Muddy stays: The Assembly House, Norwich
Like a lot of buildings in Norwich, The Assembly House – a Grade I-listed Georgian manor built in 1754 and positioned opposite the all-glass, modern Forum building – doesn’t look like it belongs in the city centre. With its long, tree-lined driveway; sprouting fountain; and immaculate lawn, it could be picked up and dropped in the countryside without looking a jot out of place.
An art gallery, restaurant, wedding venue, hotel and cookery school (Richard Hughes Cookery School) in one, The Assembly House may attract a whole host of different clientele but each one comes in search of the same thing: a slice of luxury. And they won’t be disappointed for, while the exterior couldn’t be more British, the inside wouldn’t look out of place in Vienna – before I’d even checked in, I’d lost count of the number of ornante chandeliers, grand pianos or expensive artwork on practically every ceiling, floor or wall (and that’s without mentioning the original coving, wood floors or Tiffany lamps).
The newly-decorated bedrooms are located in a separate house next door, with its own walkway accessed via an iron gate; unlock the black door reminiscent of a London property and enter a lavish, yet homely, hallway with guestbook, modern artwork and wooden banister. It’s a beautiful March day on my visit, and a cloudless blue sky provides the perfect backdrop for several white blossom trees.
My room, number 7 (of 11), is the height of decadence, with archways, sash windows and an original fireplace (sadly not functioning). A four-poster bed grandly sits in the middle of the room and is surrounded by antique pieces – a chest of drawers here, a lovely desk there – while the colour scheme is pale blue and mustard yellow. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
If the room had a name, mine would be Butterfly – framed images of real butterflies are everywhere, alongside other accents – some beautiful (think lovely vases, colourful paintings, personalised tableware); others downright curious (what do you make of the dog below? There are two of them either side of the fireplace).
And above? A wonderful ceiling light, of course – this one more brass than glass, but equally gorgeous.
When it comes to refreshments, there’s a fridge with sparkling and still water, and a little bottle of milk – no booze though (is this a thing with hotels these days, I wonder?) – plus a fancy Nespresso machine with plenty of pods and little bags of biscuits/fudge.
There’s both a sloping roll top and a stand-alone shower in the large bathroom – which has grey marble floors and walls – alongside some lovely toiletries and tea light candles (I can’t remember the last time I saw candles in a hotel bathroom, particularly next to a box of matches). After a day of shopping, I light the candles, pour a glass of wine and sink into a bubble bath – with my four-year-old enjoying a sleepover with a pal, this is the height of indulgence.
But first: afternoon tea, an Assembly House speciality that is being eaten in droves in the main hall on my arrival (my visit coincides with Mother’s Day). I am too busy staring at the three yummy tiers to hear all the descriptions, but do remember that there’s a crust-less egg and cress sandwich on the bottom tier; a salmon cone on the middle layer; and chocolate and orange layer cake, strawberry cheesecake and – get this – a Gin & Tonic sponge on the top. There is also a separate plate with two warm scones – one cheese, one fruit – pots of jam, clotted cream and a teapot filled with English Breakfast.
The evening passes by with a pleasant trio of bath/wine/movie before the comfy four-poster and massive black out curtains afford a dream-free sleep.
When the phone in the room rings shrilly, I have absolutely no idea where I am, but reality slowly kicks in: I’m reviewing a hotel, I asked for an alarm call (my phone is broken) and I have to go to work.
Not before breakfast though – the menu at The Assembly House more comprehensive than most, including kippers, full English, veggie version of full English, pancakes, waffles, cakes (!), Eggs Benedict and Huevos Rancheros to name but a few options. Guests can also avail themselves of a buffet of juices, cereals, pastries and fresh fruit before ordering their cooked breakfast. A word of warning: don’t do as I did and try pouring juice while admiring the ceiling – messy!
It may be Monday morning but the only blues I’m noticing after my lovely stay is the blue sky on another beautiful March day.
The Assembly House, Theatre Street, Norwich, Norfolk, NR2 1RQ. Tel: 01603 6264002. assemblyhousenorwich.co.uk