There are hotels and restaurants which continually fall over themselves to update their rooms and menus – and many others whose loyal clientèle tells them: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Judging by the packed dining room on a rainy midweek afternoon out of season, The French Horn has wisely decided to adopt the latter course.You could be tempted to think almost nothing had changed in the 40 years since the Leventhal family took over this lovely old Thameside inn at Sonning.
It calls itself a restaurant with rooms, although with 21 bedrooms, including some charming riverside cottages, it must surely be considered a sleep-over destination in its own right. However, it’s inconceivable one would visit and not eat here – the saliva glands are set off the moment you walk into the delightful, château-style lobby and spot ducks roasting on a spit over the open fire lit daily, summer and winter.
Guests arriving by boat or helicopter, as many do, might miss the welcome of the open fire, coming in through the garden, but they would quickly pick up the period charm of the place. Our own cottage had that old-fashioned rarity, a lit dressing-table, in a bedroom overlooking willows, water and a family of sylvan geese. Downstairs was an unreconstructed living-room, perfectly comfortable – though a wet bar in one corner wouldn’t hurt to save having to go upstairs for a glass of water. The spacious bathroom, overlooking the lavender fields at the back, was a great treat, awash with light and pretty china bits and pieces.
While breakfast was a tad hit and miss, being left to staff who are clearly not trained cooks, lunch was flawless, from the Melba toast on the table to the crepes Suzette cooked right beside it.The maître d’ sadly reflected that this dish was one of the few with which he was still able to show off his own culinary skills, Health and Safety having long outlawed Steak Diane and other flambé treats.
Michael Leventhal and his sister preside with discreet skill over the hotel and dining room respectively; they take pride in having inherited Michael Winner’s favourite restaurant from their parents, and being scions of the Wheelers family to boot. Naturally the seafood is excellent, with proper scampi on the menu, but it would be a mistake not to leave room for the duck. Just don’t expect it to be served pink with any remotely new-fangled vegetables.
Although it’s a member of Pride of Britain, like other members of this group of privately-owned hotels The French Horn is totally unique and unbranded.
I want to stay here how much does it cost?
Double rooms are excellent value at the starting price of £80, which includes breakfast.
Tel: 0800 089 3929,