Manorhaus, Llangollen: hotel review

January 3, 2014

This Victorian villa remodelled with taste into a restaurant-with-rooms makes the (almost) perfect bolthole

Llangollen, amid the Clwydian hills and close to Offa’s Dyke, has been attracting walkers and day-trippers since Victorian times. The pace is sedate and the town, with its tea rooms, independent butchers, bakers and, probably, candlestick-makers, feels a bit 1958. But it has its racier side – rafting, mountain-biking, and Manorhaus, a swanky restaurant with rooms.

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The Victorian villa has been remodelled with restraint. The elegant, dove-grey dining room is decorated with just a few vintage mirrors, so as not to detract from original cornicing and carved panels. Owners Christopher Frost and Gavin Harris, who also run a Manorhaus in Ruthin, clearly have a keen eye.

Inspired by Llangollen’s historic black-and-white buildings, my suite is crisply monochrome: black panelling, off-white walls, grey sofa and geometric Melin Tregwynt fabrics. It could be gloomy, but looks sharp, cool even, and clever lighting makes it cosy. There isn’t a lot in the room, but what there is, is both practical (wooden hangers, idiot-proof tea/coffee machine, iPod dock) and chosen with care (Bathing Beauty toiletries, evocative local photographs). The view out to ruined Dinas Bran castle is best enjoyed from the rooftop hot tub, which guests can use even in snow.

Any gripes are familiar ones: UHT milk and bought-in biscuits in a place that prides itself on the locally sourced and made from scratch. But this is that rare room, that looks great and works smoothly.

After drinks in the bar (be-bop jazz, arresting orange-and-black decor and a good Czech-style pilsner called Celt Cwrw), dinner is a little more problematic. I’m fine with the risk-averse, slightly retro menu: it’s better when a kitchen cooks within its capabilities. The starter and dessert – air-light goat’s cheese croquettes with beetroot carpaccio; excellent chocolate fondant with orange granita – deliver clear, complementary flavours. A beef main is less good, the duxelles rudimentary, the dauphinoise dry. At £32.50 for three courses, it’s expensive for the quality.

Later, I slip out to a great 12-pump real ale pub, the Ponsonby Arms, sleep soundly and wake to a fine breakfast, marred only by background muzak and an ill-defined hollandaise. But such picky criticisms (the kitchen was between head chefs) can’t dampen my enthusiasm for the Manorhaus. The welcome is warm, the fit-out stylish and, with just six rooms, it feels like a genuine, intimate bolthole.

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• Accommodation was provided by Manorhaus (Llangollen. Travel between Manchester and Ruabon was provided by ArrivaTrains Wales

Tony Naylor

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