Clifton House B&B, Bristol

Clifton House is, according to the strap line on its business card, a:

“Four star boutique Bed and Breakfast”

Use of the soubriquet “boutique” in relation to hotels and, in this case a B&B, has puzzled me, since I always thought of it in terms of small niche clothes shops.  How silly!  The definition explains all:

boutique  buːˈtiːk/  noun

  1. a small shop selling fashionable clothes or accessories.
  2. a business serving a sophisticated or specialised clientele.

So in this case a business, often a small or independent business, serving a sophisticated or specialised clientele.  I’m not sure I count as a specialised client, though I’d be pleased to think of myself as having at least a whiff of sophistication.  Who wouldn’t?

Worth also saying that the common differentiator between a B&B and a hotel is usually that it is the personal home of the proprietor, which I feel sure is true of Clifton House – not that I asked.  But let’s start with location location location, courtesy of the Clifton House website:

Bristol is a vibrant cosmopolitan city offering theatre, designer shops, and a multitude of cafes, restaurants and bars, at the centre of which is Clifton, an affluent and beautiful area hosting some of the city’s finest architecture.

And the property?

Clifton House is a Victorian villa, recently refurbished to modernised and updated to a standard perfect to suit all of our visitors’ needs. Whether you are on business visiting the city, or on a family holiday looking for somewhere convenient and friendly to stay, we offer beautifully decorated, luxurious rooms at a range of prices.

 But what facilities does it offer, I hear you ask?

We have a choice of beautifully decorated, luxurious and comfortable single, double, triple or family rooms, all rooms provided with tea and coffee facilities, flat screen televisions and en-suite bathrooms elegantly decorated to compliment each room’s luxurious style.  All of our rooms are supplied with free wireless (WiFi) internet service, great for getting your emails when on a business trip.

So not hard to see why I was attracted to a venue entirely in keeping with Millward standards for a visit to my daughter, a student at Bristol University and a resident of Clifton in a shared student house.

First impressions of the neighbourhood were impressive: there are many such genteel Victorian villas.  Thankfully, there is a good sized car park at CH, handy since Bristol council employs malevolent parking wardens by the thousand.  On the Saturday night CH was full, as was the car park; this left me with little choice but to park hard against a wall, and in the course of a strained exit from the car inadvertently opening all the windows.  Luckily, this being a safe area, neither my car nor its contents vanished overnight, but that is not a mistake I intend to make again.

But back to the Victorian villa, for it impresses with magnificent proportions throughout.  At one time the building constituted two very grand dwellings, now converted to one sizeable B&B, arguably more akin to a fine hotel but without the shabby chic.  The ceilings are high, the front-facing rooms lit through magnificently constructed bay windows.  Seldom does one see such poise or elegance in a modern building.  Truly, it lifts the spirits.

In such a splendid building, a refurbishment might be the crowning glory or a conversion from hell.  There are many of the latter to be found, so I find it hugely encouraging that the owners of CH have chosen to build around the strengths of tall, light rooms and avoid the temptation to overcrowd them with tricksy design gimmicks.

For the most part, the walls are clean and white, the fabrics tasteful and fine quality, the carpets thick and lush.  There was colour in the “superior double” room – a big splash of purple on the retaining wall in front of the deep, wide and thankfully soft and comfy bed that gave a pretty good night’s sleep.  I can appreciate the need for a feature on said wall, though the mirror probably serves a greater purpose in reflecting light than being usable for its intended purpose.  The wall light switches by the bed did not work, but the bedside lights came with their own switches anyway.

While I did not traverse the room applying a wet finger to all surfaces, it certainly gave every impression of being immaculately clean and well-presented, albeit not quite symmetrically presented in the Victorian vogue.  A leather sofa and coffee table near the bay window made for a comfortable seating area,  and a good quality TV adorned the far wall to one side.  Tea and coffee making facilities came on a small cabinet, thankfully with decent biscuits though as a coffee connoisseur I’d have appreciated a better brew than box standard Nescafé.

The superior came with its own dressing room and wardrobe, and an impressively well-fitted shower room.  I’d have liked a bath but you can’t have everything.  Once I’d worked out the shower, thus avoiding the two risks of a stream of icy water or scalding hot liquid steam, it did a splendid job.  The provision of decent shampoo, soap and shower gel was also welcome.

Ah, but once you’ve passed the cleanliness and sleep test, the mark of a 4-star B&B has to be the breakfast.  For two mornings this was taken in the ground floor dining room, though on the busy Sunday I found myself shunted down to the basement dining area, where tables were rather closer together.

The main breakfast room room is another light and pleasant area, dominated by a portrait of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, standing proud in a large top hat before his miraculous construction, the Clifton suspension bridge, a cigar typically clamped in his mouth. An appropriate local symbol, hopefully mirrored by local ingredients.  The DIY section included coffee (filtered and a tad too weak), a variety of teas, fruits, yogurts and cereals, plus croissants and cheeses.

The cooked alternatives did extend through the inclusion of a special (muffin with scrambled egg and parma ham, though a few more items not he menu would have been welcome.)   For the most part, CH’s cooked offerings centre on variants of the good old-fashioned Full English with a choice of fried, poached or scrambled eggs, plus white or granary toast.  I didn’t try the scrambled, but having seen it on other plates was not tempted – it looked dry and overcooked compared to the soft and creamy scrambles I would expect of the best.

Bacon too had been kept too long on one occasion, resulting in a hard and dry texture – all the more reason to use streaky rather than back bacon, maybe?  The sausages were described as “honey roast” and after a cautious introduction scored a minor hit with me – and maybe by the next time I stay a few more variants of the British banger might have been sourced from the local butcher?

All told, the breakfasts were perfectly decent – maybe not quite as high as the standard to which CH aspires, and certainly not as perfect as the gourmet breakfasts I would aim to serve, were I running a boutique B&B, but still a lot better than many.  Perhaps most impressive was the excellent service in the form of purple t-shirted waitresses, willing and able to attend to every need.

So it was by Monday I paid the bill, certainly higher than the average B&B but in keeping with the quality offered.  No doubt in my mind that good money and no little energy has been spent bringing this residence up to the standards to justify the “boutique” monicker, to which it lives up.

A few slippages along the way might be tolerated, though I have no doubt the owners of CH are, like me, true perfectionists, the sort of people who take very seriously any justified critique and who strive for zero defects, knowing as the negatives will get bigger word of mouth than the 99% of things done superlatively well.  Have no fear – I am happy to acknowledge CH does a fine job, and I would be delighted to stay again, and repeat business is, after all, what it is about.  My daughter was certainly impressed on her brief visit!

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