A Sylvan Sanctuary in the South East
I was pleasantly surprised at how quick the journey was from Dublin to Marlfield House – a relaxing hour from door to door. How wonderful the new M11 is with no more tortuous bends to navigate or 3 km tail backs either.
The Grounds: The main gates to Marlfield House Hotel gives visitors a sense of anticipation and expectation with its very tall and slightly intimidating black cast iron pillars complete with pineapple tops. The House is situated in approximately 36 acres of grounds, a crescent shaped lake peeking through on the right making it an ideal paradise for many varieties of bird life. Signs inform visitors that it is a wildfowl reserve and essential to shut the gate, which of course I did. The several gardens unfold around the House and include a croquet lawn with herbaceous border and an extensive herb and vegetable garden. Tucked away behind these is a well cut lawn with tree house and swings and the thoughtful addition of a football net for younger folk who need to work off that extra bit of energy.
Back in 1977 Mary and Ray Bowe were at the head of the vanguard in establishing one of the country’s most stylish country house retreats. Their two daughters, Margaret and Laura, are now putting their stamp on the property and both have the same visionary approach as their parents. My eyes popped open when I saw the new car park almost full on a Monday afternoon. The car park is adjacent to their new venture – The Duck Bistro, which is housed in one of the ancillary wings of the main House.
The House: The House is a gracious 1840’s Regency House, originally home to the Earls of Courtown, until it was purchased by the Bowe family in 1977. The architecture of the House is staggeringly beautiful with rubble-stone walls on a cut granite base and red brick quoins at the corners. The main door deserves special mention. It is set in a crescent shaped annexe, complete with matching crescent pond on either side of the path leading to the front door. This modern addition, designed by Alfred Cochrane, adds a real sense of swagger to the House. The main marbled Hall is a delightful circular space furnished in period style. My bedroom for the night was the Morland Suite with its rich navy blue and pink theme. En route to the room I noticed one of the residents of the grounds peeping in through a window. Suffice to say that the colourful Peacock strutting around suited this House perfectly. The Morland Suite epitomised the heritage theme that flows seamlessly throughout the House with its four poster bed; comfy armchairs; and no less than four lamps, as well as two antique wall lights suffusing the room in a soft glow. The mattress on the bed was of excellent quality. This is a must in any hotel but sadly so often hotels seem to forget the importance of the actual bed, mattress and pillows. A flat screen television introduced modern technology into the room but happily didn’t look out of place in this living heritage room. The bathroom was luxuriously kitted out with marble floors and wall tiles; free standing bath and separate shower. Underfloor heating added a further touch of glamour.
As I meandered through the public rooms I found it hard to choose where to enjoy a relaxing afternoon coffee. The Library Bar and Drawing Room both looked very inviting and with antique furniture set against harmonizing heritage hues on the walls. The colours of the Library Bar were a rich navy blue with gold, a classic style and standing the test of time and therefore just perfect for my mood. At this point I began to notice Orchids everywhere – all real ones and all in full bloom. Somebody must have very green fingers! The elegance of these Orchids was a quintessential motif for Marlfield.
The Duck Restaurant: Having had a great chat with both Margaret and Laura I was handed into the care of the new General Manager, Greg Murphy, who positively oozed enthusiasm for Marlfield’s new project. The Duck is a very smart Bistro, located a short stroll from the main House. Despite its narrow build it is anything but claustrophobic, with its double height ceiling and stone rubble walls. The building was surprisingly quiet with just the right amount of buzz and I loved their choice of background music. I sat beside the window looking out at the terrace where there were some very sophisticated white terrace heaters that would not be out of place on a terrace on the French Riviera. I enjoyed an excellent Potted Crab and Celeriac Roulade to start, followed by the freshest of Hake that was pristine white as if bleached. This was a blissful dish accompanied by a cacophony of mussels, cucumber, olives and other vegetables poached in a cream sauce. There is no point even saying that I tried to resist the Eton Mess with fresh Wexford strawberries. Eton Mess is probably one of the most popular desserts in Ireland – we Irish have sweet teeth. Looking around the restaurant it was eminently clear that despite it being open a short while it was already making an impact on the dining scene. Service was impeccable and the staff attentive without being intrusive. I expect to hear a lot more plaudits for this new Bistro as time goes by.
The following morning I had breakfast in the spectacular Conservatory with its Ogee or Bell shaped roof overlooking the gardens. I have always been an admirer of the Bowe ladies’ eye for design and colour. Here in the Conservatory it is at it’s most exciting with dramatic mirrored walls intertwined with latticed metalwork pilasters and interplaying with stunning hand painted frescoed walls that sported a rich green theme of bamboos and tropical plants. It is without doubt the country’s most striking hotel conservatory; and let’s not overlook the billowing gauze floating underneath the ceiling. My breakfast was exquisite and appropriate to its setting – served on Wedgewood china.
Following breakfast I made for a quick exit back to Dublin, mainly because if I sat down in one of the drawing rooms for even 10 seconds, I would not have been able to resist staying another night. When is a treat a treat? The answer is easy; it is when you visit Marlfield House.