Rudding Park Hotel, Spa and Golf
The original building which now houses Rudding Park Hotel, Spa & Golf dates from 1805 – an elegant, large, beautifully symmetrical Georgian house with huge landscaped gardens which offer occluded views of the house. The estate was purchased by Sir Joseph Radcliffe in 1824, and remained in the family until 1972, when bankruptcy resulted in the sale of all the furniture and objets d’art that the Radcliffes had collected over several generations, most of it acquired during successive Grand Tours; the only remaining legacy of the collection is a set of rather fine bookcases. During Rudding Park’s time as hotel, the buildings have been expanded in a series of developments that have joined up the main house and the clocktower, and then added further wings. The complex also boasts a splendid Victorian Gothic church still in use for carol services and blessings, as well as occasional concerts, and I would strongly urge the visitor not to miss this. The original house is used now as the conference and events centre, with spacious and extremely versatile rooms that can be adapted to suit all occasions, such as extending into marquees in the garden or converting into car showrooms. My favourite room here was the library, with its glorious bookcases (yes, those original ones), intriguingly full of old books. The newest wing houses a downstairs spa and small gym and some much larger rooms and suites (including Presidential suites with all appropriate security features). The paintings throughout the buildings reflect country pursuits in their various forms – George Stubbs reproductions and suchlike – which add to the country house atmosphere; whilst there is also a small ‘gallery of fame’ with photographs of the more famous visitors to the hotel.
Rudding Park Hotel is an ever-evolving project; the next plans are for a spacious spa wing to revive the reputation of Harrogate as a top spa destination, with a large number of treatment rooms and pools of different temperatures, as well as a rooftop infinity pool and hydrotherapy pools. We were taken on an entertaining guided tour of the house and the various stages in its development by manager Peter Banks, who has been here 18 years and thus overseen and directed the success of this impressive hotel, and whose physical stature and general oozing of tremendous confidence and charm in a manner both genial and confiding perfectly suits his role.
We were staying in a junior suite – decorated in bold green and darker neutral colours, modern-looking but luxurious, with a vast and extremely comfortable bed, balcony, sitting area with long sofas and a beautiful large sumptuous bathroom with rainfall shower and free-standing bath. The suite is designed to be imposing, with hints of regal gold in the colour scheme. We were immensely impressed by the thoughtful touches – we had young master Tristan with us, and a bottle of Johnson’s baby shampoo was provided, along with a biscuit baked with Tristan’s name on it. Bowls of fruit were in evidence as well (much to Young Master’s approval), and the Molton Brown toiletries in the bathroom were likewise a more thoughtful selection than one usually finds.
We took a seat in the bar before dinner, a colder and more modern space, and were here slightly disappointed by the fruit juices on offer, as they appeared to be from concentrate rather than freshly squeezed or local juices (and the appetisers likewise were rather on the pedestrian side). However, our faith was restored as soon as moved through into the restaurant for dinner.
The Clocktower Restaurant is broken up into various very different spaces – some more modern and spacious; others in darker colours and cosier, with lots of banquettes. We were seated in the conservatory, where large circular stone tables and wicker chairs (as one would expect in a conservatory) satellite the sprouting trunk of a very old tree. The walls are a light stone, with traditional arched French windows (rather redolent of Victorian architecture) on three sides of the room and a bright, light atmosphere even in the evening. We sat looking out over the fine gardens, finding it a pleasant and relaxing space.
On entering the hotel we had at once been struck by the positive attitude of the staff, who were extremely friendly and polite, professional and appropriately dressed; some of them struck a great rapport with Tristan (even, entertainingly, playing hide and seek with him in the lobby) – and this high level of service was maintained in the restaurant. A high chair was brought and a kit of colouring-in to keep him occupied, while we were offered water along with the menus and were provided with bread shortly afterwards – fresh brown rolls and white ciabatta rolls, crunchy on top and soft and springy inside.
The menus offered a good range – the menu of the day offered nearly as many choices as the à la carte, with some interesting vegetarian options as well as tempting meat and fish dishes. I commenced with the garden salad – extremely (please, dear reader, excuse the vulgar phrase) ‘on trend’, with a variety of edible flower and leaves, griddled baby vegetables and slightly tart and creamy goats’ cheese wrapped up in coils of crunchy cucumber. Mr Marshall-Luck opted for the duck with rhubarb, which dish worked extremely well, especially as the rhubarb was just verging on the right side of sweetness to complement the slight saltiness of the duck. He found it surprisingly filling, too; a satisfying quantity which nevertheless left plenty of room for the following main course!
Here, I chose the fillet of pork with apple purée, crispy sage leaves, black pudding and wild boar tortelloni. The latter was the best part of the plate, having the most incredible flavour, very gamey and dark: delicious. The nuggets of pork fillet were wrapped in bacon to lend a saltier note and were beautifully tender. Altogether, it was a dish that pleased immensely – all elements sang in harmony and the portions were well-considered, manageable without overwhelming or leaving one feeling too full for dessert.
The steak – a Mr Marshall-Luck weakness – was also superb. Very flavoursome and just fatty enough, the meat was complemented beautifully by a deliciously rich béarnaise sauce and ‘skinny chips’, while the portion was, like that of the pork fillet, judged to perfection.
I gave into the lure of the selection of Yorkshire cheeses, rather than having a dessert – just choosing two goats’ cheeses. I was provided with two very unusual and interesting cheeses – one a generously-portioned wedge of hard and full-flavoured cheese, the other a runny and sharp tasting goat’s cheese presented in a glass with a sprinkling of black truffle on top. These were served with more of the Clocktower Restaurant’s lovely warm bread and various accompaniments.
Mr Marshall-Luck chose the cheesecake with rhubarb, which he deemed very good, although the biscuit base could, perhaps, have been slightly crunchier; the flavours, however, were fresh and open, and the cheesecake itself was deliciously creamy and just rich enough without being overpowering. Young Master Tristan by special request was presented with a small portion of a chocolate cheesecake-y dessert, which he attacked with gusto. It was rich and powerfully – concentratedly – flavoured; and it had a biscuit-y base which texturally complemented the smoothness of the topping very well. The following tea and coffee were both excellent; while the whole meal had been accompanied by the 2008 Rioja Reserve – which was a full-bodied and flavoured wine, albeit nothing wildly spectacular.
For breakfast we were back in the conservatory again and were impressed by the fact that service ran smoothly, despite it being extremely busy; with all the staff working efficiently. Again Tristan was taken good care of and was brought milk to drink. There was a buffet on offer of juices, breads and pastries, although we would have welcomed a greater range in the form of cold meats and cheeses. However, that which was provided was of very good quality, with ‘rolling’ toasters provided for patrons’ use, if desired. The juices, too, were nicely chilled and freshly squeezed. Hot dishes were, of course, also offered, and I went for the scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on muffin – a very thin muffin, crunchy and, pleasingly, buttered. Flakes of smoked salmon were mixed up with the well-done scrambled eggs – thankfully nothing sloppy here – and this was hugely enjoyed by Tristan also.
On the whole, we were greatly impressed by Rudding Park Hotel and much enjoyed our stay, departing with regret that we could not stay longer to wander the extensive gardens and grounds, or to enjoy more of the superb and friendly service, or of the Clocktower Restaurant’s fine food.
However, the immediate area had one last pleasure in store for us. Rudding Park is very close to the town of Knaresborough, which looks a little dull as one drives through it but features the remains of a castle – including dungeon and mediaeval garderobe – and a Museum. Of the latter, the focal point is an original Tudor courtroom (the only one left in the country), complete with trapdoor through which the prisoner would emerge, blinking, into the light and immediately under the stern gaze of the judge, raised high up above him and separated by a vast wooden table for the jury. We found this transfixingly fascinating – a real window into history. There are also various other artefacts of interest in the Museum, and this is highly recommended for any visitor to Rudding Park for an unique insight into a side of life rarely seen.
Em Marshall-Luck is QR’s Restaurant and Wine Critic