In the midst of a pandemic, anyone launching a new business must be brave or stupid; Hector Ross and his team just seem determined, with The Mitre hoping to flourish on the Thames and opposite Hampton Court Palace.
Six months ago, few of us had any clue what a “quarantini” was. We had little clue about most things about to envelop us back then. And some of us certainly wouldn’t have thought that we’d find ourselves caving in to the rule of a 14th century Italian term meaning “40 days”, as reprimand for going overseas.
A quarantini may have originated in the US from the dubious mixing of a vitamin-C supplement with gin during lockdown, but it since seems to have come to be represent any cocktails whipped up during these weird times. Now I’m appropriating the name as my way of celebrating release from my 14-day isolation, undergone after getting caught-out by the sudden Grant Shapps U-turn while I was in Crete.
It didn’t start off too badly. But then the endless episodes of Lost were starting to feel like my actual reality. I feared OCD was creeping over me unchecked. The main puncture in the two-week monotony with just a cat for company was a bout of hysteria brought on when I managed to get an Ocado-meets-M&S delivery slot (try getting one of those bad boys at the moment). I was even desperate enough to be take a 6.30am slot for it, and I was literally waiting by the door to welcome in such luxuries as Veggie Colin the Caterpillars, a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet and a Gail’s “artisanal sourdough loaf with olives” (no, I can’t cook my own), to name a few. Imagine my joy when a friend popped around later that week with my dog-daughter Ebie for a 10-minute “doorstep visit”.
But the main thing getting me through was looking forward to spending the night at a new hotel on the day of my “release” – thank you, The Mitre Hotel in Hampton Court, neither of us had any idea how much of a treat you would be when you first welcomed my reservation back in early August.
Almost euphoric, I drove over to the hotel on the sunniest of September days, and was greeted in reception by a glass of Whispering Angel and creator of The Mitre, hotelier and restaurateur Hector Ross, along with delightful Claire Fyfe, who is running the hotel.
This infamous rose was presented to me to mark the fact that Ross has managed to persuade the brand to open its first-ever concession; even better, the Whispering Angel bar is on a terrace with river views, a roaring fire, cute-as-a-button garden furniture and trees strewn with sparkling lights.
Already with a stream of boutique hotels and restaurants under his belt, this is Ross’s breakout project, and the first of several he plans to open under The Signet Collection with the aim of creating “meaningful stays in time-honoured places throughout southern England”. So far, so spot-on in my case, with the significance of my release and a stay with my best friend on a Friday night combining nicely with an unbeatable Thames-side location on the doorstep of stunning Hampton Court Palace, plus Bushy Park just down the road.
But back to the drinking. As well as the rose, I was keen to try a quarantini with my friend to celebrate said release and opted for the Signet Spritz, made from Lemon Drizzle gin, grapefruit, sparkling wine and honey, and I can’t tell you how good it felt; like fizzy freedom in a divine little glass. The hotel even has its own ale, Six Wives, and Bollinger is the house champagne, or there’s Hambledon from Hampshire, if you prefer to keep it sort of local.
There was a tiny spanner in the works however thanks to Boris Johnson’s curfew law – 10pm is not a usual end time on a Friday night in anyone’s books, let alone those quaffing their way through nibbles, a three-course dinner, wine and those cocktails in the 1665 restaurant. It’s enough to give two middle-aged women heartburn.
Last orders for food have to be placed around 9pm now, in order to ensure service can be completed and guests kindly ushered out of the restaurants by 10 (the hotel’s other main dining option is Coppernose, a more informal, pastel-coloured delight). You’re not even allowed to sit in the residents-only Library with a cup of tea and a pal. Nope, absolutely not. Even if it’s the same pal you have just spent three hours with. Which meant we missed out on the chance to kick back in this gorgeous book-lined little room, with its honesty bar and retro jukebox.
Still, the hotel had quickly come up with some curfew creativity: a barman was taking orders in one of the impeccably designed lounge areas as guests filtered past, which were then delivered to guests’ rooms; cue another Signet Spritz for me. Alternatively, we could have just enjoyed a few shots of the complimentary Kings Ginger liqueur left in my room.
Of course it was no hardship to have to spend more time in the room – all 36 of them are unique in their shapes and sizes and have been individually designed by Nicola Harding, whose previous projects include Beaverbrook and The Rose in Deal.
Best described as British eccentric, The Mitre has provided the perfect playground for her imagination, calling on subtle historic references, humour, great art, lighting and ceramic selections and more than 200 paint colours throughout, but always evoking a comfortable, cosy feel.
From the minute you walk into reception, with a local made candle burning and fresh flowers dotted around, you genuinely do feel at home. My ground floor Royal Room was called Edward and he was a bold mix of colours, wood panelling, quirky wallpaper, vintage-feel furnishings and a giant map of how London wraps around the Thames hanging over a freestanding roll-top bathtub.
Smellies come in the form of customised treats from Bramley, and little piles of old books provide a quiet distraction, if you don’t fancy watching the big TV; and if you didn’t want a quarantini, there’s a range of Birchall Tea and Lavazza coffee-making facilities. A couple of homemade biscuits are also hung on the door in a raffia bag as a little welcome treat.
It is widely reported that The Mitre was built in 1665 (hence the name of the restaurant) at the direction of King Charles II as ancillary accommodation for visitors to Hampton Court Palace; Charles was also responsible for commissioning The Long Water, the beautiful canal built at the palace for his wife.
Alas, this was all long after the death of the palace’s most notorious resident Henry VIII, but that hasn’t stopped the hotel using historic connections to him anyway to name some of the rooms, such as the Henry VIII Suite and Catharine Parr Suite, named for the last of his six wives, while Coppernose – his nickname after he issued cheap currency – has given to the hotel’s restaurant. There’s a room named for Sir Christopher Wren too, who built a baroque palace at Hampton Court for William III and Mary II.
Joining Ross and Fyfe in the trio in charge is culinary and operations director Ronnie Kimbugwe, a celebrated chef, whose background includes time with the Gordon Ramsay group at Claridge’s and a decade with the Bel and Dragon Country Inns, where he must have first buddied up with Ross.
1665 is an all-day riverside brasserie with a centrepiece central bar, wine room, private dining room, open kitchen, and riverside terrace on the Thames. Kimbugwe’s sample dishes include Roast Lincolnshire Suckling Pork with apple and mustard mash potato and tender stem broccoli; Cornish Sole Meuniere with capers, burnt butter and parsley; and flame grilled Rib Eye Steak with truffle mayo and celery salted fries.
The vibe for Coppernose is a lighter, colourful, relaxed restaurant, where sunlight floods in, fresh pastel flowers are dotted around and a raised central area sits under a mint and cream striped ‘marquee effect’ ceiling; a perfect peaceful spot for my breakfast overlooking the Thames. Otherwise, sample dishes include Flamed English Asparagus, broad beans, watercress and fried duck egg; Atlantic Lobster and Prawn Cocktail, gems, sriracha and lemon; and Mediterranean vegetables and puy lentils, basil oil, confit garlic and baba ganoush.
The hotel also has Polly – a vintage Citroen H Van which is used as a food truck, and there are also delicious afternoon teas served in either of the two restaurants; there’s a complimentary Wine and Cheese tasting at 4pm daily too. The hotel even manages to grow some food onsite, such as herbs on the Orangery roof and beehives on the main roof, as well as smoking its own salmon.
The Orangery is a beautiful space, created with special events in mind and can hold up to 80 seated guests when it is eventually deemed safe to do so again, and hiring it out grants guests access to the whole private riverside terrace and boat jetty.
The plan is also for the team to host a series of food-led events, such as supper clubs with guest speakers, and there’s even rumours of Ronnie and Claire doing a pop-up together, given she was a finalist in Masterchef this year.
Guests might also sign up for a cocktail masterclass, and The Mitre has its own boat too, so you can head off on the Thames with a picnic lunch prepared by the hotel’s chefs and wines selected by the sommelier (from around £150 for a half day). The hotel can also take care of electric cycle hire (£40 per day); not that you would need one of those to get to the biggest attraction, Hampton Court Palace and its beautiful gardens and maze, which is just across the road. Bushy Park, just a short walk away, is also well worth escaping to.
It’s worth noting too that the family suites have cute bunk beds and can comfortably sleep up to four guests, while dogs are welcome also, with the hotel creating four dog-friendly rooms on the ground floor with outside terrace access; dogs can also expect a welcome pack on arrival. The whole hotel can even be hired for exclusive use, and can sleep up to 72 guests.
And in the absence of any boardroom bookings in the ground floor Cardinal Wolsey Room for now, the room will be set as a co-working space, which is a nice idea in the current circumstances, should anyone need a change from their same four walls at home. And all of this is just 40 minutes from central London with a direct train from Waterloo to Hampton Court.
So whether you’re a local looking for a great new spot, couples or families in search of a cosy mini-break, or just someone looking to celebrate release from quarantine, do show some support for The Mitre and its team – bravely opening such a cracking new hotel in a pandemic deserves our support.