If you’ve ever visited Waddesdon Manor, the faux French chateau in Buckinghamshire that the National Trust describes as its ‘jewel in the crown’, you’re almost certain to have rested your eyes on The Five Arrows. This boutique hotel, built in 1887 by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild with its half-timbered buildings and huge, striking Elizabethan-style chimneys, sits at the bottom of the driveway to the main Manor house, and was originally used as accommodation for workmen building there.
Best known for its fine dining and gentle ambiance, The Five Arrows has had quite a makeover in the last 18 months, with 16 newly renovated bedrooms, several of which are dog friendly, and a stylish overhaul of the 2AA rosette bar and restaurant.
The hotel re-opened in the Summer 2020, eager to show off its more contemporary look. Though clearly it managed only to flash some ankle before Covid shut it down again, I can tell you that it’s a massive improvement, offering a more sophisticated, modern feel, though the downlighters, stool and more Scandi palette and natural layers of wood, linens and wool hasn’t come at the cost of its historic features – the fireplaces, wooden floors and elegant windows remain intact and the overall effect is ‘tradition updated’, with much more buzz and finesse.
The entrance to the hotel is from the courtyard at the back, and as we were just here to dine (I’m local, so no need for the sleepover) we were taken through the bar into the high-ceilinged dining room and guided into a private alcove with intimate table and wall of glass, overlooking the view of the garden (note to self: ideal for a return for an anniversary or party of four). Very charming and, btw, the garden is gorgeous – it will come into its own in Spring and Summer when Boris has us all eating al fresco.
We were there on a Friday night back in October and, despite socially distanced tables, it was really busy with a healthy mix of couples, families, and groups of friends. I’ve spoken to friends who, in the distant past have been almost solo in the dining room – the death knoll to a decent evening – but clearly the word was out on The Five Arrows.
SCOFF & QUAFF
Since lockdown, exec head chef Matt Butcher has focused his attention on refreshing the hotel’s menu. He’s spoiled for choice for fantastic local suppliers in this part of Buckinghamshire, not least from Waddesdon’s own estate.
We started our evening with a fabulous local G&T from Bicester’s Sky Wave Gin – Muddy favourite and winners of 2020 World Gin Awards for Best Contemporary Gin. Our starters were excellent – flavoursome pan-seared scallops with crispy pork nugget (pictured) for me, and a fun Venison and red wine Scotch egg with homemade brown sauce for my husband. Mains arrived in the form of the infamous Waddesdon Estate beef & shepherd’s ale pie and the most amazing looking beef fillet and potato rosti for my meat-eating husband. Like most cavemen, he knows a thing or two about steaks, and he was beyond impressed – not least with the size of it, a meal fit not only for a king but his entire family, the £32 price tag well worth the investment.
We were tempted into dessert by the retro sounding Red Velvet Baked Alaska (with two spoons of course!). Hats off to Jack, the restaurant’s recently graduated apprentice, for this culinary masterpiece. Like kids we plunged our spoons into the gently-toasted meringue to find the caramel ice cream slightly melted inside.
You’re not going to eat at The Five Arrows and complain about the quality of the wine. The list is actually quite daunting – 13 pages to choose from and if you’re like me and only know that you like white and lots of it, you’ll need some help. Our sommelier talked us through the list – apparently 70 per cent are from the Baron Rothchild winery and the rest have been selected to broaden out the selection with New World wines. We treated ourselves to a bottle of 2015 Waddesdon Manor Pauillac – at £69.99 very much in ‘treat’ territory, but we’d just completed on a new house that day, so we felt we deserved it!
Worth telling you too that the service was attentive without slipping into the dangerous territory of fawning or overfamiliarity, and full marks for the natty face coverings with the Waddesdon family crest. Très elegante.
The Rothschilds own some of the finest vineyards in the world so no surprise that each of the 16 rooms are named after a Rothschild wine. I didn’t stay over but we were given a peak into a couple of bedrooms including the two lovely Junior Suites in the garden annex – think four poster beds and safely country-chic interiors.
If you’re looking to bring your dog with you, five of the rooms are now four-legged friendly, and dogs are welcome everywhere except the restaurant. Given you’re at the gates to the Manor and its wide-open spaces (with free entry if you’re staying at the hotel), it’s basically dog-heaven.
OUT AND ABOUT
Well the no-brainer first stop has to be Waddesdon Manor itself – when life goes back to normal you can easily spend a full day here, with a tour of the house; a meander around the stunning formal grounds and less formal acres and trails that surround the estate; lunch, dinner or wine-tastings; letting the kids hang out in the huge play area (good luck getting them off the zipwire), or exhibitions in The Stables.
Further afield, Bicester Village is a 12-mile zip up the road, and both Oxford and Woodstock, home to Blenheim Palace, are 25 miles away. A little closer to home and more low-key, the windmill in the pretty hilltop village of Brill, the thatched cottages of Long Crendon (winner of Muddy’s Best Place To Live in Buckinghamshire no less) and the market town of Thame are worth a meander.
Good for: A romantic, relaxing weekend ‘home from home’, traditional family lunches and dinners, dog-friendly stays and a treat for wine buffs. An ideal overnighter for enjoying the beauty of Waddesdon Manor.
Not for: A crazy night out with the girls or groups looking for a loud, buzzing party venue – The Five Arrows’ charm lies in its gentility. Children are welcome but it’s not the kind of place if you’re chasing tantrumming toddlers around the dining room.
The damage: Off break specials start at £165 per person for dinner, bed, and breakfast and that feels worth every penny to me for the quality of the rooms, dining experience and welcoming service. In the restaurant, Starters are around £8, mains £14-25, desserts £8, bringing it to roughly £35 per head without wine.
The Five Arrows, Waddesdon, Aylesbury, HP18 OJE. Tel: 01296 651727.