Where is it?

Almost in the centre of England, in Northamptonshire, five miles from Daventry, down a private road, yet only one hour and 15 minutes from London. Address: Fawsley Hall Hotel, Fawsley, near Daventry, Northamptonshire N11 3BA (tel: 01327 892000; fax: 01327 892001).

What's it like?

The 30-bedroom tranquil country-house hotel, set in 2,000 acres of Capability Brown-designed grounds, opened in May 1998 after a 25-year restoration. The oldest part is Tudor, with its vaulted great hall and Queen Elizabeth I chamber. The two other sections are Georgian and Victorian, and they blend in while maintaining their period character. The building was bought as a complete ruin in the early 1970s by a Mr and Mrs Saunders. Timbers from the hall's ceiling have been recovered from the lake and reinstated - the hall was a builder's yard in the 1960s.


Despite the grandeur and refinement, it is informal, even soporific (which a lively delegation from a drinks company failed to puncture during our stay). Strictly no fitness centre or golf course.


The waiting staff were excellent, attentive and grown-up about things. Front-of-house staff were less impressive: a bit slow. When we failed to rouse room-service on the internal phone, we had to use our mobile to tell reception the system was on the blink, but received no thanks. Perhaps general manager Kevin McCarthy's influence - he has had stints at the Conrad, two Sheratons and Gleneagles - has yet to make its presence felt.


Each room is decorated in the style of the era in which it was built: Tudor, Georgian or Victorian. The Tudor highlight is the 1575 suite with its soaring roof, carved fireplace and four-poster bed (pounds 600 a night) - Queen Elizabeth I slept here. A standard double room is pounds 205 a night, a superior room pounds 230, a luxury room pounds 260 and a suite pounds 415. Special offers available.


James Hayward, the head chef, and Michael Rossi, the wildly creative pastry-chef, have great futures. We kicked off with a cappuccino of smoked salmon and red pepper. Our starters and main courses had fresh and intense flavours but remained unpretentious and countrified. The puddings, though, were something else. We had never seen anything like it. The banana parfait with cherries in a caramel box (complete with a lid) was resplendent with fireworks of sugar twirls and chocolate stars. The homemade ices came on an artist's palette of sponge, the chocolate patterned to look like grain in a piece of wood, the five different sorbets the artist's colours, rounded off with an edible painting resting on an easel of chocolate.


Four AA red stars, two AA rosettes (more to come, surely), and judged best restaurant in Northamptonshire.


The hotel has suffered a withering attack in print from Michael Winner, which has only convinced everyone else that it must be really rather good. Michael Schumacher, the King and Queen of Sweden and Rocco Benetton have all been recent guests. Otherwise, it's mainly couples in search of rest and recreation, motor enthusiasts visiting nearby Silverstone, or corporate delegates. There's a wedding booked every weekend at the hotel until the end of 2000.

Things to do?

Motor-racing at Silverstone, horse-racing at Cheltenham and Towcester, and Birmingham NEC, Sulgrave Manor, Althorp House, Warwick Castle and Stratford-on-Avon to visit. Golf at the Belfry, near Coventry.