The Mere lake in Knutsford is almost as picturesque as it gets in the north-west. Just a short trip to Manchester, Liverpool and Stoke, The Mere sits at a centre point of a golden triangle of affluence in Cheshire.
Balconied mansions overlook the lake, with names of famed sports stars and personalities linked to each abode.
But they all pale into insignificance when compared with the stunning red-brick building at the centre of the piece – The Mere.
Almost a century old, and once a private golf club owned by Manchester City FC shareholder Stephen Boler, The Mere now has so many more strings to its bow. Yes, it does feel somewhat exclusive, and the cars parked up in the grounds do nothing to dilute this notion, but there is something homely and welcoming about it.
In 2010 planning permission was granted to develop accommodation on the site, and what a job they have done. It is seamless.
Some country houses advertise guest stays using the pictures of the main building when, in reality, they actually stay in a dormitory-type block over the other side of the grounds well away from the picturesque pile.
At The Mere, you are right there, connected to the archways and atriums you came to see. A spa now inhabits the former stables, while the award-winning 18-hole golf course encircles the building, creating a peaceful retreat only upset by rowing water birds and the occasional Bentley engine.
On 31st January 2018, The Mere Golf Resort & Spa was sold to Ejarat Holdings, a Gulf-based investor with existing UK interests, and now things are moving fast.
“We want to create one of the best venues in the north-west,” says Mark Fletcher, executive head chef. “We want to make it The Savoy or Ritz of the north.”
Plans are afoot to redesign a number of areas at the resort, including a significant investment into the F&B side of things.
“We are not talking about a bit of a touch-up of the paint,” says Serge Budak, F&B operations manager. “It’s about creating something unique and The Mere being the pioneer in this sector.”
The catering operation at The Mere is significant, turning over somewhere in the region of £7m. The investment to come is mind-boggling given the facilities that already exist, with multiple, flexible events and banqueting spaces as well as a two-AA-rosette restaurant, a golf Club lounge, spa dining area and lobby.
Fletcher has more than 20 years’ experience creating dishes within Michelin-starred restaurants and leading hotels around the UK, having left Rookery Hall Hotel in Nantwich for The Mere three years ago.
A member of the British Culinary Federation, Fletcher uses his knowledge and experience to judge various cooking competitions including The North West Young Chef of the Year, The Springboard Future Chef and The UK Young Restaurant Team of the Year competition, which is held every year at the Skills for Chefs conference.
An advocate for working closely with local suppliers, the executive chef has the task of designing very different menus for very different F&B concepts under one roof.
“It is what I have always done,” he says. “I enjoy the prestige of it.”
Open 365 days a year, the hotel kitchen is never closed, from the early-morning breakfasts for dawn golfers through to the Night Owl menu offering late night pizzas and curries as in-room treats.
“We will do about 500 dinners on Christmas Day. It is so popular these days. We offer a 4-4-4 ‘choose on the day’ a la carte menu,” says Fletcher. Around 400 of those will be banqueting and another 110 will eat in Browns restaurant.”
There are 17 chefs across the site, and some 70 members of F&B just to deal with the numbers of businesses using the facilities.
EVENTS & BANQUETING
With three refined spaces, The Mere is offering meeting and events facilities in a distinctly more elegant setting. While delegate packages provide everything from break-out areas to flip charts, notepads and pens, the locale and the F&B
really look to impress.
Menus range from posh packed lunches with sandwiches and wraps to daily-changing grazing-inspired dishes and ‘Posh Nosh’ such as beef bourguignon and crispy pork belly to BBQ Bites like Cajun spiced salmon steaks and hickory-glazed pork ribs or even deli-style delights on the Market Stall menu with duck spring rolls, Mexican street food and Goan lamb curry.
The Riley Room is a contained space and perfect for private dinners and intimate events, with catering for up to 60 people. It features a permanent display of 60 unique pieces of artwork from esteemed golfing artist Harold Riley. Meanwhile, The James Braid Suite has a 700-delegate capacity at its largest but with flexible layouts, partitions and separate break-out rooms and dining areas.
“We can go zero to 60 delegates very quickly,” says Fletcher. “If someone drops an event on us, then we can be ready to go.”
A big part of this flexibility is because of the reliable local suppliers but also because of the freezer spaces.
A quick tour around a compact kitchen – it is remarkable the numbers the team can push out from a facility this size – reveals two small freezers.
“So much of what we do is fresh,” adds Fletcher. “Very little comes in frozen and there is very little hold and regen. It is cooked from fresh because we can use local butchers and wholesalers from the Northwest. It is good because it means we have to order well and use the space we have well.”
If that wasn’t enough, Fletcher and his team like to be adventurous in creating new options to attract new diners, such as celebrating World Vegan Day with a menu to suite, or Oktoberfest with Bavarian food and beers and, of course, Ryder Cup specials.
Over in the spa, an intimate but contemporary restaurant serves both the healthy and indulgent sides of breakfast, lunch and dinner, from pastas, grills, sandwiches and healthy salads through to the very popular afternoon tea offer – complete with bespoke tea Mere Grey blend created by Tea From The Manor.Highlights include the spa quinoa salad with red and white quinoa, chickpeas, tomatoes, red onion and sumac; hot smoked salmon nicoise with olives, fine beans, cucumber, boiled egg and cherry tomatoes; or oriental beef salad with suatéed fillet strips, jasmin rice, spring onion and chili jus.
While the Lobby menu also serves a range of sit-down and on-the-go hotel classics, the two main F&B offers at The Mere actually come in the form of The Club Lounge and Browns.
THE CLUB LOUNGE
Overlooking the lake and the 18th hole, The Club Lounge is a 100-cover restaurant bar and lounge with a further 100-seater terrace. Open from 6am to 11pm, the day time tends to see golfers and club members using the light and airy space to tuck into some breakfast and Club lunch classics before heading off to lose golf balls.
A selection of wines – some even picked by the club captain – is complemented by international lagers such as Tuborg and Mahou, local ales, spirits and fresh cocktails.
Live sports are on the television and there are nooks for business workers to have meetings or to get out the laptop in peace.
The menus are all on iPads and switch from breakfast to the evening a la carte.
“Our core menu at lunch offers sandwiches, burgers and salads, because that’s what sells to the golfers,” says Fletcher.
“Later on in the evening, a whole new menu will come up to satisfy the casual evening diners with steaks, snacking and sharing options, Club-style.”
Highlights on the menu include The Mere Club sandwich with smoked bacon, grilled chicken, fried egg, gem lettuce and tomato; the gluten-free battered haddock fillet, served with chips, tartar sauce and Manchester caviar; the Mac N Cheese burger; and the salt and pepper calamari with sweet chilli dipping sauce.
Five chefs are dedicated to the Club Lounge across the day while also preparing food for The 11th – halfway house on the golf course, providing a snack stop.
Soups, sandwiches and wraps are ready to go, while hot pies can be heated and served pronto.
“It’s a little take-away place, but something we are really looking to develop next year,” says Fletcher. “We would be looking to have the equipment to cook items from fresh and to order there, too.”
Golfers can grab a beer or a coffee, depending on how seriously they take their game, with an inviting outside seating area a great excuse to cut your round short.
The jewel in the crown, the two-AA-rosette restaurant is in the heart of the building, providing the atrium with a bubbling atmosphere and even a live pianist.
While a buffet breakfast is served there in the morning, by the evening the deep purple colourings and candles really close in the feel.
Named after Max Brown, who became legendary at The Mere for his magnetic charm and innate passion for exemplary service, his spirit is echoed in the food, service standards and a highly memorable guest experience.
Open to non-residents also, at Browns the food does the talking.
Fletcher’s ‘Nature to plate’ philosophy ensures use of the freshest seasonal ingredients, simply prepared and without too much fuss, while supporting local Cheshire suppliers.
Fruits, nuts and berries, plus the resident bee hives, offer a taste of The Mere’s on-site kitchen gardens.
“If you are looking for quality, contemporary dishes with a high-standard atmosphere, Browns is for you,” says Budak. “We want to offer a friendly service, creating an atmosphere where your server will bring their personality out.
“Every customer is different and you need to judge it, but we know customers like that experience now. Food-wise, we use good, local products to create a dish that you can get all the flavours and see exactly what you are getting.”
There is an extensive wine list featuring New World and classic destinations to be paired with dishes including Barbary duck breast with celeriac purée, caramelised apple, fennel praline, lemongrass and ginger jus; or chalk stream trout with crushed Jersey Royals, summer greens, shellfish and cider cream; steak tartare with red pepper ketchup, griddled sour dough and quail egg mayonnaise; or grilled native lobster with choron sauce.
Dessert is another experience not to forget. The Mere’s head pastry chef Tomas Krasnan took home the Gold Medal at the Dessert of The Year Competition, which took place in London’s Hotelympia show earlier in 2018.
Both the Earl Grey and raspberry mille-feuille with iced earl grey mousseline, sesame nougatine, raspberry mousse and the lemon posset with caramelised orange, lemon sorbet, lemon curd, snow and lemon peel, garnished with a poppy seed tuile give you a flavour of what is available.
The hotel runs at 88% occupancy, and both Fletcher and Budak are keen to both convert residents into diners and create a destination restaurant in Browns for non-residents.
“The residents to diners ratio is very important, and we do offer dinner, bed and breakfast packages,” says Budak. “But, also what we try to do is to create a restaurant that is a destination.
“So, even if people are not staying in the hotel, they are coming to dine in Browns. We are a two-rosette restaurant and the standard of service and food shows that. We just need to make sure that the people around this area are aware of this, too.”
BROWNS SAMPLE DISHES
Grilled Native Lobster
Grilled half lobster, choron sauce
Red pepper ketchup, griddled sour dough, quail egg mayonnaise
Devonshire Crab Salad
Chilled cucumber, white radish, caviar
Crisp egg, corn crumb, asparagus soldiers, truffle dressing
Rump of Lamb
Navarin of summer vegetables, parsley and mint jus
Barbary Duck Breast
Celeriac purée, caramelised apple, fennel praline, lemongrass and ginger jus
Wild Mushroom “Orzotto”
Rocket, truffle, parmesan
Chalk Stream Trout
Crushed Jersey Royals, summer greens, shellfish and cider cream