SKIP WALKER enjoys a luxurious weekend in the Cotswolds

THE importance of mirrors and, most essentially, good lighting in hotel bathrooms cannot be overestimated when it comes to women guests, in my opinion at any rate.

At The Rectory hotel, at Crudwell near Malmesbury, the bathroom of the room we stayed in, No 6, was superb in every regard. If a woman did not have a hand in the design I will eat my hat.

In addition to the great lighting there were twin basins, each with its own mirror, perfect if there are two of you trying to put on make-up before dinner and no queue for cleaning your teeth. Many of the other rooms have a free-standing bath in the bedroom, with shower and loo in the en-suite bathroom.

I won’t waste any more words on bathrooms but, believe me, the one in room 6 set the tone for the whole of our flawless stay. We also overlooked the gorgeous garden and its lovely lily pond that was once, we were told, a baptism pool for the church next door. There is also a secluded outdoor swimming pool.

If you fancy a game of croquet or boules in the garden the hotel staff can provide you with the equipment for playing on the lawns. For a cosy winter’s afternoon by the roaring open fire in the drawing room indoor games are also available.

The Rectory was originally, as the name implies, built to accommodate the rector of the neighbouring All Saints Church. The first occupant had 14 children, hence the large number of bedrooms and its suitability for later conversion to a country house hotel.

At the start of this year the hotel and its sister establishment The Potting Shed pub just over the road were bought by night-club owner Alex Payne with the aim of turning The Rectory into a desirable destination for Londoners to base themselves for a weekend’s exploration of the Cotswolds and Bath.

The Potting Shed already had a reputation with Cotswold residents as a comfortable semi-chic pub with good parking and good food at reasonable prices. The Rectory, however, had become pretty much a full-time wedding venue with little scope for other guests or people living in the surrounding area.

Mr Payne closed the hotel for six months while an army of designers, local traders and craftsmen set about transforming the building into a first-class but supremely comfortable and unintimidating home-from-home for local diners and London visitors.

Since it re-opened in July The Rectory has been discovered by people from Wales (who love the Cotswolds as we know) as well as a growing band of intrepid Londoners who like to boast that they have been the first to find a new gem just off the M4 corridor.

General manager Joe Holden says the feedback so far has been unanimously positive, about the accommodation and particularly the food and drink.

And it is easy to see why. Our visit, after a half hour or so in the gorgeous bathroom, began with expertly-mixed cocktails (a very dry Aged Negrita and a fabulous Fish House Punch) in the comfortable bar.

After cocktails we wobbled the few steps to dinner in the inviting Glasshouse dining room, lit by scores of candles and elegantly furnished with black-topped tables and comfortable retro G-plan dining chairs.

The small menu is seasonal and interesting. Our starters of ham hock with grilled runner beans and poached eggs, and scallops with samphire, were beautifully cooked and mouth-wateringly delicious. Likewise the mains of lemon sole with lobster sauce and veal with broad beans and mushrooms in a sensational sauce.

I have not eaten veal for decades until learning that veal calves are no longer raised in barbaric conditions. This re-introduction, cooked with a light and tender touch, was certainly worth the wait.

We shared a pudding, a large glass of panna cotta topped with kiwi, passionfruit and orange sorbet. The panna cotta could have been a tad softer and I have to confess that as a coriander hater I had to pick out the fresh coriander leaves on the top, but it was nevertheless a refreshing and indulgent end to a memorable meal.

Anyone who fancies a nightcap before bed can help themselves to the contents of the “honesty bar” in a fridge on the landing by the bedrooms. Simply write what you had in the book on top of the fridge and the cost is added to your bill. Fresh milk for coffee or tea in your room is free from this fridge.

The softest pillows and a light, enveloping duvet on the four-poster framed bed ensured an uninterrupted night’s sleep before breakfast which included a choice of eggs Benedict or avocado on toast. There were even the ingredients for a bloody Mary on the breakfast buffet table for those who had over-indulged the night before.

Weak coffee at breakfast, quickly rectified after my complaint, and the lack of nibbles with our cocktails, again quickly put right after prompting, were the only faults I could find with our stay at The Rectory.

The staff were lovely, attentive without being intrusive, and a three-course dinner for two, with wine, came in at around £100. The dining room is already popular for weekend lunches and dinners so booking is advisable.

After a quick shopping trip to Corsham, the pretty Wiltshire town where part of the Poldark series was filmed - about half an hour’s drive from the hotel - we returned to Crudwell for lunch at The Potting Shed.

We shared an amazing starter of twice-baked smoked haddock and Cheddar soufflé with spinach and grain mustard which was so gorgeous that we both wished we had ordered one each.

Then grilled rainbow trout on a potato salad, delightfully laced with horseradish, and grilled fillet of bream in a butter sauce with fennel and samphire, both perfectly cooked and a great combination of flavours.

Again the menu is seasonal, the atmosphere relaxed and the staff friendly and efficient. The fact that you are unlikely to find a table for either lunch or dinner unless you book tells you all you need to know.

Starters at The Potting Shed are around £8, mains around £16 and all puddings £6.50.

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