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Review: The Cottage in the Wood Malvern, UK

No longer merely a Georgian cottage, this boutique hotel is now a fine-dining destination drawing foodies from afar.

Earlier this year the 1919 Restaurant, at The Cottage in the Wood, received the accolade of a third AA Rosette. A reward for the passionate creativity of Rob Mason, Head Chef. Moreover, the superlative quality of the restaurant’s food has been recognised with a Catey nomination for Chef of the Year. Currently, Mason is on the shortlist of four chefs.

Spread over three buildings, The Cottage in the Wood is a 32-room hotel located high in the Malvern Hills, with spectacular panoramic views across the Severn Vale.

This get-away-from-it-all country retreat, on a ridge of the Precambrian rock, has attracted an eclectic selection of celebrities including Margaret Thatcher, Joan Collins, Rolling Stones’ drummer Charlie Watts, Edward Fox and Felicity Kendall.

“Lift up thine eyes unto the hills,” is Great Malvern’s motto. Many visitors are drawn to walk and bike through the 6,500 million year old rock hills that are laced with paths. On a clear day, from the Worcestershire Beacon, you may be able to see 13 counties and up to 200 miles away. And certainly across the border into Wales.

The welcome

A warm English Country House welcome awaits us in reception. Dinner times are confirmed and breakfast slots booked. We are helped with our luggage and taken to our room.

The room

Room 2 is one of nine rooms in the main mansion. Two chairs frame a view that stretches out like a green quilt work map, chimney stacks peeping through the dense foliage, towards a distant horizon.

Each of the hotel’s rooms has its own distinctive style. Dove grey paintwork, a grey herringbone carpet and a silver leaf wallpaper all contribute to Room 2’s soothing ambience.

As well as providing hanging space, the wardrobe houses a safe, tea and coffee tray plus a small fridge with chilled water.

More rooms are available amongst the exposed beams and quant windows of Beech Cottage, the oldest building on the estate. Strong on sustainability, the recently refurbished Coach House has many rooms that open up to private terraces providing sweeping views across the countryside.

The bathroom

Appropriately a print of a Degas’ bather, blue and impressionistic, stars in this stylish powder-blue-and-white half-tiled bathroom.

Bramley toiletries are to hand by both the rainfall shower and roll-top bath.

The facilities

Celebrating the cottage’s heritage, the 1919 restaurant has tall floor to ceiling doors that open onto that view and tables on the terrace.

Rob Mason and his young team are driven by a desire to source ingredients that are local, seasonal and sustainable. A succulent confit of Gloucester Old Spot Pork Belly has clocked up very few food miles.

Intense autumnal flavours of heritage beetroot and plump blackberries star alongside salt aged duck breast. Traditional favourites are reinvented with black pudding given an exciting new crumb texture and an almost shocking depth of taste.

Come breakfast, some hotels forget that they are an AA 3 Rosette establishment. Not the Cottage in the Wood. For the full English, a local butcher immaculately sources bacon, black pudding and sausages.

In the bar, a collage of album covers, Sir Edward Elgar neighboured by Adam Ant, The Specials and The Jam, nicely represents the decor’s stylish fusion of traditional and contemporary. Though the soundtrack playing usually has a relaxed jazz vibe. A more casual Terrace menu supplements the 1919 restaurant’s fine-dining.

The location

Moving up a gear from walking through the Malvern Hills, guests can book to navigate 66 miles of challenging terrain for the Land Rover Experience at Eastnor Castle. Staying on the motoring theme, the Morgan Experience, in Great Malvern, gives insights into the construction of the classic car.

A large portrait of Edward Elgar, leading into the 1919 Restaurant, is a reminder that the composer once performed at the house. The Elgar Trail, meandering through Worcestershire, traces his history. The National Trust curates a museum at his birthplace at The Firs near Worcester.

A five-minute drive takes guests to Great Malvern. Victorian verandas and lacy wrought iron a reminder that mid-19th century, the spa town with over 100 pure water springs, was famous for its hydrotherapy.

Florence Nightingale was a vocal fan of the town’s “cold water cure” even though she was frequently bed ridden during the last five decades of her life.

Other nice touches

Home-made chocolate cookies, flecked with chunks of white chocolate, remind guests that they have arrived in gourmet territory. Fresh milk awaits in the fridge for coffee or tea to accompany those cookies.

Maps of a circular walk beginning and finishing at the hotel are available from reception. Although there are numerous walks available, this 50 minutes trek is an ideal introduction to the Malverns.

A retro record-player is provided with three classic vinyl long-players from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Massive Attack.

The cost

Rooms start from £149.

The best bit

It’s billed as a seven course menu. But eight, nine or even ten courses arrive. The innovative cheese custard and fennel salami canapés appear on the menu, as does the intense cod roe emulsion served with home-baked sour dough bread, bringing the total to nine. But a surprise pre-dessert of slithers of smooth passion-fruit and tangy pineapple topping panna cotta could be counted as the tenth.

Although the essential ethos is local and seasonal, oriental XO fish source brings a depth of maritime flavour to the crab. Miniature brioche croutons contribute a contrasting crunch. Similarly the subtle Far Eastern taste of dashi sauce accompanies the duck.

The menu displays an imaginative creativity that pushes culinary boundaries. Baron Bigod Brie, Suffolk-sourced, challenges the finest of French cheese. But this is a cheese plate served with a knife and fork. Honey is drizzled over a slice of Brie served on a warm sweet slice of fruit loaf.

The final verdict

Always a quiet country escape in an idyllic rural spot with echoes of CS Lewis and JR Tolkien, The Cottage in the Wood has moved on. Rooms have been refurbished and the public spaces blend respect for the cottage’s elegant Georgian origins with more colourful contemporary style.

Meanwhile the restaurant goes from strength to strength. Rob Mason and his talented team have put the 1919 Restaurant on an aspirational trajectory that may well lead to a Michelin star.

Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by The Cottage in the Wood.

Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards is a travel writer from Oxfordshire, UK. Although Michael had his first travel pieces published nearly four decades ago, he is still finding new luxury destinations to visit and write on.

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  1. I’d almost forgotten about the Malverns and how beautiful it is around there. Long ago I worked in Tewkesbury for a year and remember some superb walks through the hills. It would be great to go back for a nostalgic trip. The Cottage would make a luxurious base.

    1. Location. Location. Location. There are hotels in Great Malvern and you can drive into the Malvern Hills. The big difference with The Cottage in the Wood Malvern is that is in the hills. No driving and parking, walk around 100 yards and you can be on a path heading up to the peaks of the hills.

  2. Elgar is my husband’s favourite composer. He’d love to drive round the Elgar trail and I know that if we stayed at The Cottage in the Wood he’d be exceptionally well fed.

    1. Probably best to wait a little for the Elgar Trail, The Firs is closed for November, best to check on the National Trust website before making any plans for a visit.

  3. When I was at school I used to go on outward bound camping expeditions in the Malvern Hills. Going back and enjoying a top class tasting menu at the Cottage would be a far cry from the days when I we used to cook rehydrated stew over a camping stove. It would be a nice reminder that life has got better over the last 30 years.

    1. That’s fair enough! How many properties can boast that one of England’s greatest composers performed on site?

  4. Nice to see a hotel bathroom with some colour, style and character. It often seems to me that the hotel management forget to tell the designers that they have an en suite bathroom to do as well. I’ve been in too many clinical white long rectangles in hotels recently.

  5. It’s surprising that there isn’t more made of the JRR Tolkien link. I’ve read about Tolkien being influenced by the Malverns’ landscape and being inspired to use the dark hills and their woods as inspiration for some of the settings in The Lord of the Rings.

    1. I didn’t come across any real evidence on Tolkien. There’s a rumour that Tolkein got the name of Gandalf from a local landowner called something like Gandolphi but that’s about it.

  6. Good to hear that Cottage in the Wood takes breakfast seriously and gives it the respect that it deserves. Breakfast is my favourite meal.

    Sadly I’ve been to a couple of hotels where breakfast is run by a skeleton staff and you have to do everything, even making your own tea and toast. I do that everyday at home. When I go away I want to be looked after.

  7. From what I read in The Best Bit it’s a nicely judged tasting menu that compares very well with some of the restaurants with Michelin stars where I’ve had tasting menus.

  8. What a wonderful place for a long weekend escape to the country! The views are breathtaking. The food sounds pretty good too. And that’s some wallpaper behind the picture of the chef!!!

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