We shouldn’t be surprised when we receive good service at pubs, restaurants or hotels — they’re in the hospitality industry, after all, and good service should be a given. But, all too often customers are disappointed with the quality of the food or the service, or both, and can leave feeling underwhelmed.
Such is the variability of the hospitality sector in the UK, it can often feel like a lottery whether the experience is going to leave you feeling delighted or deflated.
As we checked in to the Karma Salford Hall hotel, in Salford Priors on the edge of The Cotswolds — 11 miles south-west of Stratford-upon-Avon — I am pleased to report that ‘delight’ was the overriding emotion.
The reception staff were friendly and professional, and within a few minutes we had booked a table in the Tempest Restaurant for that evening, we had confirmed our spa treatments and our keycard had been printed. With formalities over we were led up to our room by another member of the team, who was also very personable.
The bedroom door opened into a large, double en suite room, with views over the hotel’s well-maintained garden — located to the rear of this imposing historic property.
Salford Hall dates back to the late fifteenth century when it was originally built as a guesthouse by the Benedictine monks from nearby Evesham Abbey.
The comparatively modest property was used for entertaining and hosting pilgrims visiting the abbey, where they could rest, relax and enjoy the monks’ generous hospitality.
In 1538, following the dissolution of the monasteries (1536-41), Henry VIII sold Salford Hall and its 600 acres to his good friend and loyal courtier, Sir Philip Hobby.
The original oak-beamed hall was substantially extended in 1602 to become the property that we recognise today, which remained as a private residence until 1987 when it was purchased and converted into a hotel.
In 2020 Salford Hall was acquired by the Karma Group, which is owned by British entrepreneur, John Spence. He started his first leisure business in 1993, Royal Resorts, and in 2003 he launched the Karma brand to focus exclusively on international five-star hotels and resorts.
Given the age of the property the 32 rooms are unique and there is no set design formula that you often find in newer, purpose-built hotels. The overall interior design style takes inspiration from the Arts & Crafts movement, which was founded in the late 19th century by William Morris who lived in the area.
Our white-painted, half-panelled room, with a light checked wallpaper, followed the design theme. Along with a wall-mounted TV, a well-stocked mini-bar and a basket of various savoury snacks, there was a panelled niche set within the wall beneath the TV, where there was a kettle and pod coffee machine, glasses and mugs, with coffee pods, tea bags and long life milk.
At 5pm my wife had the first of her two planned treatments, leaving me to relax in the room, where I read the fascinating history of Salford Hall. My wife returned from her facial full of praise for the therapist who had been very thorough and had delivered a relaxing hour-long experience.
Before long it was time to get ready for dinner and at 7.30pm on the dot we went down to the restaurant, where we were to have a truly memorable meal.
Salford Hall’s restaurant, the aptly named Tempest Restaurant, had recently been named as Hotel Restaurant of the Year for the Midlands at The Food Awards England 2022, so expectations were high.
The large oak-panelled room was arranged with well-spaced, generously-proportioned tables that were laid with crisp white linen, well-balanced cutlery and equally crisp, white napkins. The room was well lit with high-set windows, ensuring the focus was on your dining partner and the stunning food.
The Tempest Restaurant’s head chef James Woodham leads the talented brigade, whose hard work was recognised by the judging panel at the recent awards ceremony — the result of expertly created English and European dishes, breakfasts you want to get up for, memorable lunches and indulgent afternoon teas.
We settled in to our comfortable chairs and ordered drinks, whilst we perused the menu, which typically offers five starters, five mains and five desserts, plus a daily choice of specials.
Although the Tempest Restaurant offers only a relatively modest choice, I always prefer fewer dishes to choose from, rather than having so many dishes that it makes the whole process a chore and not the pleasure it should be.
After a few minutes we had made our decisions. My wife opted for the Baked Button Mushrooms followed by the T-bone Steak (medium rare) — one of the daily specials; I chose the Karma Smoked Salmon and the 8oz Martin’s Ribeye Steak (also medium rare).
The generously-proportioned button mushrooms and smoked salmon starters were excellent. The mushrooms were served in a creamy garlic and armagnac sauce that was flavoursome but never overpowering; the smoked salmon melted in the mouth and was simply divine.
During our meal the restaurant staff were attentive, but never intrusive, and I think we were only asked about our meals at the end of each course.
I have a real problem with those restaurants where waiters and waitresses are instructed to continually ask if everything is alright.
However, at the Tempest I was keen to ensure that our feedback got back to the kitchen, to thank those who had created such culinary delights and so I was pleased to answer their questions as they cleared our plates away.
Between courses we had the chance to reflect on what we had been served; it also gave us the chance to enjoy and order more wine. The Karma Group isn’t just renowned for its exotic resorts and hotels, it also offers its own range of exclusive wines, including vintages and boutique wines from some of the world’s most revered labels.
Recent additions include a rosé from Carcassonne, home to Karma Château de Samary and there will be a new sauvignon blanc, from Pascal Jolivet, joining the wine list in the near future. The other Karma Group wines include a Chianti from Tuscany, rosés from both Provence and Australia, along with a Beaujolais and Burgundy from France.
The group has also expanded into small batch, hand-crafted spirits, including Karma Gin and Coachbuilt Whisky, which has been developed with F1 legend Jensen Button.
My wife was impressed with the Côtes de Provence, Karma Rosé — light and refreshing — and I sampled the Vivanco Rioja Crianza followed by a glass of the Karma Bordeaux 2017. The Rioja was confident and fruity, with a subtle spicy finish; the Bordeaux was a full-bodied red with complex flavours and silky smooth — a real pleasure to have experienced.
Our main courses duly arrived and we were again impressed with what we had been presented with. Both my wife’s T-bone steak and my ribeye steak were cooked exactly as requested, and both meals were served with chunky chips and a whole tomato served on a large mushroom. The steaks were excellent cuts of quality beef and both were succulent to the point of perfection; the generous portions of chips were faultless in both visual appeal and taste.
There was one item on the dessert menu that we both unanimously agreed on: the chocolate fondant, served with fresh red berries and ice cream on a crunchy granola base. The dessert was finished with a Karma Group ‘K’ that has been created by dusting cocoa powder through a stencil — the effect was appreciated and added that finishing flourish to what had been a truly memorable evening.
After dinner we headed to the oak-panelled bar where we relaxed on red leather sofas to enjoy a postprandial brandy before retiring.
In the morning we went down to breakfast at 9.30am, which was served in the restaurant, where we were greeted by friendly and engaging staff who offered us a choice of tables, which were, again, laid with fresh white linen and linen napkins.
The breakfast menu had a choice of seven cooked options, including the Full English, Eggs Benedict, Eggs Royale and Grilled Kipper, along with a Continental breakfast, which we both opted for.
There was a good choice of fresh bread rolls and pastries, including croissants and pains au chocolat, along with a choice of continental meats and cheese; there was also yoghurt and fresh fruit. We also enjoyed a pot of fresh coffee and a rack of toast, and once we had finished it was off to explore the area for the day.
After a morning of retail therapy in Stratford-upon-Avon, we decided to visit Jeremy Clarkson’s Diddly Squat Farm Shop, which is just outside Chipping Norton (about 45 minutes from the hotel). We stopped for a light lunch on the way back to the hotel as my wife had booked her second treatment for 3pm — a full body massage, which she also thoroughly enjoyed.
We changed and went to the bar for drinks and then decided to explore the hotel; we found the games room on the first floor where there was a full-size snooker tables, a record player and selected on vinyl, and a retro video game. We went down to the library back on the ground floor where we played backgammon until it was time for my treatment, which was arrange for 6.30pm.
My treatment was reflexology, which was over far too quickly, even though the session was an hour. We both had the same therapist for our treatments and we must single her out for special praise because not only was she relaxed and engaging, the quality of the treatments she delivered was excellent.
I floated back down to the reception area where my wife had been relaxing on a leather sofa enjoying a glass of Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc, from New Zealand, whilst waiting to go in to dinner.
Once seated at our table we looked over the menu whilst I enjoyed a glass of the rich and smooth Karma Bordeaux; my wife continued with the light and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, which she was happy to stay with over dinner.
For starters, we both chose the button mushrooms in a cream sauce, served with homemade bread. The mushrooms were thoroughly delicious and the bread was perfect for mopping up the creamy mushrooms sauce that we couldn’t get to with a knife and fork.
As our second day at the hotel was a Sunday the chefs had included roast dinners on the evening menu, which was a very pleasant surprise. My wife chose the roast beef and I had half a roast chicken. They were both served with roast potatoes, a roast parsnip, with plenty of seasonal vegetables and a generous side dish of cauliflower cheese to share.
My wife enjoyed another glass of Sauvignon Blanc and I sampled the Karma Chianti, a lively red, which was so smooth and very drinkable. We gave desserts a miss, much to our disappointment, but we couldn’t have done justice to a third course, so we compromised with a liqueur coffee in the bar.
Monday morning — check-out day — came around far too quickly, but we had thoroughly enjoyed the last two days; we had been indulged with relaxing spa treatments, we had eaten some of the finest food we have ever been served and we had enjoyed a selection of fine wines, most of which were Karma Group wines, which I would choose again and again and again.
In the restaurant we were presented with the menus for our last meal in the Tempest and we made our choices. My wife didn’t hesitate to choose the Full English and I ordered the Continental Breakfast. A pot of coffee arrived, followed by a rack toast, and then my wife’s breakfast was served. The delicious selection included bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, black pudding, a large mushroom, a tomato and a hash brown.
The verdict on my wife’s breakfast was unequivocally excellent; quality meats and everything perfectly cooked. My breakfast comprised croissants, bread rolls, cold meats and cheese, which was simple but delicious and exactly what I wanted.
We made our way back to our room and finished our packing, before we went back down to reception, where we settled our account and then it was time to head home.
If the service offered at Karma Salford Hall was anything to go by, it’s easy to see why Karma Group enjoys an increasingly loyal following and why so many are choosing to join Club Karma, which opens up a world of unique experiences under a brand name that can be trusted to deliver on all its promises.
For more information visit Karma Salford Hall’s website
Photography credits: all images are owned by Simon Turton, except the image of the Bordeaux, which was supplied by Karma Group.
Disclaimer: My wife and I stayed at the Karma Salford Hall hotel 29-31 October 2022 as guests of the company; all views expressed are an honest and true account of our experience at the hotel.