Corporate hotels may seem bland and boring on the outside, but they offer clean, functional and often very organised spaces for business people to go about their business when travelling or visiting HQ, replete with conference facilities.
And so it is with the Stanton House Hotel in Stanton Fitzwarren, a stone manor house owned by the Honda car manufacturing company of Japan, with three AA stars and located within minutes of the M4, north of Swindon. It is institutional in feel, but there are cosy touches here and there: comfortable chairs looking out on pretty gardens, lots of geraniums in pots at the entrance, bright prints of flowers on the walls and dainty, glazed ceramics.
From the moment you enter its wooden floored, minimally furnished and plainly decorated interior you will notice the Japanese references, from the signs, to the crackle pottery, the art work and the glass fronted cabinets filled with Japanese knick knacks. The interior is neither offensive to British guests nor alienating to its Japanese masters: simplicity and cleanliness rules and function rules over frivolity.
So, if you love genuine Japanese food, the simple food of the busy workers, then the Rosemary Restaurant is definitely for you. If, on the other hand, you prefer a more expensive weekend, night-time Japanese experience, then the Mt. Fuji upstairs restaurant should be your destination. There you will sit on small benches in the proper Japanese style, waited on hand and foot, with large Bento Box selections, or you can try Shabu Shabu, where you cook your own meat at your table. Do not worry if you do not understand what you are ordering, there are photographs of everything, translations in English and the staff are extremely eager to please.
When we arrived at the Rosemary Restaurant most of the customers were sitting outside on a terrace, overlooking the beautiful parkland and lake that surround the hotel. The restaurant is a vast space, so if you are hankering for a smaller, more intimate dining room, make sure you head for Mount Fuji instead. You can order ice cold house sake for just £5 for 250 ml. and on a hot day it is just the ticket. It comes in a small carafe embedded in enough ice to sink the Titanic, and the waitress brings you a whole tray of small vintage glasses so you can take your pick which one you like best.
Our Shokadou Bento box with sashimi, teriyaki salmon, vegetable croquette and stir fried beef served with rice, miso soup and pickles was demolished in minutes, as was the tempura of prawn and vegetables with a sweet soya sauce served on miso soup with pickles. This food is exemplary in its ability to excite the senses, warm the soul and fill the belly all at the same time. Japanese Honda management, dressed in suits, ties, black shoes and name badges dine next to hotel residents, dressed in shorts and tee-shirts. The style is very informal, almost cafeteria like in many ways.
The service is unbelievably fast, efficient and gracious. The menus are short and formulaic, so there is little for the chefs to panic over: Teriyaki chicken; buta kimuchi teishoku (sliced pork stir fried with spicy sauce); raw fish with ginger; Japanese pork curry; Chinese, Udon or Soba noodles with a variety of vegetables or prawns.
For an insight into Japanese desserts, do order the Yukimi anmitsu ice cream (a Japanese fruit salad, red azuki beans and ice creams) and the Japanese pancakes filled with red azuki beans. The fruit salad consists of transparent fruit flavoured gel cubes that are floating alongside peach slices. The beans are sweet, soft and purple-black and they have been pureed to sandwich together two sponge-like cake rounds.
There is also Japanese food shop on the ground floor, open on Sundays, for the expatriate community of workers who depend on its supplies from back home. There is no need to feel homesick here: the neatly manicured landscape, the Zen like peace and the polite graciousness of the staff would make anyone from the land of the rising sun feel as if they had never left home.
We enjoyed our lunch so much we are most definitely returning for round two at Mount Fuji. The instructions say that you have to take your shoes off in order to wear slippers on the wooden floor: do not wear odd socks!
Stanton House Hotel
Swindon SN6 7SD
Telephone: 0870 084 1388