Monday 28 May 2012

The Opening of The Stag and Huntsman

So there we have it. The great and the good gathered on a beautiful sunny evening to enjoy the hospitality of Hillbrooke Hotels and The Culden Faw Estate at the opening of the newly renovated and extended Stag and Huntsman. And I have to say they did everyone proud with their service and generosity.

Free booze flowed and a steady stream of delicious nibbles appeared from the shiny new kitchen. The recently hired staff 'glided' around in an almost invisible manner making sure glasses were filled and stomachs kept supplied. And against this smooth running backdrop, Mr Schwarzenbach, owner of the Culden Faw Estate and the man behind the not inconsiderable investment in The Stag delivered an amusing and sensitive opening speech.

And the reaction from the assembled villagers seems to have been universally positive. The quality and design of the bedrooms coupled with the sensitive redevelopment of 'old' bar areas such as the 'snug' and the 'public' met with approval from the regulars.  And if the quality of the welcome from newly installed General Manager, Claire Hollis, and her staff is anything to go by, then the new Stag and Huntsman will become quite a draw to both the locals of the Hambleden Valley as well as the walkers and day trippers that so seem to love our beautiful village.

So despite the questions and the scepticism around the intentions of The Estate and the ambitious timescales involved, the renovation must be considered a success. It's perhaps a shame that this chronicle has rankled with certain members of the Estate but looking back at the past six months, I think we can say it's been a fair and honest account of the build process.

A new chapter for The Stag and Huntsman has opened and I will continue to post musings and thoughts on the goings on around the pub for no other reason than I can. The final word however must go to Claire and the staff of the pub. Claire was so proud on Friday night and for very good reason. As the new chapter is written, I sincerely hope that she and all her staff will be central characters in a long and happy story of success.

Friday 25 May 2012

The Stag and Huntsman on Launch Morning

It's a bit like getting married. Here's a great photo taken by the 'official' channels (read: Hillbrooke PR) of the The Stag and Huntsman in the early morning light. The new 'bride' is waking up to a lovely sunny day. I have to say, it looks absolutely gorgeous. Tonight should be a marvellous event. More photos of the new bride will be posted shortly so extending the analogy further -- the marriage looks made in heaven!

Tuesday 22 May 2012

New photos of The Stag and Huntsman

The fine weather arrives and with it, the opening of The Stag and Huntsman. Just two days to go and work is frantic. Certainly a huge amount of effort going in to get things finished. Some good photos here:

Sunday 20 May 2012

Five days to opening - is it ready?

So it's only five days until we see the results of the months of hard work at our favourite watering hole. The village awaits as we count down over the coming week to the opening party scheduled for this coming Friday. But one question is on everyone's lips: "Will it be finished?"

We have to take our hats off the efforts of the Culden Faw Estate and Hillbrooke Hotels to get the works close to completion but the gossip coming from the 'shop floor' is that Friday's opening will be short-lived.  For sure, there will be a fun evening as we poke around the new Stag and enjoy (hopefully) the hospitality of the Estate and Hillbrooke. But judging by the state of the site both inside and out, presenting a finished product is highly unlikely by this coming Friday.

For starters, the garden is still a sea of mud. I presume Hillbrooke must be hoping that the party go'ers don't venture outside unless there is turf to be laid this week. But then if turf is laid, will the management want people walking on it so soon after being laid? I think not.  And will the interior be completed? Judging by comments from some of the chaps on site (all unattributed of course), the work is manic with various trades tripping over each other as they frantically try and work through the lengthy 'to do' list each is presented with.

All that said, I can completely appreciate the desire of Hillbrooke to get The Stag and Huntsman open for Friday's big night and to then have the place trading over the Jubilee Weekend. It's the deadline they have said since the work started and so it's understandable that they are pulling out all the stops to open come what may. But one is left asking: at what cost? The smart money is on the place closing soon after Jubilee to finish the works properly and to bring the whole place up to the standard expected.

But in the meantime, the excitement builds and we look forward to an excellent night this coming Friday. Obviously a full report will be provided!  :)

Monday 9 April 2012

New Hambleden Sports & Social Club Raises The 'Bar'

Apologies for the untended pun, but the newly revamped Hambleden Sports and Social Club house will, in my opinion raise the 'bar' for drinking in the village. Hats off to the Club Committee for investing in the club and for creating a very appealing location for a drink or two. For the first time, Hambleden residents (so long as they are members of the Sports and Social Club or are signed in by a member) have a real choice of where to drink.

The new decor was unveiled last Friday. With all interior design done by local specialist Jane Sweet, the interior is now both welcoming and functional. Smart carpet matched with, dare I say this, a sophisticated colour scheme combines to create a quite sophisticated ambiance. Quirky touches such as the coat hooks in the entrance hall, a cat mural by the bar and neatly matched photos of sports teams both young and old, add to the refreshed feel of the place. While undoubtedly different to what went before, the new feel will, I am sure, attract a lot of new members to the Sports Club. And that can only be a good thing.

What will be very interesting is the effect it will have on The Stag and Huntsman. One thing is for certain, the price of a round in the Sports and Social Club is significantly cheaper than prices at The Stag of old. And I can't imagine for a moment that prices will be any lower once it re-opens. So now the village has a choice and competition has been introduced. Of course the Stag will profit from passing trade and from the reputation it builds outside the Valley, but the core local clientele now have options. And that I have to say is a good thing.

All I hope is that the new Sports and Social Club will attract new members from the surrounding area and that we'll see an increase in interest in the sports on offer. And with an appealing destination for all teams to decamp to at the end of the match, with luck the Club will see its profits rise and its popularity increase. I would say to anyone with pre-conceived opinions about the Hambleden Sports and Social Club to go and take another look. You'll be very pleasantly surprised!

Sunday 25 March 2012

The Stag and Huntsman Latest Photos + Rumours of Delayed Opening

An amazing Hambleden weekend. Seriously warm and the walkers, cyclists, Duke of Edinburgh types and general tourists are out in force. The shop is doing great business in teas and I reckon the Church should bring forward the start of the Sunday teas. A great weekend to be in the valley.

But judging from the state of the Stag and Huntsman building site, the famous pub won't be serving the needs of the crowd any time soon. Rumours are starting to circulate that the late May completion date might be slipping. I'm sure (hope) Hillbrooke Hotels will quash the gossip but when you look at the site, it's clear there's still a lot of work to do.  Judge for yourself here:

There's a growing sense of excitement about the opening so we are all keeping fingers crossed that The Stag will be open in time for the Jubilee celebrations and for what should be a great summer of fun.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Inside The Stag and Huntsman - First Look

Last Tuesday I was granted 'rare' access to the interior of the Stag and Huntsman courtesy of Hillbrooke Hotels and Lisa Hughes from the Culden Faw Estate. This 'unfettered' access, albeit with Lisa leading me quite briskly around the site provided more than a glimpse into what we can expect when The Stag reopens in late May. And I have to say, it looks encouraging.

This photo shows the Public Bar. Key features will remain including the dart board (no 'knock through' into The Snug as feared). However, the popular bench seat and the corner stool by the bar hatch are going to be lost for a doorway into the new seating area destined for the area that was the garden bar. 

The Estate and Hillbrooke are very clear that significant parts of the The Stag will remain authentic to what was there previously. There'll be no poncy floors, many fixtures and fitting will remain, and the fireplaces will still be used. Good news in the Public Bar I would say which is unbeatable on a cold day with the fire in the grate. 

The Snug itself will welcome back the Saturday crew and they will not be disappointed. Bar fittings remain as were, even down to the wrought iron glass rack. And shock of shocks, the old heavy red velvet curtains will make a reappearance. Hopefully having been thoroughly washed clean of decades of nicotine staining and god knows what else!

For anyone who has eaten at The Stag, the thought of what might lie ahead in the culinary department will be of some interest. And so the construction of a new kitchen in the block running along side the car park is significant. Not only do we get a new chef with a new menu working in a new kitchen, but the weekend BBQ will be expanded through the bespoke BBQ 'bay' with the addition of a pizza oven. Smart move I reckon and one that will prove popular. Now what we need to see is who will run the kitchen and will the menu live up to what the Estate insists will consist of locally sourced produce at non-gastro pub prices?

And it's in the dining room where we'll see the biggest difference. This photos shows a view looking down past the wall into where the kitchen once stood. And the builders have made some interesting discoveries including an old bread oven which I am sure will become a feature of the room. I don't think anyone would disagree that the old dining room needed some attention and so the new enlarged version should be a welcoming sight. 

But it's here that I have a question: How is the food going to get from the kitchen in the new block into the dining room? Will it get carried through the public bar or the via the new room into the lounge bar and into the dining room. Talk about food miles! I hope the serving staff are well trained to navigate the obstacles that the trip from kitchen to table will encounter.....

In summary, I would say that Hilbrooke Hotels and The Culden Faw Estate are spending a huge amount of money and I think its fair to say, time, in getting the new Stag and Huntsman looking fit for purpose. My sense is that it will be much like the old Stag but upgraded to deliver on the potential it has always had. Will it possess the same atmosphere? Will it be given over to smart dining and smart clientele? Only time will tell. I think there is a danger of this but with Claire at the helm and with the support of the regulars, I reckon it will quickly become the pub we want it to be. That's certainly the view from The Estate and I believe from Hillbrooke Hotels.