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Great hotel with a truly remarkable restaurant

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: February 05, 2013

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WHAT was once a lavishly built private house, paid for by the profits of a thriving industrial past, Thornton Hall Hotel and Spa now claims to be one of the finest privately owned hotels in the area.

Wrapped around a gorgeous period mansion, which now serves as a centre-piece to the modern hotel surrounding it, Thornton Hall, as a hotel, is an impressive building from any angle.

As with many extended and converted private houses, its history is carefully thrust into the spotlight while a set of accomodation extensions provide all the modern creature comforts today’s guests can’t live without.

The grand entrance, with its ornate steps leading to automatic double doors, lead in to a cold but otherwise welcoming lobby and the reception area is timelessly and tastefully decorated with a large desk and a polished stone floor.

The rooms, which are less impressive but very comfortable, are set away from the main building through a series of corridors in a modern extension block.

While the overall look and feel of the room is at odds with the grandure of the main building, they are well appointed with a huge bed and a stunning bathroom that includes a deep bath and even a wall-mounted television.

During my stay my wife and I were on a ground floor room, which had its own private patio and a ‘smart’ TV in the main bedroom area and, thankfully, a huge controllable radiator. It was a very cold day.

The Wirral, a small peninsula that sticks out just below the Mersey near Liverpool, is a short train ride away from the city and all its highlights but, on a cold and snowy day, we were happy to relax in the hotel’s fabulous lounge area.

It’s part of the old building and accessed through a central lobby that has an ornate glass panel in the ceiling and beautiful carvings adorning the walls of rooms leading off in all directions.

The ‘Lawns’ restaurant is the undoubted highlight of the place though. It’s an exquisite dining room, lovingly preserved and carefully updated and its impressive leather and mother of pearl ceiling has to be seen to be believed.

The restaurant was the venue for dinner and my wife and I opted to try something new on both of us and explore the ‘tasting’ menu.

It’s essentially a journey through the chef’s best dishes, each in miniature, and course by course there’s a new riot of flavour assaulting your taste buds.

It’s a pricey meal option but the executive chef, David Gilmore, is as talented and experienced as they come. I’ve never had such a stunning meal in any restaurant I’ve ever visited. It was as faultless as it was fascinating.

There’s even an option, with the tasting menu, to sample a glass of wine with every dish, each hand-picked to complement the flavours being brought to your table.

I opted to steer clear of the grape, largely because we’d already enjoyed a pint of the grain in the modern but beautiful bar next door.

The bar tender, I assumed, was clearly a Guinness drinker - you can always tell a Guinness drinker as they will take extra care over the way your drink is poured. He later confirmed my suspicion by confessing his shared affection for the black stuff.

The range of beer on offer at the bar was interesting, if not comprehensive. A lack of real ale on offer was a disappointment, but there’s a drink for everyone if you take the time to ask.

The staff were another highlight of our three hour meal. There were very few of them about, but they were never far away and nothing you asked was too much trouble.

Everyone was friendly, never without a smile, and more than happy to engage in what I refer to as ‘friendly banter’. Robotic hotel staff are a bugbear of mine, so it was nice to find a place run by human beings for a change.

The spa at Thornton Hall is every bit as stunning as the main building but we decided against a relaxing break and set off for Liverpool for the few hours we had before the weather was due to turn against us again.

Two return tickets from Spital station, which is a five minute car journey away and offers free parking, cost little more than £6. Trains are every 15 minutes and the journey into the beating heart of Liverpool is around 20 minutes.

There’s a lot on offer in Liverpool, obviously, but we resisted the urge to visit one of the many Beatles attractions and headed for the World Museum. It’s free to enter and it’s superb. Very interesting and easy to work round. A great way to fill a few hours.

The Wirral Peninsula is surprisingly easy to get to. Even in the snow the journey from East Staffordshire was very quick and straight-forward and Liverpool is a city well worth taking the time to explore.

I’ve not even scratched the surface yet, so my wife and I have already made plans to return.

And when we do, we’ll definitely check in to Thornton Hotel and Spa. Its location, its presence, its charm and the warm welcome we received have left us itching to go back and enjoy another stay.

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