Wood Hall Hotel & Spa, Yorkshire

I always find it really difficult to answer the question ‘what do you want for Christmas?’ I love spending hours thinking about the ‘perfect’ present to buy someone, but I must admit that sometimes I do find it really tough to decide what to get, particularly for those who are working as they buy everything they need so there’s often not much that they want when it comes to Christmas. My mum must have asked me hundreds of times what I wanted, and when I failed to answer she started putting suggestions out there – a bag? A jumper? Shoes? But I’m not materialistic at all – I live in comfy casuals when I’m not at work! – and I really didn’t want her to waste her money on something I didn’t want. Eventually I just suggested that she got us a hotel stay away – I’m never back up North and I rarely get the opportunity to spend time with my parents. As I’ve got older, I’ve realised that I much prefer spending money on experiences rather than material objects – I guess that’s pretty obvious from the amount I eat out! – but I just find that I prefer spending my money on enjoying time with the people I love 🙂

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She got us a beautiful hotel stay away in North Yorkshire, complete with breakfast and dinner on both nights. I must admit that by the time I got there I was starting to get a little less excited about eating out; I’d eaten out for every single dinner for over a week (besides Christmas Day obviously) and every other meal was just as indulgent – it seemed like every meal (including breakfast!) involved dessert and we were in food comas 24 hours a day. I was extremely excited to have more of a refined meal though – we’d been eating solely at pubs, and whilst some pubs can be lovely, we’d been taken to typical Yorkshire pubs, serving up gigantic portions of the worst quality food, so I was definitely ready for some ‘real’ food!

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Wood Hall Hotel & Spa is a country house hotel with 44 rooms, a 2 AA Rosette restaurant and a small health club and spa. It’s in North Yorkshire, around 30 minutes away from Leeds, Harrogate and York. We arrived just before 3 and our room wasn’t quite ready (check in time is 3pm) so we wandered round the grounds which are huge! To get to the hotel you there’s a long drive which is probably a good mile or two long, and there are fields of beautiful countryside in every direction – picturesque Yorkshire scenery at it’s finest 🙂

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By the time we’d checked in and had some tea and biscuits, the sun was already starting to set. We went for a brief fifteen minute walk around the grounds, which were so pretty.. and heaven knows that my body was grateful for some (albeit very brief!) exercise after over a week of stupid eating and incredible laziness! Then we headed inside to relax by the pool, the Jacuzzi and the steam room before getting ready for dinner. We ordered drinks and snacks in the bar area before being taken through to the main restaurant which was a small room with about eight tables; we had a table set for four in the corner.

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The options available on the a la carte menu were generous – I really struggled to choose. I was torn between the salmon rillettes and the smoked haddock and prawn risotto. I ended up going for the risotto which was an absolutely huge portion; disproportionately large compared to the other starters, but it was delicious – creamy and packed full of juicy prawns and smoked fish. I tried my mum’s salmon rillettes which was the opposite of mine (and I think I preferred it!) – delicate, refined and perfectly balanced – smoked salmon filled with salmon pieces and served with an avocado mousse, crab mayonnaise and a small salad including apple shavings.

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For mains I went for the salmon fillet which came with tempura cauliflower, a cheesy mash and a beautiful cheese and onion puree. The salmon was tender and juicy with a lovely crispy skin. Marcus and my dad both got the cod loin which was served with an onion risotto and crispy potato. That too was lovely, with the powerful flavour of the onion risotto complementing the cod, which I often find to be too plain and bland. The crispy potato balls were delicious too.. obviously! My mum got pan seared duck breast with fondant potato and heritage carrots. I didn’t try hers but she said it was lovely 🙂

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I followed up mains with a cheeseboard. I was brought a whole list of the cheeses on offer! There were over ten, and my knowledge of cheese is awful – I just know that I don’t like very strong/blue cheeses. I chose a mix of a hard goats cheese (‘Katherine’), a cage-aged cheddar and one other whose name escapes me, but it had a very strong rind. The goats cheese was too strong for me (which was sad as goats cheese is usually my favourite!) but the other two were delicious. The slices weren’t too big which was perfect for me and my mildly lactose intolerant stomach (which was already seriously annoyed at me!) and it came with iced grapes and crackers. It was supposed to come with a fruit loaf too, but it never came, and despite being spoilt with a ton of good food my ever greedy stomach was not impressed!

For dessert I overlooked both the chocolate truffle torte and the sticky toffee pudding in favour of the pistachio cake and it was the best decision ever! I tried Marcus’ torte and it was a thick, dense ganache (rather than a light cake), and I saw the sticky toffee pudding being served which just looked like a very generic pudding, but the pistachio cake was absolutely divine. A light and fluffy cake with a subtle pistachio flavour, served with a delicate ice cream, lemon sorbet and raspberry puree. My dad got the iced salted caramel parfait, which I was also tempted by, other than the fact that I worried it would be moussey (it wasn’t – it was like ice cream!) and the fact that it came with a chocolate peanut tuille. I didn’t dare try it given the possibility of contamination but it looked delicious – a salted caramel ice cream with white chocolate and ginger sponge and pieces of peanut chocolate.. I’m sure that this would be the perfect dessert for many people!

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I must admit that the service was a little clumsy, but the atmosphere and the ambience were perfect. As with most refined restaurants, there was an amuse bouche before the meal – ham hock with pea, crispy ham and an onion ring served with two plates (!) of deliciously warm buttered bread, and there was a long wait between courses allowing us to chat and fully enjoy and appreciate the meal. After the meal we went back to our rooms. Unfortunately our rooms weren’t in the main building so we had to brave the cold briefly, but Marcus went out to the car to get extra biscuits and chocolate for us to have with tea before bed.. he’s a keeper! 🙂

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The next morning I woke up excited as always for the buffet breakfast! It was the perfect breakfast – a continental buffet (with an extra few hot things – beans, mushrooms, sausages and bacon) and you could order as many hot items as you wanted from the menu. I started with cereal, bircher muesli, yogurt and poached fruit, then I ordered bacon and poached eggs on an English muffin from the hot menu and added a few extras from the buffet. I saw that they also had eggs royale on the menu too though, and while I’m not a big fan of hollandaise sauce, I absolutely love smoked salmon (and I think it’s quite rare to find in UK hotels), so I had to get that too! I finished off breakfast with waffles, served with maple syrup. Although pancakes weren’t on the menu I did see someone with a lemon and sugar crepe too, so you could probably request all sorts of extras! You can get pots of loose leaf tea and cafetiere coffee, as well as all of the usual fruit juices and water. Just when I thought I’d finished eating, they brought out fresh croissants, and they were so incredibly soft and fluffy – obviously it would have been rude not to get one (or three!). They tasted every bit as soft as they looked and they were so buttery too – perfect with some strawberry jam 🙂

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After breakfast, my parents suggested going to a nearby town. It was nice to have them around to bring some culture into our lives as whenever we go away anywhere the only research I ever do is finding local cafes and coffee shops! They suggested Knaresborough, so obviously I was instantly looking at maps/trip advisor and Instagram to search for a good lunch, coffee and cake stop! We wandered around a bit and ended up at Six Poor Folk, a cute little coffee shop with a lovely Scandinavian feel to it. It was definitely one of those places whose menu over promised and under delivered though.. the coffee was lovely and the sweet potato fries were crispy and delicious, but the rest of the food left a lot to be desired. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the pool before having another dinner in the hotel. Since the hotel is in the middle of the countryside and the nearest town is a good fifteen minute drive away, it was lovely to be able to just step out of our rooms and eat in the hotel restaurant and not have to worry about having a designated driver. Given that there are so few other dining options nearby I was quite surprised that the menu was virtually identical to the previous night though, as I imagine most people that stay eat in the hotel restaurant so I was hoping that they’d have a few different menus on rotation. That said, there was still plenty of choice and I was surprised that a lot of the dishes were cooked and presented very differently despite being described exactly the same way on the menu.

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The amuse bouche was different to the first night – a beautifully smooth chicken terrine with the same delicious bread rolls. I’d never had terrine before as I thought it was similar to a pate (and I can’t stand the taste or texture of liver) but I was so pleasantly surprised – it wasn’t at all what I was expecting and I loved it! For starters I shared the salmon rillettes (I couldn’t not get it after how good my mum’s was on the first night!) with the crab risotto (very similar but not quite as nice as the smoked haddock and prawn one I’d had the night before). I also tried the ham hock terrine which was presented very differently from the first night but it tasted delicious. The vegetarian option was the same as the first night and again (stuffed courgettes) I was seriously tempted to get it. I decided on the venison though; I’ve only ever had venison sausages and venison burgers so I was keen to try a fillet to see if I liked it. My mum got the same and even though she said it was slightly overdone, I still found it a bit too gamey and strong tasting. The mash, spinach and chestnut jus were divine though, and it was still a lovely dish even if I would perhaps not choose it again. Marcus and my dad both got the roast duck, which was beautifully tender and juicy. I don’t usually choose duck but I have to admit that I’d have happily eaten the whole plate!

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Dessert, as always, was the highlight for me. My mum was stuffed so she let me have hers which made life easier for me and my terrible decision making skills! After having tried the pistachio cake and the chocolate truffle torte the night before, I decided to go for the other two; the iced salted caramel parfait and the sticky toffee pudding. I asked if it was possible to get the parfait without the chocolate peanut tuille (obviously), and the chef even came to the table to assure me that it was peanut free. My dad had got the iced salted caramel parfait the night before and it had looked amazing, so I was slightly disappointed when mine came out looking (and tasting) very different to the one he’d ordered. Despite being disappointed about not getting a big pyramid of ice cream though (and the weirdly ugly choice of presentation), I was pleasantly surprised at how packed full of flavour it was. There was a strong salted caramel flavour and it was beautifully smooth – it also had the texture of an ice cream, not a panna cotta which was what I was expecting when I first looked at it. The sponge left a lot to be desired though; it was utterly tasteless and a little dry. The sauce and the other elements on the plate were lovely though – all in all a bit of a hit and miss dish. The sticky toffee pudding was everything you’d hope for in a dessert though. A sweet, gooey sponge (though surprisingly not that dense) with a sticky sauce, biscuit crumbs, chocolate shards and vanilla ice cream. I should have ordered two of those!

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We finished off the meal with coffee and Marcus and I also got petit fours – chocolate fudge, a ganache square and a chocolate lollipop.

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Our breakfast on the second day was served in the restaurant where we’d eaten dinner, as there were two functions going on – a wedding and a private party. The room was a lot smaller, and all of the hot food was made to order. It felt a lot more formal for breakfast, and in some ways I prefer a buffet as despite being able to order multiple plates of hot food, it’s still nice to be able to go up to a buffet and get a bit more of a few items rather than having to place a whole new order. After breakfast we were planning to go for a brief walk around the grounds, as they’re beautiful, but it was so windy and muddy that we were both slipping everywhere and getting blown away so we decided to go back to use the pool facilities instead. Whilst smaller than the facilities in other hotels, it was still quite quiet, and they have a few deckchairs around the pool, as well as a tea and coffee machine and some sofas to relax on.

Overall, the four of us really enjoyed our stay at Wood Lane Hotel & Spa; it provides the perfect combination of beautiful rooms, a secluded location with a beautiful backdrop and good food on site, whilst only being a short drive away from many lovely Yorkshire towns and villages 🙂

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Link to their website: https://www.handpickedhotels.co.uk/woodhall

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