The ancestral home of the Money family (with a surname like that, it's no wonder they have an ancestral home), Hope House was transformed into an upmarket boutique B & B back in 2009. Built around the same as local landmark Blenheim Palace (and possibly designed by the same architect), with just 3 suites Hope House is an exclusive address in the heart of Woodstock. As it's a Grade II listed building, the refurbishment retained Hope House's period features, but the guest rooms boast plenty of contemporary touches. There are all the high-end trappings you'd expect of anywhere described as 'boutique': flat-screen TVs, iPod docks, roll-top baths and funky chaise longues.
Staying at Hope House is certainly a luxurious experience, but there's none of the faceless impersonality you sometimes encounter at high-end hotels. Given the exclusivity of the place and its warm welcome, there's a feeling of being guest in someone's (admittedly very swanky) home. Everything is focused on guest comfort and convenience: foodies will be keen to note that suites come equipped with a well-stocked fridge with drinks and snacks at 'pub prices', and the now rather rare tea and coffee making facilities. We're not talking about a travel kettle, a couple of sachets of Nescafé and a forlorn Tetley tea bag here though: there's a coffee press, choice of premium grounds and a selection of Teapigs infusions (including breakfast tea for the traditionalists, or course). With such a thirst-quenching spread in the bedroom, N and I could only imagine what the breakfast table was going to look like the following morning.
Hope House prides itself on its breakfast, and it's easy to see why. Taking our seats in the wood-panelled Vanbrugh restaurant, we surveyed the tale laden with fruit, cereals, muesli, yoghurt, meats and cheeses, itching to get stuck in. Before succumbing, we ordered coffee and chose from the extensive cooked breakfast menu, which features all the elements of a full English breakfast, combined however you want them. Vegetarians are well catered-for, with eggs prepared to order and vegetarian sausages also on offer. The bespoke approach extends to the rest of the breakfast menu - staff can prepare any combination of fruit juices you can dream up using the fruit available in the buffet selection.
|Home-baked bread and pastries|
The exotic fruit options are one of the few components of Hope House's breakfast that aren't sourced locally. The first emphasis is on quality, so if a local product is inferior to something you can find elsewhere (Kelloggs Cornflakes, for example), the superior option is chosen. Luckily for guests, Oxfordshire and the surrounding counties have plenty of excellent produce to offer, and as a result, Hope House receives no national deliveries. Eggs are laid by the hotel's own free-range chickens; meat is supplied by Callow Farm in Wootton Woodstock, which rears Gloucester Old Spot pigs; mushrooms and tomatoes are locally grown and cheeses include Simon Weaver's organic Cotswold brie. Jams and honeys also hail from Hope House's environs, with the honey produced by bees kept on the Blenheim Palace estate, and jams are made with local fruit by Sarah Doige, a prima ballerina turned award-winning preserve maker. All dairy products come from within the county too, with some yoghurts made on site and others supplied by a local dairy. Butter is organic and traditionally churned at nearby Netherend Farm, and tastes delicious slathered on the selection of toast provided. By this point, it was no surprise to find that the bread was baked at Hope House using Oxfordshire flour and wild yeast - nor that it tasted better than any shop-bought offerings.
Unlike so many restaurants, the emphasis on local produce isn't just a case of Hope House jumping on a bandwagon - chatting to owner Paul, he seemed to genuinely care about the environment, and is committed to sourcing as much of the hotel's breakfast produce from within the local community. It's an approach that pays off, and not only for the Oxfordshire economy. Hope House's home-made muesli (packed with a well-chosen combination of nuts, seeds and fruit) was superior to even my personal favourite Dorset Cereals; their home-baked croissants passed muster with N, who as a Belgian is entitled to call herself a croissant conoisseur. They were served warm, crisp on the outside and just doughy enough on the inside.
|Cumberland sausage and scrambled egg|
We followed up our muesli, fruit, yoghurt, toast and croissants (ahem) with cumberland sausage and scrambled egg (N) and a vegetarian sausage, mushrooms, grilled tomato and a potato farl for me. I was surprised that N was only given one sausage, but given the amount of food we'd already put away it was probably for the best. The texture of the scrambled egg was reportedly 'perfect', and N liked the fact that it had been left unseasoned so that guests can season their own eggs to taste. My sausage was encased in breadcrumbs - a little unusual, but tasty - and the mushrooms, tomatoes and potato farl all tasted as good as they looked.
Hope House is a place after my own heart: a place where breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.
Hope House is at 14 Oxford Street, Woodstock OX20 1TS. Tel: 01993 815990.
I was a guest of Hope House. Breakfast is for guests only.