Two days and a night at Birch – Review
Just 30 minutes north of London, lies a place which on the outset looks very much like a country hotel. It has all the familiar ingredients of a hotel, a car park, a grand building set in tree lined grounds, reception staff, rooms to sleep in and places to eat and drink. Birch, however, offers something quite different. Breaking down the boundaries of what a hotel should be, this is an establishment with creativity and community at its heart, a place to rest, work, create, explore and with every door open to guests, explore is what we did.
So what’s it all about?
Created by former managing director of Ace Hotel, Birch is an eclectic collection of co-working areas, eateries, creative workshops, wellness rooms, allotments, an on-site cinema lined with deck-chairs and of course stylish bedrooms.
Upon arrival we are given the grand tour by our placemaker, these are the staff who work at Birch and have an “ask us anything and we’ll make it happen” type approach. This isn’t essentially any different to other hotels but we still appreciate the friendly and approachable branding. We are lead through a labyrinth of grand modern victorian halls, juxtaposed with mid-century furniture and quirky artwork such as the giant (and quite literal) “love bomb” in the foyer. The overall vibe is eclectic and artsy yet somehow earthy at the same time and throughout our tour, you can’t help but get the impression that everything is geared up for a sense of community and a place for people to co-exist.
Waiting for our bedroom to be ready, our first solo exploration leads us into the Hub. Normally the coworking wing of Birch, the space is a collection of desks with charging points, breakout areas and private meeting rooms. Today however, the rooms are filled with makers and creators selling their wares at the first ever Birch Christmas market. From artisan candles to prints and pottery, the market was brimming with so much creativity, we ended up buying a couple of gifts… for ourselves! We also found out that some of the creators we met at the stalls, host workshops at Birch throughout the week.
The Hub is also equipped with the essential coffee shop, selling lunchtime salads, sandwiches, and pastries and the famous sourdough made right here at Birch.
Having explored the Christmas market and having our fill of coffee, our room was ready. The rooms are comfortable and stylish, with a ginormous bed and pieces of art that double up as hat stands and spare change trays. There are a few things missing that you might expect in a hotel such as a TV, kettle and mini bar. The absence of these things is actually by design with the idea being to spend less time in your room and more time experiencing the surrounding spaces.
It seems that every corner you turn at Birch there is a place to feed or water yourself. In keeping with their aim to disrupt what a hotel should be, you will find at least one place open throughout the day meaning you shouldn’t be restricted to eating when the hotel says you can eat.
Open from 7am to 10pm, Valeries is the place to head for a bite at any time of day. Have DIY dinner at the BBQ pits, fine dining at the Zebra Riding Club, classic cocktails and cosy snacks at the outdoor tipi, grab a drink at Links Bar or a light lunch at the aforementioned Store in the Hub. We indulged in a 3 course brunch at the Zebra Riding Club, located in an old stables. It’s a beautifully designed space with an open kitchen, green and marble bar, and earthy and natural surroundings. It somehow mixes rustic artisan with sophistication.
We recommend anyone staying at Birch to sample the food here which delivers a fine dining experience that is approachable and affordable. We can’t rave enough about the pork belly chop and the bread, an insanely soft sourdough baked on site using oats in the process.
With a “no-door is out of bounds” policy at Birch, guests can actually walk right into the bakery each morning to see how the bread is made and ask questions to the baker. We met Jack the baker, who went through the whole process of how their breads are made, while also watching him roll out and measure the required amount of dough to make the perfect loaf. We found it both fascinating and entertaining, you could see how passionate Jack is about making the perfect loaf for guests at Birch and equally ensuring guests can be a part of this experience if they desire.
One of the things that makes Birch truly unique is the array of workshops, wellness facilities, treatments and events available every day. From painting to pottery, film screenings to music-playing, yoga to lifting, or just soaking it up in the outdoor lido. We lined up a couple of activities during our stay.
The first was a sound bath in the wellness space. An hour of true stillness and peace, surrounded by undulations of gongs and electronic sound waves to cleanse the body. We challenge you to not feel totally refreshed after this (also try to stay awake). The wellness space offers wonderful down time for anyone with a hectic London lifestyle.
Next up was a pottery throwing workshop. We were expertly guided by the knowledgeable Paul the Potter from absolute beginners to crafting two clay pots that were surprisingly quite passable. During the three hour workshop, we learned how to use the wheel, centre our clay and through various hand positions mould our lumps into something that resembled vases. After a final paint, our creations are left to be put in a kiln and glazed before being posted to our respective addresses.
I’ve heard some people say the Birch is not for everyone. I guess what that means is it’s not for people who don’t like to have a tonne of things to do. In fact if you like arts or being creative, good food, unwinding with a relaxation treatment or working out at the gym then yeah this won’t be your bag…. If you like picking up a guitar, or sitting next to a huge open fire to read quietly, well you’re in the wrong place. If watching artisans create whilst asking them about their passion or strolling acres of grounds, seeing pigs and chickens all sounds dreadful to you, well, stay clear. If really all you want is tea-bags and a TV in your bedroom, then go elsewhere. We are certainly coming back.
Rooms at Birch start from £150 per night, and currently they are running a special promotion – if you stay Friday and Saturday you get Sunday for free. Members get discounts on rooms, restaurants and classes.
Address: Lieutenant Ellis Way, Cheshunt, Goff’s Oak, Waltham Cross EN7 5HW
Written by Rick Hartley
1st, 4th and 5th image courtesey of Birch
Photography by Nyla Sammons