Michael Edwards pops down to Reading to experience the town’s only five-star hotel tucked away in a former shire hall.
“Minimalism is not a word in our vocabulary,” says Nicholas Hollinshead, the interior designer who has worked his magic on this townhouse hotel in Reading: an elegant Queen Anne style construction of red brick, Portland sandstone, chimney stacks and sash windows.
Yet, contemporary opulence, flamboyant flair and grand theatricality were clearly well-used phrases in his lexicon as he designed the 23 rooms and luxurious suites found in the main house of Reading’s only five-star hotel.
Hollinshead does not cut corners as he works his way up from under-heated walnut floors topped with rugs from Diane Furstenburg. Sawn-oak furniture, including romantic four-poster beds is from renowned King’s Road designer William Yeoward. Soft furnishings are upholstered in fabrics from Cole and Son, Kenxo, Paul Smith and Nina Campbell.
In the main house, a veritable showroom for Design Guild’s bold wallpapers, every room is an art gallery with three original pieces. A wrought-metal animal sculpture from Claire Norrington, a portrait of a female nude by Alain Bonnefoit and a shimmering impressionist landscape painted by Isabelle de Ganay: they all contribute to creating the best luxury hotel rooms in Reading.
Another accolade bestowed by one writer on the Roseate Reading is the title of the “U.K.’s sexiest townhouse”. A claim fuelled by those nudes from the artist nicknamed “The Painter of Venus”, the decadence of those four-poster beds dressed in finest linens and pools of table-lamp light dissipating into seductive darkness.
Couples have also been known to book the 30-seater intimate cinema for a private screening of their favourite movie for a memorable date night.
Currently, there is a pop-up champagne bar in The Secret Garden. A fairy-light lit pomegranate tree as its centrepiece only adds to the allure. Perhaps Reading is romantic after all?
None of these fanciful notions would have flitted through the minds of architects Herbert Austen Hall and Septimus Warwick when, back in 1911, they designed a new Shire Hall for the County of Berkshire overlooking the flourishing Forbury Gardens and their bandstand. It was a time of optimism and civic pride with the sweet aroma of Huntley and Palmer’s Rich Tea biscuits still stronger than the growing stench of the Kaiser’s gunpowder. Yet, by the time war arrived, Septimus Warwick had emigrated to Canada, in search of work. Berkshire’s Shire Hall had been one of civic pride’s last hurrahs in Britain.
With councillors’ minutes and aldermen’s budgets long tidied away, the Shire Hall closed in 1981. Today, The Roseate Reading offers more self-indulgent pleasures. There is the sheer sophistication of white-shirted, leather-braced cocktail makers and shakers creating magic in what must be the best bar in Reading. Behind the shimmering translucent curtains, there is a lengthy cocktail list that approaches poetry: Hellenic Ideal, One Minute of Wisdom, Lunar Eclipse and – remembering Oscar Wilde who was imprisoned in nearby Reading Gaol – Oscar’s Enigma – a smooth creation of rum, maraschino, lime and grapefruit: whilst amongst the mocktails are One Minute of Nonsense and the Spy Princess.
Rajesh Maharjan, the Executive Chef brings gastronomic wisdom from his global culinary journey to a la carte and tasting menus. This is regal dining with an amuse-bouche, a variety of light breads, extensive wine-list and sleek many-handed service that simultaneously delivers diners’ dishes. Highlights of our visit are an ethereal coconut foam crowning roasted butternut squash soup, subtle chorizo accentuating succulent seared Orkney scallops, an aromatic spicy duo of lamb and the highly original variation of pears dessert including pear sorbet, pear chutney, ginger crumble and a sesame tuile.
Once guests have arrived, often after a five-minute stroll from the nearby railway station, most stay put, enjoying The Roseate’s leafy oasis of peace. On the top floor of the new house, the Aheli Spa offers a wide range of steam, body scrub, body wrap, facials and massages. Aheli’s dual linguistic origin – pure in Sanskrit and a feeling of purity, grace and elegance in Hebrew – sums up the spa’s indulgent promise.
As there is also a small gym, the best afternoon tea in Reading, plenty of fascinating tomes on the bookshelves and that cinema for a private screening why would anyone be tempted to leave?
Tell Me More About The Roseate Boutique Hotel, Reading
26, The Forbury, Reading RG1
T: 0118 952 7770
Rooms from £93