Why book The Alice Hawthorn?
Like something out of an English-countryside sitcom, The Alice Hawthorn is the sweetest pub, where staff smiles brighten your day and jolly locals could talk for hours on end, all surrounded by green, bucolic landscape, swooshing rivers and grazing cows. Foodies travel from around the UK for the elevated pub food and even better service – and now for the rooms, too.
Hotel address: The Green, Nun Monkton, York YO26 8EW
Phone number: +44 1423 330 303
Price from: Pub rooms from £120 a night, garden rooms from £140
The back story
According to local legend, a young girl once helped deliver a foal in a nearby field, and the grateful owner named the horse after her. The mare went on to become one of the most famous racehorses of its time – and to win the Doncaster Derby. The pub was named after both of them, as an ode to generosity and good fortune. Two and a half centuries later, The Alice’s luck doesn’t seem to have run its course yet (if you can call Claire and John Tophams’ no-stone-left-unturned business plan and hospitality panache ‘luck’).
At 250 years old, The Alice Hawthorn could have happily carried on with its outstanding foodie reputation, historic prestige and good-time guarantee that have combined to have so many Brits travelling cross country. But in 2017, new owners the Tophams took a risky decision to give the old pub a face lift – and it paid off. Now, travellers round off a day working through The Alice’s food menu by stumbling into one of the 12 newly built rooms. Despite the revamp, the village-pub feel is as strong as ever. In the bar area, rustic wooden tables and exposed brickwork chime with old newspaper clippings and yesteryear village photographs to honour The Alice’s heritage. Great yawning fireplaces fronted by thick woven rugs are where locals huddle come evening; their dogs lying belly down, legs splayed on the cool flagstone floors. The Alice has maintained its old-time allure with a revitalised energy and revived flair.
While The Alice was formerly a pub with no sleeping arrangements, four rooms have been added in the main building. Rooms now have soothing creamy palettes, low-hanging wooden beams, bathtubs that could comfortably fit a family of four, and views of grazing cows on the village green (one of the only working greens left in the country, as each member of staff will proudly remind you). Out the back, eight also-new garden rooms have a more modern design, with chalet-themed interiors of wooden-slatted walls, hygge décor and sliding doors leading to balconies overlooking the courtyard.
Food and drink
The Alice is known for its elevated pub grub, and John Topham’s menu lives up to the hype. Traditional dishes are given a Topham twist: giant king scallops are baked in their shells, drizzled with garlic and lemon butter and topped with melted Gruyère and Cheddar, and prawns are coated in a crispy batter and served with a peppy wasabi mayo. Staff do a good job of recommending dishes, tempting hesitant diners towards new options. On our visit, the deconstructed tiramisu included a layer of icy espresso granita topped with a heavenly balloon of coffee-flavoured cream, leaving us humbled, deeply satisfied and resolved tiramisu coverts.
A 20-minute train ride outside of York, the charming village of Nun Monkton could have been plucked straight out of a children’s fable. Vine-covered cottages and ancient churches overlook the village green, and the hanging branches of giant willow trees lazily trail the duck pond’s waters. Nearby, a pontoon juts out into a quiet knuckle of the River Ouse, where children dive into the water and canoers smile and wave as they float by.
Service is impeccable; each member of the team is delightfully friendly and smiley – Nicole, Enzo and Nick are on hand to advise on the best riverside walks, bottles of wine and dishes on the menu.
The building is low energy and has the highest efficiency EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) rating. The Alice is well insulated (important during winter months in Yorkshire) via a ground-source heat pump that provides heating and hot water. There is a sustainable drainage system and a natural-ventilation strategy, plus food for the restaurant is sourced locally. There could be a stronger eco focus at The Alice, but the pub has only recently opened in its latest iteration, so hopefully a more green ethos will develop over time.
Accessibility for those with mobility impairments
The restaurant and courtyard are wheelchair accessible, and there is a garden room specially designed to accommodate wheelchair users who are staying over.
Anything left to mention?
Make sure to explore the surrounding countryside; we only ventured along the river, but there are plenty of lengthier hikes to do. The Alice has a ‘Little Book of Walks’ available for guests, with lists of all the strolls nearby, including information on their length, how best to time them, stop-off points and aspects of historical interest.
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