New terrace is a breath of fresh air at stately Down Hall Hotel and Spa
Down Hall Hotel and Spa, Bishop's Stortford's most local stately home, is set in 110 acres of woodland, parkland and landscaped gardens with an intriguing royal connection.
The first version of the imposing Italianate property in Hatfield Heath was a Tudor home, once owned by poet Matthew Prior, who commissioned Charles Bridgeman to landscape its extensive grounds.
Bridgeman was an innovative pioneer of the naturalistic landscape style know as jardin anglais. He redesigned the gardens of a string of wealthy nobles and working on such noted sites as Stowe, Cliveden and Chiswick House before his tenure as royal gardener for Queen Anne and Prince George of Denmark, tending and remodelling the grounds of Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court St James’ and Hyde Park.
Today, the terrace at Down Hall is the perfect vantage point to enjoy the tranquillity and beauty of its gardens, against the soothing backdrop of a gentle fountain. The terrace is dotted with an assortment of comfortably cushioned chairs, generous parasols and tables ready for dining al fresco when the weather is too glorious to retreat to The Grill Room.
Once the fresh air has boosted your appetite, attentive staff are ready to serve fresh ingredients in elegant portions which belie their budget price of £25 for three courses.
A typical menu is a taste of summer with smoked salmon, radish, caper, dill emulsion and ponzu as the perfect delicate starter – although chicken liver parfait with red onion marmalade and toasted brioche was tempting and richly savoury roasted onion soup with burnt onion petals would satisfy even the hungriest vegetarian.
The pan-fried sea bass main - complete with crispy skin - served with new potatoes, green beans and garlic butter was ideal for a light lunch while a heartier appetite would not find fault with the chicken breast, mashed potato and kale, burnished with a rich Madeira jus which was plate-licking good. For non-meat eaters, there is butternut squash, truffled potatoes, runner beans and goat’s cheese.
The joy of the terrace is its leisurely ambience, so there is time to drink in the sights and scents of the attractive and aromatic planting – as well as a gin and tonic, served over ice – before launching into a sticky toffee pudding to satisfy the sweetest tooth or a sharp lemon posset, served with fresh berries and buttery shortbread. A trio of British cheese completes the selection for those who prefer a savoury end to their meal.
The newly-launched terrace also boasts an outdoor bar for those who want a cocktail with their meal or just want to spend a happy hour or two sipping a chilled drink in the sun.
Its menu is a gin lovers delight, with more than 25 varieties to choose from and if you’re driving, there is a range of zero-proof drinks including the thirst-quenching pineapple agua fresca or a virgin mojito.
The terrace can be enjoyed from sun-up to sundown, starting with brunch and a choice of smoothies for the health and calorie conscious.
Lunch features an accompaniment of smooth jazz tunes on July 15, with the Quartones, and April in Paris on August 19.
For those who want to make a day of it at Down Hall, the music events can be enjoyed in the grounds with a traditional picnic hamper (£25 per person) or an afternoon tea picnic hamper (£30 per person).
With newly resurfaced tennis courts, Down Hall is also gearing up for Wimbledon and a special edition Wimbledon-themed afternoon tea on the terrace from Friday, June 29 to Sunday, July 15.
• This Father’s Day, in addition to the usual Sunday lunch terrace menu, dads can enjoy a Scotch egg and pint for £7.50.