February 13, 2023

Home from Home

Some time ago now, after my son had passed one set of school exams, I thought it would be a treat to take him to lunch at the Ritz Hotel by Green Park in central London. His great-grandfather, the 6th Earl, often used to stay there although over the decades he opted for smaller rooms as his life, and life at Highclere, became harder to sustain in the old grand style. It was his home from home.

Nevertheless, wherever and whenever he stayed, the 6th Earl was renowned throughout his life for his joie de vivre and hilarious company and no one ever forgot him.

Walking into the hotel, it is another world – a little time apart. The dining room is such a beautiful room. Decorated in the prettiest of colours, it is both elegant and opulent, recalling the glamour of a bygone age but the impeccable service and delicious, beautifully presented food is very much of the moment. The focus is on all that is seasonal and, at heart, the best of British.

It was a very special lunch and one to remember. We were given the particular table from where the 6th Earl always used to hold court near the view to the gardens. Afterwards John Williams – the executive head chef – asked us if we would like a tour of the kitchens. It was a great honour and a glimpse into another completely fascinating world: huge, busy, exciting, very organised and revealing an enormous team effort.

Chatting as ever to everyone I met and asking questions of John, I learned how important the Valentines celebrations were to the hotel: a chance to shine and a chance to create an experience for all their guests whether staying in the hotel or simply coming to enjoy the dinner and music. Taking those “morsels” of information away with me, we began to create and curate our own Highclere Valentine’s experience and, as the pandemic recedes, we can once again welcome guests to it.

Highclere Swans

One essential part of any business is knowing what you can and cannot do. We are not the Ritz Hotel – we are a Stately Home which, by necessity, is constantly adapting. We do however have our own wonderful team of four talented chefs led by Paul Brooke Taylor who take huge pride in all they produce. This can vary from cakes and scones and other offerings for thousands of visitors in the summer to an intricate dinner or imaginative patisseries for a special afternoon tea. Unlike the many kitchens at the Ritz, they work in just the one kitchen This ancient space was originally built some 1000 years ago although it has now been adapted for the modern world as best we can. Originally a separate building from the main house to reduce the risk of fire, it is now connected through long corridors and fitted out with latest equipment.

This Valentines weekend which has just passed once more allowed our chefs to showcase their skill and to surprise, creating swans from Choux pastry and tiny delicious irresistible chocolate pots for the afternoon teas and a choice of canapes in the evening which reflected both the season and the romance of the occasion.

Tomorrow, on the 14th February, I am looking forward to welcoming guests into the Saloon with a warm fire lighting up the hearth and the rose garlands winding down the stairs. It is a chance to be romantic, to surprise and to step out of the practicality of everyday life together which tends instead to be marked more by the inevitable mismatched socks emerging from the washing machine or complaints about the empty fridge.

Anything from reality to fiction such as Downton Abbey can inspire romantic scenes and proposals but whilst quite a few have been set at Highclere, one of the happiest from DA was back in the Ritz Hotel in London when Bertie finally asked Edith to marry him.


Winnie the Pooh is an excellent place to begin to think about love:
“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.” A. A. Milne.

Winston Churchill wrote to his wife Clementine:
“I always feel so overwhelmingly in your debt, if there can be accounts in love…. What it has been to me to live all these years in your heart and companionship no phrases can convey.”