Sunday 21 September 2008

Ashridge Business School, near Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

A leading business school and conference centre on the site of a medieval monastery, Ashridge now resembles a fortified stately home. As you come up the drive, you might spot off-duty executives jogging around the parkland or playing football, tennis or pitch and put golf in the extensive grounds. Inside the main building, the ancient hallway, now serving as a reception area, and the dining rooms with their high-ceilings, are well-preserved and evoke a real sense of history. But the nearby bar, which looks like it belongs in an airport lounge, is disappointingly characterless and out-of-place.

Small and unsatisfying
Served in the distinguished dining rooms, the evening meal menus strike a suitably conservative note. The scallops, served on a cauliflower puree, are fresh, but a little bland. The roast lamb with truffle gratin potatoes, asparagus, pea shoots and minted hollandaise also needs more flavour. What's more, the portions can be small and unsatisfying. For desert, the lemon tart has some zing, but the slices are meagre. The wine list is also rather limited, with most bottles costing between ten and twenty quid.

Serious thinking
There is a big contrast between the venerable, almost ostentatious, mansion and the outlying modern conference centres, which were clearly built on a budget and feel like they belong in a mid-range hotel. Still, the bedrooms are comfortable and well-equipped with ironing boards, flat-screen TVs, coffee-making facilities and other creature comforts. If you miss the brief window for breakfast in the main house, you can get good bacon butties brought to your meeting room and the machine coffee is respectable. Although the Ashridge site is blanketed with paid-for Wi-Fi access, courtesy of T-Mobile, most of the buildings lack mobile coverage. That helps make Ashridge a good place to escape the interruptions of everyday working life and do some serious thinking. 7/10