Review: Great Fosters
Half term is coming and if ever a getaway was needed, it's now. For a fairy tale fantasy, head to Great Fosters in north Surrey, where there's plenty to keep kids and parents happy.
Built as a royal hunting lodge in the 1500s, this lavish and historic hotel is set on a 50-acre estate on the edge of Egham. Location wise, it’s just a short way from Junction 13 of the M25, Egham Station (London in 40 mins) is a five-minute taxi ride and Heathrow Airport is just 15 minutes away by car.
First impressions of this red brick Elizabethan mansion come as you turn into the wide driveway with its avenue of dome-shaped yews. The stone mullioned windows with leaded glass add an air of Harry Potter and Hogwarts, and then as you slip inside the hotel through the tiny arched wicket door, the echoes are more Alice entering her wonderland.
It’s a hotel with a rich 400-year history and a guest list that includes Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth, and later Orson Welles and Charlie Chaplin. The original royal crest of Queen Elizabeth can be found above the main porch, with the date 1598.
There’s plenty to see and do in the local area – for grown-ups and kids – but Great Fosters is a destination in itself with a vast Arts and Craft garden that includes topiary mazes, a Saxon moat with a Japanese-inspired arched bridge, quirky yew rooms, a heated outdoor swimming pool and a tennis court. It’s quite magical.
A super friendly, relaxed and cosy hotel that combines luxury without pretension. Families would be as happy here as adults who want to an escape, and the hotel is well set-up to make sure everyone gets the best out of their stay. The interiors are heavily laden with period detail – dark oak panelled walls, elaborate Jacobean fireplaces, intricate moulded ceilings – but they blend comfortably with more trendy touches like sofas and chairs in vibrant cobalt blues, teal greens, and strawberry reds, shiny chrome light fittings and bold contemporary art.
SCOFF & QUAFF
There are two restaurants at Great Fosters – the Michelin-starred Tony Parkin at The Tudor Room offering up fine dining in intimate sittings of just 10 diners, and The Estate Grill, for more casual dining. There’s also a Cocktail Bar, and the Anne Boleyn drawing room where afternoon tea is served. And – a biggie for families with kids – during the school holidays, the hotel reserves private dining spaces for families with arts and crafts for the kids and a space to hang out with new friends. There’s also a child minding service for parents who might fancy some Michelin-starred dining sans kiddos.
On the Sunday of my stay, my friend and I started in the Cocktail Bar before heading to The Estate Grill for dinner. It was a nice way to start our evening – cosied up with a bottle of Prosecco in front of the open fire in the Cocktail Bar. In the summer months, the Cocktail Bar open onto the terrace and overlooks the parterre garden.
The Estate Grill is a lovely space with vaulted ceilings, open fireplace, elegant mullioned windows and walls bedecked in bold contemporary arts. Hotel restaurants can sometimes lack soul but, even on a Sunday evening with social distancing rules in place, the restaurant didn’t feel dull and staid.
The food here was a pleasure from start to finish. I started with the smoked salmon with capers, watercress and rye bread, and my friend went for the daily special of mussels in a Thai sauce. The salmon was excellent – fresh, delicate and light. The mussels were perfectly plump, juicy and full of flavour.
For mains, there’s a choice of classics (beer battered fish and chips, chicken caesar salad, seared seabream) and of course there’s a selection from the grill which includes burgers, pork, lamb and steak. I was all set to order the seabream, but in the last moment made a hasty u-turn and went for the fillet steak like my friend. Good move! OMG – it was sublime… tender, juicy and cooked to perfection. It came with thick cut chips, rocket and a green peppercorn sauce. There’s nothing I’d change about the dish. Nothing.
Dessert was the the Great Fosters signature lemon tart with whipped créme fraiche and raspberry sorbet and a crisp autumn pavlova with a Chantilly cream and compote of seasonal berries. Both were dreamy, but the raspberry sorbet stole the show.
There are 43 suites and rooms at the hotel each one individually styled – some with some four-poster beds, others with ornate detailing. The main house is where you’ll find the historic suites and bedrooms, including the luxe Tapestry Suite, which was Anne Boleyn’s personal lounge during her courtship and marriage to Henry VIII. It’s also where I stayed in the historic Panel I room, beautifully decorated in bold grey patterned wall covering and with quirky, almost hidden panelled doors leading to the oak panelled bathroom, and a large walk-in wardrobe.
There are also rooms and suites in The Cloisters and The Coach House, including family and dog-friendly suites. All rooms come with bathrobes, slippers, lush L’Occitane toiletries and tea and coffee-making facilities.
There’s a distinct air of grandeur at Great Fosters, but it’s super kid-friendly and little people are given the same warm welcome their parents are right down to the child-sized bathrobes, children’s story books and duck food that’s part of the welcome pack.
OUT & ABOUT
There’s a lot to see and do at Great Fosters, but the hotel is also perfectly positioned for other great attractions. Thorpe Park, Runnymede National Trust, Windsor Great Park and Virginia Water are all less than 10 minutes’ drive away, while Legoland Windsor and the city of Windsor are both just shy of 20 minutes away.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Couples looking for a romantic break, girly getaways, family holidays, foodies, history buffs.
Not for: Those who want uber modern styling and a city location. Great Fosters is charm, character and bags of history.
The damage: Accommodation is from £195 per night for a comfy king room. Children are £40 extra. Startes at The Estate Grill are from £7-£10; mains are £15-£32; and desserts are £8-£16. There’s an extensive wine list with wines available by the glass (£7-12) and the bottle £26-£115.
Great Fosters, Stroude Road, Egham, Surrey TW20 9UR