24-Hour Room Service: Sanctum on the Green, Berkshire
Saturday 17 July 2010
Mark Fuller used to be in the business of keeping people up at night. The nightclub impresario has been responsible for London venues including Sugar Reef and Embassy (where the door policy, incidentally, might as well be if-you're-not-fake-tanned-then-you're-not-comin'-in). Then in 2003 he radically changed direction when he took over a rural bolthole – Inn on the Green – in Berkshire with Iron Maiden manager Andy Taylor.
Unlike his London operations, Fuller kept the inn venture a lower profile; but then last year a BBC documentary followed the trials and tribulations of Fuller's next project, a "rock'n'roll hotel" in central London. With Sanctum Soho opening to great fanfare, it looked like Fuller's sights were suddenly set on sending people to sleep.
But back to that hotel in Berkshire. The 17th-century coaching inn had been run as a restaurant with rooms until Fuller and Taylor got involved, at which point there was more of an emphasis on indulgence: a Michelin-starred chef was installed; the styling became "boutique". Yet as Fuller's attentions turned once again to London, the bucolic picture started to tarnish: the Inn on the Green closed late last year. But now it's back as the country counterpart to Sanctum Soho.
One million pounds of refurbishment money has seen Sanctum on the Green import the urban aesthetic of Sanctum Soho; all that city-centre glamour has been sent down along the A4 and sternly told to fit into a country setting. According to Fuller: "We have taken the ethos of ... Sanctum Soho and brought it to the country, adding a hint of English gent." I suppose even the most determined rock'n'roller needs a break sometimes.
The look is as slick as Soho (gold, silver, bronze and black are used liberally), but there's also a terrace lined with sun loungers and a black-tiled pool. The pool's not huge, mind you: more of hollow in which to wallow than an opportunity to show off your butterfly stroke. It is, however, augmented by a poolside hot tub and a Moroccan-style marquee, which when not in use for weddings, adds flamboyant styling to the picture.
Inside the main building, a smart restaurant keeps alive the coaching inn tradition with a menu of Good Old British Fare. I could identify neither the wild garlic nor the nettles in my soup starter and my companion's ham hock and foie gras terrine lacked a serving of toast; but our aged Hereford sirloin steak was packed with seared flavour and meltingly soft inside.
Other options include Keen's Cheddar quiche and calves liver with bacon and mash; a two-course meal will set you back a London-esque sum of around £30 a head, without wine. Diners happily spill outside for digestifs once they've had their fill. But after one party decided to move on from the bubbles of prosecco to those of the hot tub (thereby disturbing a guest in a poolside room), the crowds soon dispersed. Perhaps decadence can only go so far in Berkshire; this is, after all, a place of sleep.
Easy access from London is all part of the business plan. The hotel is just under an hour by road or on the train from Paddington, though the journey is hardly picturesque. However, the new brick of Cookham town is quickly replaced by cottages, then countryside as you head up to Cookham Dean. The gated mansions en route to the National Trust-kept green suggest that this is a place where privacy is valued. If things get too quiet, the Thames Valley and market towns of Henley, Marlow and Windsor are available to explore.
The nine bedrooms are split between the main inn and some newer outbuildings. They range from modest "crash pads" to deluxe doubles and a suite. Crash pad? The name has been transferred from Sanctum Soho, but sits ill in a countryside setting. The décor translates rather better.
My suite was set in the eaves of an outbuilding by the pool. The Louis XV-style furniture was daubed silver, a striped velveteen sofa was scattered with gold faux snakeskin cushions, a pineapple chandelier cascaded from the ceiling – and cupboard doors were bronze-leather padded.
Across the landing in the black metallic-floored bathroom, a huge double bath gave the pool a run for its money. So far, so glam, but I'm not sure which "English gent" Mr Fuller had in mind when diamanté handles were fitted to the bedroom doors. Whatever size of room you're installed in, all are equally decadent. One curious detail was the lack of an iPod dock or minibar in rooms that were resplendent with giant plasma TVs. Perhaps the rock'n' roll got left behind in Soho.
Sanctum on the Green, The Old Cricket Common, Cookham Dean, Berkshire SL6 9NZ (01628 482638; sanctumonthegreen.com )
Double rooms start at £135, including breakfast.
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