The Cool Hotel Guide – The Balmoral Hotel, Harrogate

The Times - 29th January 2011

Room 6.5 | Service 7 | Food 8 | Value 9 | Score 7.63 out of 10

The cheap plastic signs advertising cut-price meals on the wall of “Harrogate’s boutique hotel” as the Balmoral calls itself, didn’t seem particularly chi-chi or chic to us. They looked as though they belonged outside a big high street chain pub, not somewhere with a website that promises “easygoing luxury and a confident contemporary style”. We drove round the imposing grey-stone Victorian buildings (not far from Harrogate’s labyrinthine centre), squeezed into a tiny space in the cramped car park, and carried our bags past wheelie bins to the entrance, not sure what to expect.

Inside, we found that appearances can be deceptive. In the reception, there were black leather sofas exposed wooden floors, red flowers in vases, coffee tables with glossy magazines and mastermind-style chairs, coloured orange. Jazz playing quietly. On one side, a snazzy bar with chrome beer taps led to the white tablecloths and caramel banquettes of the sophisticated-looking grille restaurant.

Couples sat in corners drinking glasses of afternoon wine, having a grand old time. A women wearing leather trousers and high heels shrieked with laughter while her companion, an ex-footballer or rugby player perhaps, with spiky hair and designer trainers, topped up champagne. Efficient waiters scooted to and fro as the music switched to a funky number. The Balmoral, we could quickly tell, is a place to go to let your hair down.

Our double room, one of 23 at the hotel, was on the first floor. It was dimly lit, with burgundy carpets, stripy gold and silver wallpaper, a ruby-red ottoman and a central double bed. The feeling was of an illicit hideaway: comfortable and swish, if not super-stylish. It was also warm and cosy on a freezing day in North Yorkshire, a perfect bolt hole to slip back to after a walk in the nearby Yorkshire Dales National Park.

We went to see the beautiful snow-covered dales and checked out Bettys famous tea rooms on Parliament Street, round the corner from the hotel when we got back. Then joined the couples in the jazzy lounge before a grille dinner. Glasses of Sauvignon blanc were swiftly delivered and soon we were tucking into a fine meal of pressing of ham and golden peas with celeriac and pickled roots (elegantly presented, with sharp flavours), followed by a delicious and substantial winter meal of beef wellington with potato puree and truffles. The two courses came to £19, which seemed extremely reasonable. No wonder the Balmoral boasts about its prices outside.

Gripes in the room included gaps in the curtains, the dim lighting and a slightly tough mattress. But all things considered, the Balmoral is great fun and decent value. It gained its name after being owned by one of the Queen’s former chefs. Now it’s in new hands … a bargain boutique by the Yorkshire Dales.