Lunching in Cheltenham Spa, The Montpellier Chapter
I love train travel, whizzing through the English countryside, I was on my way to Cheltenham Spa to sample the new menu and visit the recently opened The Montpellier Chapter Hotel and Spa. It probably helped that I was travelling in First Class courtesy of First Great Western. I’ve heard various things about train services here in England, but my trip was seamless and bang on time, with nice comfy seats and best of all, 2 electrical plugs at each seat so I could recharge both my laptop and iPhone at the same time on the 2 and a half hour journey there.
The Montpellier Chapter Hotel is a new venture from the Swire Hotel group of Hong Kong. The vision behind the Chapter hotels is to have all their hotels in “striking buildings, rooted in their location and designed to reflect the skills and vision of the people who have inspired them.” The Montpellier certainly fits the bill, the entrance being an original Grade II listed building that has been renovated in a modern style and has contemporary additional wings added onto the back of the building. There is a lovely courtyard in the middle of the hotel as well as a conservatory for tea. My favourite bit was the reception desk which consisted of a giant grooved wooden ball about 1metre high and a metre wide with a laptop sitting on top of it for check in, that was it, nothing else – very minimalistic.
The entire hotel is all muted shades of gray, with each room having your own personal expresso machine, iPod (in keeping with the paperless philosophy of the hotel) free wireless throughout the hotel and a free mini bar. I was liking this place more and more. The best touch, I thought, were the persplex “cards” advising you to plop it on your pillow if you wanted your sheets changed. The hotel’s decor was curated by Jane Lee of Central St. Martins. Jane guided Brian Williams,the Managing Director of Chapter Hotels through the galleries and art spaces of up and coming artist and advised him on what might work best with the hotel. The result was a fun and funky vibe which along with the mandatory staff footware of gray Converse All-Stars gives the hotel a hip but not tragically hip feel.
The hotel also has a spa with full range of treatments from waxing to massages with a “relaxation” room which has complimentary fresh fruit snacks to nibble on while waiting for your appointment. The spa uses only Aromatherapy Associates products which are 98% essential oils. Too bad I didn’t have time for a treatment but we weren’t there for the spa, although it was lovely, we were there to eat and drink.
The Restaurant, as it’s called, had a soft opening last year and now Chef Tom Rains along with restaurant consultant and food writer Simon Hopkinson have devised a light filled, contemporary kitchen with the best of British and seasonal cuisine. The menu was a mix of British classics and favourite dishes. Scallops cooked on the half shell, fresh crab and a crisp duck salad were a sampling of the starters we ordered. For the mains, Fish & Chips, Calves liver and Pork fillet with crackling were faves. Simon also has a monthly signature dish which was Asian marinated lamb cutlets with cucumber yoghurt this month. Desserts were not be overlooked. I had a spectacularly simple yet utterly delicious strawberry mille feuille which was summer on a plate. Others had the grilled pineapple which looked delectably sweet and the creme brulee, which had a perfect caramelized crust.
A nice touch for the wine list was the fact that it was on an iPad. The list is not huge, 130 bins, but it is nice to have everything there at the touch of a button. The list was a nice mix of Old and New World winemakers and prices were reasonable with the house white, a Spanish wine, starting at £14. I also spotted Ch. Musar 1990 for £100 which I thought was a fair price for such an interesting wine. You make your selection and hand the iPad back to the sommelier. I had a look at the cellars later and what impressed me most, besides being state of the art was that there was a refrigerated cellar for both the whites AND reds. Here is a restaurant that not only cares about serving the food properly but also the wine, well done, Montpellier.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and if you’re looking to get away for the weekend, Cheltenham is a pretty little spa town. In honor of the new spa opening, the hotel is offering various spa specials and promotions, consult the hotel for full details. The Cheltenham Montpellier Chapter hotel is the first Chapter hotel to open but there are others in the pipeline. Chapters are currently renovating the West of England Eye Infirmary in Exeter as their next hotel and it is scheduled to be opened in 2012. I’m looking forward to seeing what eccentricities they come up with for Exeter.
Thanks to First Great Western for providing transportation and The Montpellier Chapter Hotel for inviting me to lunch.