Wylde World: Stoke Park
Report by Thea Lewis-Yates
Photography by Martin Yates
As the winter frost sets in and ice takes its steely grip, our thoughts turn to cosiness (yes the word is cosy, I don’t adhere to the imported smugness of ‘hygge’) log fires, comfy sofas and rich, decadent meals. Steeped in over 1000 years of history, Stoke Park knows a thing or two about comfort. The Palladian mansion, a chocolate-box Georgian fairytale brought to life, is surrounded by beautiful landscaped gardens, originally designed by Capability Brown. Stoke Park’s mix of historical grandeur with utterly personal 21st century service makes for a blissfully relaxing, luxurious destination.
A simple hop and skip from London (20 minutes on the fast train from Paddington, followed by a nano-second in a taxi) and we pull into Stoke Park’s palatial driveway. This is old school service at its best - immaculately attired doormen greet us and tip their hats, like a scene from The Great Gatsby. We start with lunch in the fabulously retro Orangery Restaurant, then mooch to the award-winning Pavilion Spa, to while away an afternoon in the outdoor hot tub, steam swirling into the crisp December air. After a few lengths of the pool to build up an appetite for what promises to be one of the best meals I’ve eaten this year, The Husband and I head off for our respective massages. I opt for the Aromatherapy Associates Sleep Deeply Massage, a head-to-toe bliss-fest which uses neuromuscular and Swedish techniques to calm aching limbs and frazzled minds. For sporty types there are tennis courts, a state-of-the-art gym and one of the finest golf courses in the UK, a huge draw for many guests.
Dinner in the award-winning Humphry’s Restaurant is one of the highlights of our stay - incredible cooking in a joyfully grand setting. Head chef Chris Wheeler, a one-time protégé of uber-chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, uses local, fresh and seasonal ingredients in his seductive kitchen wizardry. I start with scallops, served with cauliflower purée, sticky chicken wing, port and apple gel - sounds odd, tastes incredible. The Husband’s trio of candy, golden and red baby beetroot, with horseradish ‘cheese’ and sour dough crisp is inspired, at once both light and earthy; definitely NOT the meat-free short straw. I then opt for the beef fillet and he, the venison. Both dishes are expertly cooked, the meat cutting like butter and tasting just as rich. Somehow we find room for desert: good job too, as they are almost inexplicably good. Wheeler’s piece de la resistance, a chocolate and caramel mouse, served with salted caramel ice-cream and hazelnut tuille, is so divinely rich and bittersweet I don’t want it to end.
With full bellies and happy hearts we retreat to our home for the night, the Coke Suite, named after a previous owner of Stoke Park’s original Manor House, Lord Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke. Our majestic wooden 4 poster is as comfortable as it is impressive, and we wake revived, ready for a blustery winter walk followed by an enormous breakfast of eggs florentine.
Stoke Park isn’t cool - it’s far, far chicer than that. It’s timeless and the pan-generational appeal is born from a remarkable, genteel history and the staff’s innate knowledge of exemplary service. Will we be back? Try and keep us away. We probably ought to learn golf in the meantime…