Published 28 August 1994 Style Magazine 61st article
Clean forgotten: the Hausers, above, starred in a TV soap ad (Arnold Crust)
Peter and Nita Hauser star in an Ariel TV ad at their hotel, Stock Hill House, in Dorset. A lot of tablecloths fly about, gleaming and at the end they hold hands romantically. I asked Nita what they got for it.
"Nothing," she said. "Nothing?!" I asked incredulously as I stood near some enormous, carved 19th-century Indian horses in the hall. "What did you say when they suggested the advert?" I said. "Why not?" replied Nita.
"You should've said, 'How much?' " I responded. They were offered a year's free supply of Ariel (which hasn't turned up yet) and a free liquidiser which also hasn't arrived. If a TV commercial company knocks on your door, ask at least £20,000 and creep down to £10,000 if you have to!
It was not the TV ad which brought me to Stock Hill House. Vanessa wanted a weekend in the country, so I picked it at random from the Ronay Guide because it was in an area I didn't know. The guide said: "Arrive in time for afternoon tea which is splendid." I did and it wasn't. The tablecloths may have been spotless, but my spoon was all sticky. I put my finger in the teacup (I'm very practical in these things) before the milk went in, ran it up and down the spoon and cleaned it with my paper napkin. The actual tea was excellent, but all we got with it was a swiss roll, a chocolate cake and an apricot tart, and they were unexceptional.
The accommodation was a bit off, too. I'd asked for a suite; in future I must remember to ask for a view, suite or not. We got a strangely furnished, comfortable suite, a bit away from the Victorian house, with tiny windows and outside views of asphalt yards and cars. It was like living in a car park. Ronay describes this as "the sumptuous Robin's Nest suite". It had chintz curtains one side and striped the other, one of the hundreds of animalia, a Chinese dog, on the floor and a very well-stocked bathroom.
The service at Stock Hill is unbeatable. We asked for an iron and Vanessa's dress was ironed for her in five minutes. I asked for a razor and three came over in seconds. The Hausers he from Austria, she from Walthamstow are as nice a couple as you could meet. They certainly care.
Thankfully, the food at dinner perked up no end. The canapes were beautifully done, my mango and chicken balontine starter was three large pieces of chicken with mango in the middle, all right but too much. The cream of lovage and sweetwater crayfish soup was historic. We'd seen the crayfish moving in a bucket a short time before. The main course of Aga-roasted duckling breast in cassis and blackcurrants was good, far better than Kensington Place, equal to Le Caprice, but this sliced duck nonsense is a bit suspect, I always think. The vegetables, all home-grown, were tip-top. The next morning Peter showed me round the herb and vegetable garden (not at its best this year through lack of rain), and then he called out and dozens of his chickens jumped on to perches to cluck back! So there's always fresh eggs.
The following day lunch offered supreme of chicken filled with sweetwater crayfish. I don't know why, but that seemed odd to me.
The food in general is charmingly robust.
The place is typical of the massively over-decorated style that pervades English, privately owned, small hotels. According to your taste it's either delightfully eccentric or totally bizarre. The Hausers are avid collectors and the place is awash with carved animals, bronzes, an absolute mishmash of different period and copy tables, furniture and mirrors, all interesting, but certainly not "antiques of the highest standard" as the Ronay says. But then Ronay is as erratic a book as you can get.
It was a very pleasant stay and, yes, I can recommend Stock Hill House. The most magical moments were after dinner. I suddenly heard the sound of a zither. An Austrian record, I thought. But no, there in the lobby Peter was plucking expertly at a 100-year-old zither while two Japanese children watched enchanted.
At my request he played The Third Man theme, my favourite film and my favourite film music. Exceptionally well performed too. Now, there's not many hotels where you get that!