Set in picturesque Kent countryside and surrounded by lush gardens, Rowhill Grange is a nineteenth century manor house with a sweeping driveway, lush gardens, popular spa and a fine dining restaurant – all within one hour from central London. Although the house dates back to 1868, Rowhill Grange is not your typical English country country house; it’s clapper-board exterior and ranch-style fencing make it look almost American, whilst the eye-catching Utopia Spa has a Romanesque interior, complete with temple-like pillars, frescos of Italian landscapes and even a waterfall.
Rowhill Grange is perhaps best known for it’s Instagram-worthy spa, which is ultimately what got my attention too, but during my visit I was surprised to find that the restaurant far outshined the pretty pool…
The hotel is in a bit of an odd location, in that there is not much to see or explore locally, so the hotel is the only attraction. With this in mind, they’ve done an amazing job to make their spa a destination in itself, with a dedicated manicure / pedicure room, several treatment and relaxation rooms, two pools, steam room and sauna, and even a brasserie where you can enjoy a light alfresco lunch in your bathrobe.
The rest of the hotel seemed to come secondary, with interiors a little dated. When we checked in, staff were wearing matching uniforms and silk neckerchiefs, and gave a very rehearsed welcome, asking all the mandatory questions, which felt a little like boarding an aeroplane in the ’70s.
We were shown to our room which was pleasant but basic, with a large TV, tea and coffee making area and a modern bathroom with L’Occitaine products.
We didn’t hang about, and dumped our bags to head downstairs for our treatments.
The spa was clean and modern, having recently been refurbished, and had a shop and a dedicated manicure / pedicure room. I was taken down a corridor into one of the treatment rooms, which was dark and scented.
My therapist talked me through my Rocks of the Mediterranean treatment (70 minutes, £99), which is a thermal stone massage using warm basalt lava stones to massage the body from head to toe. I got ready, and laid face down on the soft and heated massage table. She came in and rubbed the massage oil in her palms, wafting them under my nose and asking me to inhale the scent in three deep breaths, then got started. Although I had low expectations (being massaged by stones?), the stones were soft and hot and warmed my muscles, and she applied the perfect amount of pressure, working on the backs of my legs and thighs, up to my shoulders and neck, kneading out every single knot. It was heaven. Half way through she asked me to turn over, then covered me with the towel again so she could work on my arms, hands, shoulders, décolleté, face and scalp. By the end of it I felt like putty. When the treatment ended, the therapist pressed my body through the towel, then left me to relax while she fetched some water, giving me time to slowly wake up and get dressed. I was told not to shower straight away, to give the oils time to soak in a bit more, so I sauntered over to the pool to lie down with a book and people watch.
The spa is set over two floors, with a long swimming pool on the mezzanine floor, overlooking the thermal area which featured a large round vitality pool surrounded by columns and walls painted with a tromp l’oeil of Roman ruins. Although the swimming pool was lovely and peaceful, the thermal area was heaving with people, so even if I had wanted a dip (which I didn’t), personal space would be non-existent. Late afternoon was clearly a popular time, so I avoided the crowds and headed up to my room to change for dinner.
The RG restaurant was elegantly decorated, quite different from the Elements Bar & Lounge next to the spa, and the menu looked very promising.
We were seated by a window, and the waiter pulled out my chair for me, unfolded my napkin on my lap and offered me a drink and the menus. We took his recommendation for the Merlot, tucked into the bread (it tasted homemade), and ummed and ahh’d over the menu. Even after the wine had arrived (phenomenal, like really really good), we were still nowhere near making a decision. It all sounded delicious! In the end I picked the prawn, crab and crayfish cocktail with apple spaghetti and Bloody Mary dressing, followed by the hay smoked fillet of beef, and Jonathan had a terrine and chargrilled Aberdeen Angus steak (prepared on their Robata Grill). No sooner had we ordered and we were offered a delicious amuse bouche of lobster and potato on a tarragon sweet corn purée. A sign of the quality of what was to come, we knew we were in for a treat.
My prawn, crab and crayfish cocktail arrived, and it was much better than I had expected – topped with fresh crayfish and crispy lettuce, with rich crab meat at the bottom, only lightly mixed in with the Bloody Mary dressing; it wasn’t too rich or saucy as many other prawn cocktails can be, and was delightfully refreshing. Spiralised crisp and tangy Granny Smith apple was the perfect garnish.
Our starters were followed by a palate cleanser of basil and apple sorbet, a zingy herby sorbet that was so good it inspired me to make my own at home for our dinner party the following night! (Sadly mine didn’t turn out as well, and tasted more like frozen pesto.)
And finally the meat. Wow. Just wow. Pictures won’t do it justice. The quality was incredible, the textures, juices, flavours, everything absoutely perfect. We both agreed that it was the best hotel meal we had had in a very long time – possibly years.
My hay smoked fillet was topped with peppery Nasturtium leaves, and arrived with creamed potatoes, grilled onions and a lovely dressing. The Aberdeen Angus steak didn’t disappoint – it had been grilled at over 350º on their Robata Grill using a bespoke mix of English woodland charcoal, leaving it smokey and succulent.
We went up to bed feeling full and pampered, to a room that had been made up for us and left with a poem – a nice touch.
Breakfast had a lot of healthy options (I had the grapefruit followed by caramelised bananas and gluten free pancakes), as well as more indulgent options (he had the full English), and there was a continental buffet offering cereals and toast.
One hour later we were back in London, refreshed and re-energised. What the hotel perhaps lacked in design or aesthetic, it certainly made up in food, wine, and spa treatments. With it being so close to London it could make a lovely mid-week escape, or the ideal spa weekend with the girls.