Looking for an idyllic rural setting for a special event? Fancy the added prospect of canapé classes, dogs and daiquiris? Claire Goodwin has found just the place.
It was dark when I reached the entrance to Iscoyd Park and I felt a tremor of excitement: a little like when you first glimpse Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, though sadly without the added prospect of tiny trunks. There was, however, elegance and luxury in abundance.
Not a hotel, not a B&B, not a posh function room. So what is it?
Built in 1737, Iscoyd Park is an award-winning private Georgian home for hire. With food. And event planning. And wine. The concept is to hire the Shropshire house and plan your event with the staff who will orchestrate and oversee the details. Owners Susie and Phil Godsal want to share their home and heritage with those who come to stay.
The concept eliminates the transience and isolation one might feel with a hotel and promotes the feeling that this is your home for the duration of your stay. The crackling wood fires and mixture of antique and modern furnishings contribute to a cosy, luxurious atmosphere, and the kitchen, for a baker and cook like myself, is the stuff of dreams.
The house is separated into the Godsals’ quarters and the hired house, meaning that the family and staff are available but privacy – for the owners and their guests alike – is maintained.
So it’s just a posh country house for hire?
No. The Godsals employ a team of staff who ensure your event is planned to your specifications. Your stay will be tailored to your needs and include catering from The Fine Dining Company alongside other activities/events such as hour long canapé and cocktail classes (at additional cost).
It doesn’t feel corporate or formal. There is no communal lobby or reception desk, no plastic folders with leaflets or big signs with rules. There are no laminated print outs with AA or TripAdvisor ratings either.
You enter Susie and Phil’s home through the front door. If they aren’t about you go and find your room (there is prior discussion, of course), stare agog at the décor, wonder why you feel like you’re floating before realising it’s the carpet (they clearly didn’t get it at Floors-to-Go) then battle the urge to strip off and jump into the roll top bath. This is something a little bit special and made even more so because this isn’t a big hotel group manufacturing “luxury” in triplicate.
Iscoyd Park has a resident cocktail master who humbly labels himself a bartender (note the gender neutrality: I immediately liked this man). Jamie Stephenson; a man who has won awards in art of the cocktail – a five times world champion no less – is a prodigy of the mixology world. His cocktails were creative, novel and oozed class. He used smokers and dry ice, green tea meringues and lavender candied lemon slices. He matched cocktails to food courses effortlessly. It wasn’t gadgetry and pomp – it really worked. The mocktails were equally exquisite.
The Fine Dining Company provided the canapé class in the kitchen, which was the stuff of lifestyle magazines with its large kitchen island, glossy Aga and low slung utility lamps, all beautifully offset by a cosy laddered library at the opposite end of the room.
The two chefs, Rupert (who owns the catering company) and Dom spent quite a bit of time talking us through the different flavours of each canapé. There were mini Yorkshire puddings with horseradish cream, deep fried rosemary and rare fillet beef.
We also sampled an all-day breakfast canapé with a mini quail’s egg and, among others, a scone with caramelised red onion jam and a goat’s cheese mousse, which we learnt to quenelle. To finish there was a hilarious battle of strength and technique between the diners to shuck an oyster.
Among the highlights: a watercress velouté snuggled around a tower of confit potatoes; cured salmon with lemon crème fraiche and earthy beetroot salsa; a heavenly shoulder of lamb, and a triumph of a dessert combining a mango and lime delice, coconut rum sorbet and candied pineapple.
This was paired beautifully with an orange, macadamia and chilli daiquiri.
Susie and Phil are involved in every aspect of making Iscoyd Park a success. Warm and open, their anecdotes are unexpectedly hilarious.
Phil will regale guests with stories of the recent renovations, how for a time he was essentially Basil Fawlty and how their kids are employed to help out in certain tasks for their pocket money. Frieda the family dog does her best to sabotage things but generally adds to the homeliness of the place.
Does it offer value for money?
If you’re looking for a special place for a celebration, a venue for your wedding or an impressive site to host a corporate event; Iscoyd Park should be on your radar. The modernised annex houses a large bar area, function room and permanent marquee that accommodates up to 160 people. Starting at just £3500 to hire the house and its grounds and accommodate 18 guests (including breakfast), this seems like great value for money.
Granted, this isn’t a place for a budget event but that isn’t the market it is aimed at, nor a market it deserves. The catering starts at £29.95 for a three-course meal that, considering the quality of the food and the experience of fine dining, is a really competitive price within this market.
I can’t recommend it highly enough.2042 Views
Claire is a speech therapist, baker, cake decorator, sometime radio guest and writer. She writes about food, being fat and living with mental health problems @bake_therapist; www.baketherapy.co.uk; www.facebook.com/CakeChemistryUK