If you search the internet for reviews or details about Arundel House it soon becomes apparent that there are several hotels by that name but only one that's actually in Arundel. This review is of that one!
~Hunting Down the House~
On a recent business trip I was booked into the Arundel House by the secretary of the company I was visiting. I set my Tom Tom for the postcode and good old Tom took me almost to the doorstep without any confusion. I got a bit baffled at the bottom of the High Street where the road splits into two spurs and I had to go round twice before I spotted Arundel House. It's on the 'down the hill spur' whereas the Swan is on the 'up the hill spur'. Part of the confusion was because the signage is very poor - the owner later explained to me that this was because the hotel is in a listed building and the local regulations prevent any swinging signs on the outside.
Arundel House doesn't call itself a hotel, or even a B&B. Instead it's a 'Restaurant with Rooms' and the main focus is the ground floor restaurant with the five rooms upstairs as a little bit of an afterthought. I wasn't sure whether they'd get the balance between the two aspects of the business right.
~Arundel - Famously Free of Traffic Wardens~
I parked up on the street by the lower entrance to the castle where you can have only have one hour free parking between 8am and 6pm. I knew I'd be gone before 9 am so I wasn't worried about getting a ticket and I also recalled that last time I was in Arundel, I'd been told that they "don't have a traffic warden" - this was again confirmed by the proprietor of the Arundel House. If you are staying a bit longer, then the hotel can give you a parking permit for one of the car parks nearby. However, if you park there and get a ticket don't expect me to pay for it - the advice is offered as hearsay!
To enter Arundel House, I went up three or four steps and rang the bell. A man dressed in a chef's uniform came to let me in and the check in just consisted of getting me to sign the guest book. I have to be honest and say that the place did smell rather strongly of food and the fishy odour wasn't entirely enticing. I reconfirmed my booking for dinner that night and I asked what time breakfast was available and was told that it's served from 8 am. I knew this would be too late for me but I was immediately offered an earlier time and we agreed on a 7.30 am breakfast. He then took my suitcase and led me up the stairs to my room.
I don't think there's any alternative to all these stairs so I would advise anyone with mobility issues to think seriously about whether this is the right place for them. Give the owners a call and see if they can do anything to help.
~Room with a View~
My room was on the front of the hotel, overlooking the High Street. By leaning out of the window, I could just see Arundel Castle - not quite a castle view if you're almost killing yourself in the process, but I can confirm that I could see it. The room was roughly 12 feet by 12 feet in size plus the space for the bathroom that ran the full width of the room. The room and bathroom together took up the full depth of the building, filling the space from the front of the hotel to the back. With both windows open, I could get up quite a nice breeze.
The walls were painted in a colour I'd describe as light coffee. The carpet was cream - always a controversial choice in a hotel - and the window blind was in stripes of ginger and red. The bed had ultra-smooth cotton sheets and duvet cover with a deep red 'throw' folded across it. The bedding was pulled so tightly that when I got into bed later I had to give a good kick to free my feet and I mistakenly thought it was a 'blanket and sheets' bed rather than a duvet. It was only when I read that they offered the option to have your bed made 'traditionally' that I realised I was actually under a duvet. Two brown cushions sat in the middle of the pillow piles. There was a bedside cabinet on each side of the bed, tucked back into the alcoves either side of the chimney breast. This meant that the bedside lamps were set back from the bed and to turn them off, I had to get out and find the wall-mounted light switch - I'm sure that could easily be improved with a bit more thought. Over the bed there was a painting consisting of horizontal stripes of colour. It was a bit like 'barcode as art' and not really to my taste although the colours went well with the rest of the room.
Other features in the room included a full length mirror on the wall, a folding bag stand, a large but slightly rough looking desk with a dining chair, a big blocky wardrobe that was probably far larger than it needed to be and a small wall-mounted flat screen television which might have been OK when viewed from the bed but was completely unviewable when sitting at the desk. The room had lots of electrical sockets but unfortunately none were accessible in the desk area where the nearest ones were tucked behind the wardrobe.
The bathroom was very swanky and was split into three zones - one for the loo, another for the sink (a very stylish white bowl on a class topped stand with attractive green glass tiled splashback) and a final section for the double-sized shower with its enormous rain-shower head. In the central section was a heated towel rail and - much to my surprise since it seems to be rare in many hotels - the towel rail was actually hot. The bathroom floor was wooden though I'm not sure, despite getting down for a good look, if it was real wood sealed very well or a top quality laminate. It seems hard to imagine using real wood on a bathroom floor but I couldn't see a repeat in the pattern that would have indicated it was fake. The toiletries provided were Gilchrist and Soame and there were nice touches like cotton wool balls and a big box of tissues.
The drawer of the desk held a helpful folder with lots of details including the complex code for the free wi-fi log in. It told me that the hotel was strictly non smoking and would impose a £25 fine for breach of the rules. It also explained that there were no tea or coffee making facilities in the room 'to reduce clutter' which I just thought was plain silly as a reason to not have a kettle. Fair enough to say that it's to 'prevent you making a mess of our lovely rooms' or 'we hate you leaving bits of coffee powder on the cream carpets' but I can't say I've ever gone into a hotel room and thought "Lovely, but wouldn't it look so much less cluttered without a kettle'.
My irritation was short-lived when I read that I could get tea or coffee on demand by ringing 0. Sure enough, I called, asked if it would be possible to get a coffee and a few minutes later I was brought a cafetiere of coffee with enough for about 3 cups and jug of milk. The folder also told me where to find the hair-dryer (in the bedside table) and informed me that when it's hot they provide fans. I was amused to see that there was a warning that the signal for the TV came from the Isle of Wight and goes wobbly when the weather's hot - so not that often I guess! I noticed the 7 available TV channels didn't include Channel 5 which can surely be considered an advantage! Arundel House doesn't have an 'official' laundry service but will do some 'limited' washing and ironing for guests for free but with the proviso that they won't do 'underwear' or any hand wash or dry cleaning. So you'd better wash your smalls in the bathroom sink and dry them on the towel rail.
~Shhhh - Sleepy Koshkha~
I had been concerned that my stay might be rather noisy. When I first arrived at about 6.30 pm there was quite a lot of road noise and the floor above me creaked like crazy when anyone upstairs moved but luckily I had quiet neighbours who stopped moving once the sun went down. I was also concerned that the restaurant downstairs might be noisy but again I wasn't disturbed. Finally, despite being on the High Street and having my window slightly open, the road noise was minimal until at least 7 am. My hours suited the hotel well but if I was there for a holiday and wanted to sleep late, I'm not sure if it would have been quiet enough for me.
~Restaurant with Rooms~
On my previous trip to Arundel I had stayed at the Town House - another so-called 'Restaurant with Rooms' but sadly I was there the one night of the week when the restaurant was closed. Fortunately this time dinner was available. My colleague arrived at about 8pm and I met her downstairs at a table tucked in the corner by the window. The menu was quite small with just five starters and six main courses, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The waiter explained that the fish was halibut and asked if we had any questions about anything on the menu. He then left us to consider what we wanted and popped back for drinks orders.
Whilst we considered our choices, we were given two teensy little tartlets with herby cream cheese and a little piece of roast fig on top. It was just enough to get me thinking about what was to come.
Starters included a ham and pea risotto, crab cake with celeriac, trout with melba toasts, pigeon with salad and a vegetarian cheese apple and potato terrine. My colleague and I both opted for the crab cake. For main courses, the choice was very 'gastro' - lots of long descriptions with multi-component compositions. Here's an example; how about "Confit Belly of Pork on Champ Potato with Celery, Apple & Walnut Salad and Sage Jus". Well that was obviously not going to be one for me, and neither were the duck, rabbit or lamb dishes. My choice came down to courgette tart or the fish. I really wasn't sure which to go for but eventually opted for the halibut which would be served with a herb crust on a bed of creamy mashed potato with a pesto sauce. I'm still not sure that I made the right decision. Jo chose the duck. The deal for two courses was £22 each or if we'd wanted three courses, then that was £28 per person. During the weekends the prices increase by another £6 which I have to say seems a bit cheeky when the menu is still the same. The menu also explains that a 'discretionary' service charge of 10% is added and split between the staff - I do generally tip quite well but I'm not so sure I can really consider something discretionary if you would have to ask if you wanted to have it taken off.
Whilst the chef was working his magic in the kitchen, we were brought a pre-starter of a small cup of asparagus soup with a bread roll. I got the white roll and was a bit jealous that Jo got the granary. The soup was fine but nothing spectacular - I'd get shot for saying it but it tasted a bit like canned or packet asparagus soup which I'm absolutely sure wasn't the case. To help lubricate the conversation we each had a glass of wine - sauvignon blanc for me and cabernet merlot for Jo - and were brought a bit bottle of still water served in a red bottle. Wine was served in quite generous slugs and poured straight from the bottle.
Our starters arrived and we each received one big puffy bread-crumbed crab cake perched on top a mound of celeriac remoulade which looked a little like a finely shredded coleslaw. A ring of green olive oil and an outer ring of chilli sauce were dripped around the outside of the plate. This had been described as "Sweet Chilli Jam" but seemed to be the consistency of chilli dipping sauce. The outside of the crab cake was crisp and the centre was light and fluffy. The crab taste was quite subtle - which is a nice way of saying I could hardly taste it - and I actually forgot it was supposed to be a crab cake because it just tasted like a fairly standard fish cake.
My main course was so enormous that I asked the waiter if I was supposed to eat it or climb it. The fish portion was a big thick slice of firm white halibut. The herb crust wasn't very strong in flavour or very crusty and the mashed potato was a bit bland. Some spears of asparagus separated the fish from the mash and helped to prevent an otherwise very 'white' dish from disappearing against the white plate. Thank goodness for the pesto sauce decorating the plate. After a couple of mouthfuls I was just a bit overwhelmed by how big my dish was and how it really didn't taste of anything much at all. I committed the cardinal sin of asking for salt and pepper in the hope of zapping things up a bit. There was nothing actually WRONG with the food, it just lacked a certain 'punch'.
The dessert menu looked fabulous but I was too full of fish and mash to be able to squeeze in another dish. If I'd wanted to be piggy, I would have gone for the espresso brulee with white chocolate ice-cream. Instead I decided to finish off my second glass of wine whilst Jo had a cappuccino which was served with two handmade chocolates. I ate one of these but it wasn't very special and I rather wished I hadn't.
Dinner for two with two starters, two mains, three glasses of wine, a diet coke and one coffee came to just over £68 with the service included. It was a bit on the expensive side but not outrageously so and if I stayed there again, I might well give them a second go, but perhaps after interrogating what was in the dishes a bit more.
After the chef had so kindly offered to do me an early breakfast I really did have to make sure I went down to eat. I enjoyed my breakfast a lot more than my dinner and the choice was fantastic. I identified my table by the newspaper left there for me and the chef came out to bring me a cafetiere of coffee and a jug of freshly squeezed orange juice. I was a bit flustered by the sheer size of the breakfast menu - cold dishes on one side and hot on the other. I don't know what came over me but the hot choices were just too good to miss. For the meat eaters, there's a choice of two full English breakfast - a really 'fat boy' option called the 'Great Britain' and a half sized version called the 'Little Britain'. The vegetarian breakfast was listed as the 'Green Britain'. In addition there were eggs Benedict and smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and I think one other hot option that I've forgotten. My brain said scrambled eggs and smoked salmon but when my mouth opened, the words 'Green Britain' came out. I have no idea how that happened!
Everything was cooked from scratch so I sat and sipped my coffee and juice and read the paper (definitely pre-book a paper so you don't sit twiddling your thumbs) for about 20 minutes whilst annoying Graham Norton twittered away on the radio. When the food arrived I apologised in advance because I knew I had no chance of getting through it. I actually ate half of what I was given so one veggie sausage, one fried egg, one piece of fried bread (oh sin of sins, what was I thinking of), the giant field mushroom and about half of the baked beans. If I'd stayed there all morning I couldn't have finished the rest of the breakfast. You need to allow plenty of time for preparation and eating the breakfast so if you think you'll be pushed for time, choose something cold or ask if you can order the night before and have it ready when you come down.
~Summary and Recommendation~
As a restaurant, this probably wouldn't be my first choice in Arundel and if I stay here again, I'll probably go out and explore for somewhere to eat. I found the menu a little bit pretentious and a bit over priced although the service was fine and the choice was adequate. As a hotel or a 'restaurant with rooms', I was quite impressed by the standard of the room - especially the bathroom which was beautiful. If I compare it directly with the Town House which is just up the hill, I found the latter to have more character but the Arundel House rooms to be of higher quality. My room was £80 for B&B for one night which I think was a little more than the Town House but very fair for the location. I wouldn't object at all if I was booked in here again - just make sure you allow time to enjoy your breakfast.