Patricia and Dennis Cleveland-Peck investigate this iconic hotel and the surrounding attractions
Brooklands, Britain’s first international motor racing circuit which operated from 1907 until 1939, was synonymous with speed, something which is reflected throughout the eponymous modernist hotel which was built in 2010 on the site of the finishing straight of the track. This sleek building, according to Mike Harris, director of CJCT Architects, was built ‘to echo the heyday of the Brooklands circuit’ yet it is in no way an imitation of a 20s or 30s building but instead very much a building of today – imagine a young woman dressed for a party in an up-to-date take on art deco elegance.
As we entered we were immediately impressed by Charley Whinney’s huge sculpture suspended high in the lobby atrium. The course of the track is mapped out in plaster on the ceiling, beneath which hangs this massive swirling construction made from more than 100m of steam-bent oak which twists and leaps to illustrate the route of the racing cars. Speed is further evokes throughout the building with trophies, propellers, flags and pictures of race horses in the rooms and public areas.
We were delighted by our suite on the 4th floor. Decorated in tones of silver greys and black with touches of scarlet provided by such items as heavy glass vases, it was impeccably furnished with glass tables and comfortable leather sofas and chairs, all of excellent quality as were the lamps and clock. It was flooded with light from wall-to-ceiling sliding glass doors which opened onto a wide balcony which afforded superb views of the Mercedes-Benz test track. Our suite was magnificent but we asked to see one of the standard rooms and can vouch that they, while obviously smaller than the suites, are furnished and fitted with items of the same quality and are in fact bigger than those in many hotels.
After spending some time watching the cars speeding, sliding and skidding on this track we decided to explore some of the nearby attractions. The hotel is situated amongst a group of modern buildings the foremost of which is Mercedes-Benz World. This huge edifice consists of three floors of displays, attractions and interactive exhibits – and more Mercedes-Benz cars than you’d believe possible. A mecca for anyone interested in motoring, it particularly draws people for its series of driving experiences. These begin young with the Little Learners in which 3 – 5 year-olds can enjoy the fun of driving miniature battery powered Mercedes round a specially designed indoor circuit. Then, accompanied by a driving specialist, there are sessions for under-17s, for 4 x 4 driving and a for comprehensive range of track driving experiences. Alternatively you can just relax in the café…
We, however, after a quick drink and snack in our hotel’s bar with its dramatic canopy of swathed leather and friendly staff, were keen to visit the other nearby attraction for which the area is famous, Brooklands Museum. This however, is not housed in a svelte modern building but rather consists of a sprawling spread of hangars and outbuildings which cover the 35-acre site and house its large collections of old cars, aircraft and buses.
It is also the historical centre of the Brooklands story, for it was here that the first racing circuit was created by local landowner Hugh Locke King in 1907. He had attended motor races held on the public roads abroad – in England however a maximum of only 20 mph was allowed on the roads because of the horse lobby. Thus Locke King saw the need for a somewhere site-specific for racing. Two thousand workers laboured to create the banked track – within which was an airfield. Almost every important character and company in motoring and aircraft from Malcolm Campbell to Barnes Wallis and from the Wellington Bomber to Concorde has been connected with Brooklands. Indeed now one of the main draws is the simulated Concorde Experience but with collections of buses, motor cycles and planes plus many special events there is plenty to ensure a great day out for every member of the family.
We however were happy to stroll back to our hotel. We were stuck once again by the atmosphere, for although visually stunning , this is a very friendly, unstuffy hotel which obviously appeals to a wide ranging clientèle. This was endorsed when we made our way to dine in the stylish 1907 Restaurant. At eight o’clock it was already quite full and buzzing with the sound of people enjoying themselves; lots of young well-turned out couples, some probably honeymooners, quite a few representatives of ethnic minorities, including families, several all girl groups (the spa attracts a good number) and plenty of more mature diners.
The menu, we read, was predominantly British style, “created with careful attention to delivering simple honest food with the best sourced local and seasonal produce.” We were pleased to see that it did not contain an excessive number of dishes; 5 starters, with another 5 which could double as mains, 5 mains, 5 grill dishes – steaks from a local Guildford, Surrey Farm – and 8 ‘Sweet Endings.” .The wine list on the other hand was quite comprehensive and we chose a Sauvignon Blanc to drink throughout our meal
For a starter Patricia chose Beetroot Cured Salmon which came with crunchy slivers of pickled golden beetroot and horseradish mascarpone and was refreshing and flavourful. Dennis opted for what sounded the odd combination of Pan Fried Scallops and Glazed Pork Belly with purée of cauliflower and raisins. In fact he found this dish a pleasant contrast of texture and taste. For a main course Patricia chose Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto (risotto always being a good choice for anyone gluten intolerant – although here solicitous staff explained all alternatives). The risotto was of a good consistency and contained chestnut mushrooms as well as the squash, it came topped with lovely crunchy hazelnuts and a parmesan crisp –this was enjoyable but Patricia would have preferred a little more parmesan in the risotto which she found a touch bland. Dennis chose Roast Sea Bass Fillet with creamed leek and mash – and had no complaints. Finally Dennis rounded off this meal with a Dark Chocolate Mousse with lime sorbet decorated with s swirly twist of chocolate – perfection! Patricia, though, only had room for a fruit sorbet, which was delicious.
So up to our lovely suite to bed. Here we did experience a slight blip – we went to run a bath but the plug refused to function – we called housekeeping and they sent someone up but other than suggesting that the bather pushed it down with his heel while bathing (!) he could not help us. It was not a problem as the bathroom contained a good power shower but it was something that should have been checked in a suite of this calibre (and price). The bed however was blissfully comfortable and the light defying curtains effective – essential with such big windows and we slept well.
Speed being the essence of Brooklands all too soon it was morning and time to try the breakfast. The buffet contained both the continental and the cooked items – of which there was a plentiful choice. The current trend in top hotels however, is against laying out food on hotplates, your cooked food or ‘full English’ requirements are noted down by the waiter and it is suggested that you visit the buffet for juice, yoghurt etc while they are being cooked to order. This does ensure that your breakfast arrives hot. Here the fried eggs were, shall we say, not at their best and the mushrooms were flabby and cold – which is pity when good produce is involved. Coffee on the other hand, something on which much grander hotels so often let themselves down, was excellent as were the fruit and the gluten free bread and rolls.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Brooklands Hotel and have already recommended it to several people. It is has a unique theme and a very special atmosphere and is a perfect base for anyone interested in the history of motoring or aviation or who wants to try a whizz of speed round the test track – and pretty good too for those of us who just prefer good food and a session in the spa…
Brooklands Hotel is located at Brooklands Drive, Weybridge, Surrey, KT13 0SL, on the site of the historic Brooklands race track. Room rates start from £149 per room, per night, including breakfast. Brooklands Hotel is home to many excellent facilities, including the AA Rosette-winning ‘1907 Restaurant Bar & Grill’, luxurious ‘BSpa’ and extensive spaces for celebrations, meetings and events. www.brooklandshotelsurrey.com / 01932 335700
Mercedes-Benz World www.mercedes-benzworld.co.uk / 0307 400 4000
Brooklands Museum www.brooklandsmuseum.com / 01932 857381