New Berkshire boutique hotel Hurley House opened at the end of 2016, having been transformed from a traditional country boozer into a chic, stylish destination with costs topping £4.5m. Throw into the mix a Michelin-famed chef and a new look designed to ‘capture the essence of country living’, and you have the start of an interesting story. Josh Waddell sat down with owner Bassam Shlewet and general manager Justin Ellis during a recent stay to discuss the ambitious project.
Bassam Shlewet, the founder and former chairman of TTT Moneycorp Group, left no stone unturned when transforming an old 18th century pub into Hurley House, a boutique hotel comprising 10 bedrooms, vast outdoor space and an intimate pub and restaurant.
With construction and refurbishment costs reaching £4.5m over an 18-month period, the transformation has produced a truly elegant venue, a project that wasn’t without its challenges.
“We bought it with a view to a modest refurbishment but we soon discovered the structure was rotten, we couldn’t fix anything so we decided to gut it out and start again, everything had to be brand new. At the same time we began building a new extension,” said Shlewet.
Shlewet took a very hands-on role during the reconstruction process working with a team of advisers, architects, designers and consultants to create a venue that ‘raises the bar of expectation’. Far from propelling the process, Shlewet ensured the finest details were to the highest specification before launching in the summer of 2016.
Located on the popular A4130 between Maidenhead and Henley, easily accessible from the M4 the roadside location helped attract much interest during the building process and when the doors were opened last year, an opening party proved a successful launch event, without the need for any marketing. “At the opening party we installed a marquee and had over 200 guests in attendance, the outside space is exceptional,” said Shlewet.
Upon our arrival, the abundant outdoor space and its flexibility is apparent. Arriving in January we head inside to a warm welcoming pub atmosphere with wood burning stoves, exposed brickwork, wooden beams and rustic furniture, an understated yet contemporary chic setting.
We were quickly welcomed by the barman who showed us through to the hotel check in and upstairs to one of the ‘superior rooms’, the hotel offer comprising of three tiers of room. The room hallway doubled as a tea/coffee making area with mini bar set aside from the very spacious room with the feel of a luxurious studio apartment. Little wonder that when quizzed whether they welcome guests for business or leisure purposes, general manager Justin Ellis, with an experienced background in the hospitality sector, commented: “We’ve started to pick up on the business side of things. We have a gentleman that stays with us two-three nights a week and he’s going to do so over the next two years as he has a business in Maidenhead.”
Another staff member knocks and tells us how to control the heating/air con unit as well as the underfloor heating and other mod cons. Stone coloured with slanted ceilings and plentiful natural light the room has a countryside retreat feel offering home comforts and luxurious finishing touches (Jane Austen novels sparsely scattered for any guests that really want to escape!)
The bathroom features a free standing deep bath, a walk in spacious shower, luxury ‘Soak & Sleep’ towels and bath robes and all the amenities you could ask for. The separate toilet room also boasts natural light from the slanted ceiling window.
In the kitchen, the appointment of Michelin-starred head chef Michael Chapman was fundamental in Shlewet’s vision of creating a fine dining experience that would have locals repeat booking like clockwork. Chapman, alongside Shlewet, Ellis and the rest of the 28-strong Hurley House team ensure the menu features locally-sourced ingredients from Berkshires best producers and farmers while the fish and seafood are brought directly from Brixham’s fishing boats. Ellis comments on the fashion of locally sourced produce: “Yes it’s a big buzz word in the industry but it’s what the local people want as consumers and people want to see establishments being intelligent with their purchasing.”
Shlewet’s confidence in Chapman and the quality of produce is clear. When asked about the competitive local ‘foodie’ landscape and how they will ensure they stand out from the crowd Shlewet replied, “we will let you judge when you have dinner . . . you’ll find out where we are on the scale.”
Ellis also confidently acknowledges the level of food on offer. The team mentality is apparent and considered of the utmost importance.
Perusing the a la carte, seasonal menu the options available lends itself to why Hurley House attracts locals on a repetitive basis. Typical of a fine-dining restaurant, quality over quantity is very much the order of the day, each mouthful to be savoured and enjoyed. A far cry from the Red Lion traditional pub that Hurley House replaced one would assume. The exemplary food and accompanying red wine chosen by the helpful waiter combined with the intimate, ambient and relaxed atmosphere made for the perfect evening.
Away from its core offerings, Shlewet and Ellis are keen to promote the wedding and events side of the business. Earlier that day they had taken another wedding booking with exclusivity of the venue provided and of course on site accommodation for the wedding party. The garden area can accommodate up to 400 guests.
Other events planned include wine tasting, cigar evenings and an upcoming Valentine’s Day event. Meanwhile the first Hurley House Christmas Day did not pass without some festive magic – reindeer were on site! Said Ellis, “one of the things we’d like to do sticking with F&B is wine evenings, we want to do cigar evenings when the weather gets better as we obviously need to sit outside! We buy cigars locally from Henley so sticking with the locally sourced theme. With Michael’s food they will be a sell out.” Not that they would need to wait long, the garden and terraces comprise four large heated awnings.
Shwelet does not plan to stop there, with Henley House primed to succeed the entrepreneur has his sights set on the next venture, another site in the Berkshire/Oxfordshire region already submitted for planning permission. “There’s a market for the very high end, there’s a lot of middle range. As a boutique hotel, as an outside area, as a restaurant, as a pub, as a whole package there aren’t many venues that compare to this. It is very unique and we’re banking on the uniqueness and the exclusivity but at the same time providing relaxed / laid back luxury.”