Sweeney Hall, Oswestry
PUBLISHED: 20:54 07 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:27 20 February 2013
Philippe Boucheron swans off to Sweeney Hall
Philippe Boucheron swans off to Sweeney Hall
Most brides, and their mothers, would love a romantic wedding setting straight from the pages of Jane Austen. A beautifully proportioned Georgian manor house set in gently rolling parkland with a lovely garden and large, gracious rooms for the reception, wedding breakfast and the evening party - even a civil ceremony if required. And bedrooms for the close families and friends to stay overnight.
The perfect solution lies in the north of the county, at Morda just outside Oswestry. It is Sweeney Hall, a country house hotel and restaurant within an unspoilt Grade 1 listed building dating from 1805, and set in eight acres of wonderful Shropshire countryside. For the past 15 years the hotel has been owned and run by Sean Evans and his family who, if required, will offer exclusive use of the house for a wedding.
Brides and captains of industry, holidaymakers and organisations holding conferences and meetings, all enjoy coming to Sweeney Hall. The staff are discreetly hospitable, making you most welcome from the moment you enter the tall hall with its elegant stairway. Unlike so many country house hotels that are full of antique furniture, the hotel is simply furnished, although it does still have a few gems like a splendid long-case clock in the hall.
The nine well-appointed en suite bedrooms have everything you could need. Comfortable beds, some of which are half-testers, telephones, flat screen multi-channel televisions, tea, coffee and hot chocolate making facilities, even a powerful hairdryer. But the best of all are the wonderful views from the large windows that bring the garden and park into the rooms. As I spruced myself after a shower I watched lines of cows munching across a meadow while a family of rabbits played on the lawn.
After a long, hard day I fancied a relaxing evening of a fine dinner with a half bottle of something rather nice to accompany it. But how to start? I was torn between a carpaccio of smoked salmon with a black pepper and lime dressing (6.45) or a fillet of sea bass with an avocado and cucumber salad (6.75), but the lure of the sea bass was too strong and a small glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc from Chile did the job.
Sweeney Hall is indeed fortunate to have Bernard Warburton and his wife in the kitchen, he as chef and she producing splendid puddings. In fact he has been there for around 35 years, since shortly after the hall became a hotel and restaurant around 1968. He has a confident style that certainly pleases the locals who enjoy his exceedingly generous helpings of competently prepared and presented dishes
Although the dining room was full service was swift. Deciding main dish was not easy - crisp roast duck with a Cognac and orange sauce (15), a herb crusted rack of lamb with redcurrant and rosemary gravy (16) or an individual beef Wellington with a Duxelloise sauce (sauted chopped mushrooms with onions) for 16.75. The duck won. It was succulent and married well with the well judged sauce. The dish of really fresh vegetables was correctly cooked so that they kept their bite. A half bottle of Rioja Crianza was a tad disappointing, as it lacked freshness and fruit ... but then even I can't get it right every time!
I was asked if I wanted to see the Pudding List, but no list appeared, instead the delightful waitress ran through the options so fast that I could only remember s a few that included sticky toffee pudding and fresh fruit salad. I opted for the fruit salad, which was a wise choice, delicious ripe fresh and juicy red fruits.
A small double espresso and a glass of my favourite Hine Cognac set me up for a brief moonlit stroll around the garden and off for a very good night's sleep.
Breakfast was served in a narrow, Gothic room, off the main restaurant, that had once been the gun room. The full English was just that; excellent rashers of proper butchers' bacon, a bright golden fresh egg, a tasty sausage, black pudding, mushrooms and grilled tomatoes. A pot of strong tea, a rack full of hot toast, plenty of butter and decent sized helpings of marmalade and jam; a chap could go a whole day on that.
I am told that Sunday lunch is invariably a sell-out as families make the most of the gardens and chef Warburton's locally raised beef, lamb or pork, to say nothing of Mrs Warburton's delicious desserts.
Oh and the name, Sweeney Hall. Well, it appears that it has nothing at all to do with the 'flying squad', but is thought to be derived from the three swan heads that Thomas Barker of Swaney, a 17th Century owner of one of the original houses, had on his coat of arms. Which neatly brings us back to weddings, as the ancient Egyptians believed that a singing swan blessed a bride. Today we have to make-do with chimney sweeps!
Sweeney Hall Country House Hotel and Restaurant, Morda, Oswestry, tel: 01691 652450