This is, frankly, thrilling. We are still caught in the worst crisis that British hospitality has faced and here I am in a new hotel that brims with optimism and a bright future. Covid be gone. The Mitre is here.
If you know the elegant Lutyens bridge that straddles the Thames between London and Surrey at Hampton, you may have glanced at The Mitre and inwardly sighed: a fine landmark gone to seed, the sort of clapped-out place you hurry past.
In fact, it has always been a hostelry, built in 1665 to accommodate the courtiers of King Charles II when he occupied Hampton Court Palace, which stands opposite. It had a moment in the 1960s, when Shirley Bassey would pop in for lobster thermidor, but after that its fortunes dipped.
Enter Hector Ross, formerly in charge of the Bel & the Dragon pub chain and Beaverbrook hotel. He is young yet, but he knows what he’s doing.
Supported by a couple of backers and a substantial bank loan, Ross bought The Mitre shortly before the beginning of lockdown and opened it soon after the end. He and a trusted team of builders (“my brothers”) moved in and spent those lockdown months on a top-to-toe refurbishment, creating a new open-to-view kitchen and implementing his friend Nicola Harding’s gorgeous, country-meets-town interiors, with original art, oak floors, tongue and groove panelling, soft velvet fabrics, Ottoline and de Gournay wallpapers and many subtle shades of paint.
Another good friend and colleague, the very tall Ronnie Kimbugwe, formerly executive chef of Bel & the Dragon, manned a vintage Citroen food van called Polly outside the hotel that made the resurging Mitre a talking point for locals during lockdown. Add Claire Fyfe, MasterChef contestant, interior designer and landscape artist as the new-to-the-game hotel manager, and you have Ross’s dream team.
You’ve either got it or you haven’t in the hospitality game. Ross, who was brought up in St James’s Palace because his father was a senior member of the royal household, has got it. He knows that generosity is key (sensible room rates, a glass of English wine on arrival, complimentary cookies and King’s Ginger liqueur, fresh flowers, Bramley bath products in the bedrooms).
He values his overnight guests enough to give them their own private sitting room (an engaging space in the oldest part of the building with shelves of books, honesty bar and a jukebox).
No two bedrooms are the same and they are all lovely: homely yet vibrant, with a mix of old and new furniture (much of it came with the hotel), paperbacks chosen by Fyfe, free-standing bath tubs, charming café curtains and the prettiest of mirrors.
The Mitre is substantial. It has two restaurants, a lovely events space, the orangery, a spacious terrace perfect for afternoon tea and two wooden decks right on the water.
“The clincher for me,” Ross says, “was that The Mitre has two entrances, one to the hotel and the other, for non-residents, to the restaurants and bars. It means that hotel guests have the place to themselves and non-residents don’t have to walk past a reception desk to get to their table.” To reach the river-view restaurants (one, 1665, intimate, the other, Coppernose, more casual) from the hotel, guests walk through a stunning lobby hung with hand-painted de Gournay wallpaper.
As for the food, I never thought I would write that crispy cauliflower popcorn was my favourite dish ever but I just have, and everything else was almost as good.
Ross’s first move was to forge a relationship with Hampton Court and now the hotel offers its guests free tickets and private guided tours, while the palace’s kitchen gardens provide fruit and vegetables and the hotel provides weekly free meals for the gardeners.
We took a magical after-hours tour of the palace, where the highlight was having the Royal Collection masterpieces in the Cumberland Gallery all to ourselves.
Afterwards, it was merely a stroll home to The Mitre (shame the busy A309 was in the way). The rich history of Hampton Court is not forgotten in the hotel. Rooms, all different, are named after its occupants, and there are plenty of other nods to the all-important past.
Am I in a London hotel or a rural one? The capital is at my feet, but country pursuits are on hand and the hotel will happily organise picnics and horse riding in Bushy Park and boat trips on the Thames. Bottom line: The Mitre has got it right and right now, that’s thrilling.
Doubles from £195 per night, including breakfast. Access possible for guests using wheelchairs (020 8979 9988; mitrehamptoncourt.com).