Fancy a break from town? Norton Park Hotel puts you in easy reach of Winchester, Salisbury and even Stohehenge.
The drive to Norton Park from London isn’t very long but the drive at Norton Park certainly is.
Since turning into the main gates I seem to have been going down a narrow country road for ages. Perhaps it’s the filthy night with its hard rain and sharp winds that makes me keen to find sanctuary, but this does seem an eternal road.
Finally though I can see the silhouette of a country manor and the welcoming lights of the modern Norton Park Hotel next to it. I drop my partner at the door, with case, and she hurries into reception while I head off to find the parking.
It’s not far, although anywhere is too far on an evening like this, and I note they have a number of electric car charging points which shows the right spirit, even if most of the cars in the lot are petrol guzzling luxury motors.
A quick run gets me finally through the doors, one of those ones that have a revolving section that seems to have a mind of its own and bites my ankles.
Check in is swift, the staff friendly and sympathetic to the fact I am pooling rainwater on to their carpet.
It’s a very big place this hotel. We leave reception, go up a floor, and walk over a semi covered footbridge to the section where our room is located. Going over the bridge is like going outside again, cold and draughty, so it’s good to get back inside and find our room.
It’s a cosy room, rather showing its age design-wise and on its edges, but clean and comfortable. The drinks in the minibar are complimentary, which I like as I resent being ripped off by those things.
We have a mini bottle of Chardonnay which is surprisingly good, and scoff the fiery peanut nibbles. I deserve some treats after the M3.
Although the 16th Century manor house features on the hotel website a lot, it seems a bit neglected and most people will stay as we are doing in the large modern hotel next door.
There are 165 bedrooms, a spa and health centre and a restaurant, as well as conference and wedding facilities for up to 340 guests.
There’s also a massive old thatched barn, presumably a listed building, where they hold wedding receptions and which seems very attractive.
The hotel’s proximity to the town of Winchester is one of its big selling points, and it is not far from Southampton either, making it ideal as an overnight stop for anyone travelling down to get on a cruise ship
We’re just in time for dinner, although it means walking back over that draughty bridge. My partner puts on her overcoat, which you don’t normally have to do when heading to a hotel restaurant.
The restaurant is clearly very large in total, but sliding walls have brought it down to a reasonable size tonight for the number of guests at this time of year.
The menu is what you would expect at a hotel, but a bit better read than most. Of course, they have burgers, a hotel has to, and steaks – ditto – but there are some appealing options.
A platter of’crisp breads’ for nibbles is rather well done, Sour bread toasted on a griddle for smoky flavours, a flat bread that had possibly seen the inside of a deep fat fryer and some oven baked bread.
These were to be dipped into a red pepper hummus which was pretty good, but there could have been more of it. There was also watercress, more of that later, much more.
Proper starters were for me a prawn cocktail – I had a sudden urge to eat one – and a ham hock terrine.
The prawns in the cocktail were better than the usual limp things rescued from a plastic pack, and the’scoop’ of avocado was right for ripeness. The Bloody Mary sauce could have had a bit more kick to it.
The partner has the pressed ham hock terrine, quite tasty with its toasted sourdough and piccalilli mayo. Oh, and more watercress.
I don’t usually eat steak in a restaurant, but I reckoned a lot of people will do so here especially people attending conferences and thus not picking up the tab. Steaks on the boss? Yes please!
Good to see amongst the steaks on offer is a bavette, the steak connoisseurs’ steak. So, I have that and, correctly, the waitress advises it will come medium rare. I should hope so too.
Decent bit of steak, properly cooked and rested and smoky from the grill. The horseradish cream on top though was rather too much cream to horseradish ratio for me, I like to feel the burn.
Very good chips, some rather superfluous crispy onion and, inevitably it was beginning to seem, more cress.
P had a more ambitious dish of grilled fillet of sea bass with cider braised beans and chorizo and some crispy cavolo nero.
I tried some and it was quite impressive, the chef must have some Spanish roots. Those big beans are very typical of northern Spain, as is cider.
The chorizo was meaty and spicy and the generous portion of fish had crispy skin, it’s remarkable how many restaurants fail at that.The cavolo nero was not as crispy as it could have been, but overall this dish punched above its weight.
The sweet potato fries we had recklessly ordered we found we had no space for, but what I did get down were pleasant.
No dessert for P, I had cherry and vanilla cheesecake, Pistachio sponge,’Sour cherry’ sauce but I did not like it. Glace cherries? In 2020? It didn’t have enough cheesiness, or sourness.
Back over that chilly bridge for a good night’s sleep on comfortable beds. The next morning, we found fresh milk in our fridge for tea, extra points for that, and a complimentary newspaper outside the door.
Breakfast was a bit light on yoghurts and fruits, but heavy on good sausages, bacon and eggs. I wasn’t complaining about that personally, but my partner had been looking forward to being more healthy.
We had a walk around the large grounds in the drizzle, and admired the lake and the rolling acres. We popped our heads in the spa area and had a look at the indoor pool, already in full use, before making the short drive to see Winchester Cathedral which was well worth the trouble.
Improvements to Norton Park? I’d open up all the old manor house’s locked downstairs rooms and bring it to life with a bar, a fine dining restaurant, afternoon teas, a snug library and, why not?, a room for cigars and fine whisky.
Clearly a hotel that does good business with large groups, especially weddings, and which knows its target market well, otherwise Norton Park has a fair bit to recommend it.
Norton Park, Sutton Scotney, Nr Winchester, SO21 3NB