A hotel like Cliveden has no need to be as good as it is: it could easily glide into gilded ruin, as seemed likely under previous managers. Instead, new managers Chewton Glen have made sure that all its fundamentals — glorious rooms, first-rate cuisine, fine service — are in place before embarking on a £20 million, two-year restoration. It is all still terribly grand, even if some rooms need a National Trust-approved lick of paint.
Cliveden’s storied history is everywhere evident, with a Lely of George Villiers next to a monstrously large 16th-century chimneypiece, imported in the 19th century, across from John Singer Sargent’s coquettish Nancy Astor in the hall. As my friend commented, every wood-panelled high-ceilinged bedroom does rather make you wonder which celebrity coupling occurred here.
The food surprised me most. I did not expect the inventive dishes we were served, such as a refreshing halibut carpaccio or a delicate tempered chocolate box covered with salted caramel sauce. The service in the dining room — as everywhere — was perhaps over-eager, with one waiter in his zeal filling my friend’s gin and tonic with still water, but they are hiring more experienced staff at the moment.
I would not hesitate to recommend staying at Cliveden, only I might recommend you hesitate: once the renovations are done, and the type of guest taken a little further upmarket, it will be back to the glorious future.