THE WINNER: South Lodge, Lower Beeding, West Sussex
Sponsored by: Matthew Clark
The South Lodge hotel has come a long way in the past year. As part of the Exclusive Hotels umbrella, which name-checks illustrious properties such as Pennyhill Park in Surrey, Lainston House in Hampshire and the Manor House in Castle Combe, Wiltshire, South Lodge, built in 1883, is located in the heart of the rolling Sussex Downs in 93 acres of parkland and exudes the feel of a family home.
Over the past two years the property has benefited from an investment of £7.5m. There have been 35 new members of staff, and a new wing of bedrooms was added, doubling the accommodation from 41 to 89 bedrooms, some of which feature individually carved four-poster beds and lavish bathrooms. The property's Camellia restaurant was joined by a second restaurant, the Pass, complete with a new £500,000 kitchen. The 22-seat fine-dining restaurant contained within the kitchen is possibly the last word in chef voyeurism. Head chef 28-year-old Matt Gillan is a graduate of such kitchens as Gordon Ramsay's Royal Hospital Road and the Vineyard at Stockcross, who preceded his role at the Pass with two years' heading up the Camellia kitchen. His food has been described as focusing on "bold flavour combinations and a contemporary presentation".
The investment and hard work paid off, and the hotel was awarded its fifth star and three AA rosettes in January 2009. Its turnover in 2008-09 was £6.3m, with a gross operating profit of £1.17m. It was also given the ultimate seal of approval when it was chosen to host the G20 finance ministers' summit in March 2009, receiving personal commendation from Alastair Campbell.
The judges praised the hotel's strong management and bold development, with last year's winner, general manager of the Stafford hotel Stuart Procter, praising the hotel as "a wonderful hotel to hand the baton over to". Robin Hutson said the refurbishment had allowed the hotel to "move itself into the premiership" and it was "an extremely worthy winner of this great award". Craig Bancroft said he was confident of the hotel's success the moment he opened the judges' briefing dossier. He also lauded Exclusive Hotels owners the Pecorelli family as first-class operators who run superb properties and have "realistic goals that deliver at the top of their game".
Finally, Simon Numphud added that it "sets a great example to the industry that improving standards takes time, significant planning and investment, both in the physical aspects and, most importantly, the team".
"The attention to detail shown both in the product and service levels is impressive. The new bedrooms and bathrooms provide a new benchmark in standards for others to aspire to. It's also great to see the innovation within the food and beverage offering, with the award-winning the Pass taking the chef's table concept to another level."
- Lodge on the Park, Bristol
- Milestone Hotel, London
- South Lodge, Lower Beeding
- Craig Bancroft, managing director, Northcote Group
- Gerard Basset, co-proprietor, Hotel TerraVina
- Robin Hutson, director, Hutson Management
- Andrew McKenzie, managing director, the Vineyard at Stockcross
- Simon Numphud, hotel services manager, Automobile Association
- Stuart Procter, general manager, the Stafford
- Marvin Rust, global managing partner, hospitality, Deloitte
- Debbie Taylor, managing director, the Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort and Spa