What you need to know about Birch
"Looks like a hotel, feels like a festival" reads the blurb. This new hotel space features 140 bedrooms, a farm, two restaurants, a bakery, three bars, a co-working space, fitness studios, a pottery workshop, and screening, music, and art rooms. It's from the former MD of Ace Hotel London and it's aiming to shake up the hotel industry in the UK - more Birches are planned.
What about those restaurants?
Two words - Robin Gill. The chef behind the (now closed) The Dairy in Clapham and Darby's is the driving force behind the two restaurants here, Valeries and The Zebra Riding Club. They're like nothing in the area - and literally worth crossing/leaving town for.
Where exactly is it?
Birch opened 30 minutes north of London in Hertfordshire in what used to be Theobalds House, a Georgian mansion with royal connections. Getting to it is pretty easy whether you're driving out of town (it's just off the A10) or taking the train (the nearest train station, Theobalds Grove, is a few minutes by taxi).
How are the rooms?
We thought the rooms were very comfortable and nicely detailed. Of the two we had in the main house (both Medium - there are also ones with bunks which would be great for families), we'd recommend the one overlooking the Italian gardens. There's no air con so if you want your window open, you probably don't want one overlooking the main lawns if other guests are partying late.
The bathrooms are just fine - but we'd be very surprised if those aren't overhauled in the next year.
What's the draw for a foodie?
As mentioned, it's all about the pair of Robin Gill restaurants. Valeries is the more casual spot, found in the main house while The Zebra Riding Club has its own space in the grounds with space for alfresco dining in the courtyard, along with its own bar. You can also opt for a very socially distant BBQ experience in the grounds where they'll set up a BBQ for you and supply the dishes.
They're developing a kitchen garden, have their own (rescued) hens and are even rearing pigs on site. As with Birch itself, there's a big focus on sustainability.
The meal we had at The Zebra Riding Club was excellent - one of the truly great meals we've had this year. Here's how it went down...
Room for dessert?
Of course. There is an additional cheese course, but we went straight for the sweet stuff.
What about vegetarians?
There are four versions of the menu at the Zebra Riding Club - the main set menu, one for pescatarians, one for vegans and one for those wanting gluten-free. So everyone should be catered for. There's also a special menu for Sunday lunch.
What is there to do other than eating and drinking?
Where to start...? There's a packed programme of activities you can get involved in from spoon whittling (yes, really) through to spin sessions, candle making and glass blowing. We dropped into the bakery for a session on soda bread making....
The next day...
After spending the morning working in the large coworking space, which has its own very good coffee shop, we popped into Valerie's for lunch before leaving. Covid rules mean that while you can eat in or grab and go, all ordering is done via an app which we found pretty easy to work.
The menu here ranges from small plates and flatbreads through to larger dishes. It's a compelling menu and as with Zebra, the quality was high throughout. Here's what we had:
Birch is bound to be a huge hit. Pitched somewhere between Coombeshead Farm and Soho Farmhouse it manages to make a largeish hotel feel very homely and fun. It would be a great place for a getaway with friends or a one night break to destress from city life. That it's so easy to get to only makes things better.
Robin Gill's involvement elevates it to must-visit status - everything we ate worked really well and the main meal at the Zebra Riding Club was outstanding. We also get the impression that the restaurant is only going to get better. Definitely one to watch.
More about Birch
Where is it? Lieutenant Ellis Way, Cheshunt EN7 5HW
How much? Double rooms are available from £130. Book at birchcommunity.com
Hot Dinners stayed as guests of Birch. Prices correct at time of publication.
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