be expected when you discover the menu is overseen
by twice Michelin-starred chef Rob Clayton. Head chef Ian Richards leads an
enthusiastic and talented team in the kitchen producing outstanding and mouth-watering
The scallops with mushrooms and herb salad and the sea bass with grilled chorizo
were both perfectly cooked. Pastry chef Siobhan Baker the 'puddings lady'
produced a Pimm's jelly with cucumber coulis and lemon sorbet that was
inspired. In fact it was all so good that before we left we had lunch the next
day! We really love our food and it truly was some of the best food we have
We have stayed in another Merchant Inn and the concept seems to be a very successful
combination of retaining the essential character of the pub or inn and then
adding in all the facilities and luxurious comforts to make for a reliable and
attractive place in which to stay.
This may indeed be a small but rapidly growing chain but there is still evidence
of small, individual touches such as the homemade shortbread in the bedroom
that add to the welcome. The pièce de résistance is to add excellent food from
short menus hitting all the right buttons, but at a sensible price that goes
back to the origins of the pubs and inns. Bonnie and Tim Stevens