The Beginnings of the Bakehouse

Wandering through the majestic grounds of Ashridge House, it’s impossible not to imagine yourself as a character from a 19th century period film. The architecture and grandiosity of the place are awe inspiring, as is the rich history. Once a royal residence, a hunting palace for none other than King Henry VIII, you can quite literally feel the days of yesteryear, the memories etched into stone. 

Stroll through a stunning, ivy draped archway and you’ll find yourself in a quintessential courtyard, complete with hanging floral baskets and a lush green centerpiece reaching for the streaming sunlight. Historically courtyards were a place of gathering, a space to make good use of the daylight with activities such as spinning, weaving and food preparation.

The buildings that flank this beautiful oasis, nestled beneath the shaded porticos were once used as food storage, animal housing and sleeping quarters. Until recently they had been an underused space full of potential.

When the UK went into lockdown and people were heading outdoors to socialise, the team realised the house had a hidden gem waiting to be unveiled. Visitor numbers for the gorgeous grounds and gardens were increasing. People who hadn’t frequented Ashridge House before were arriving for woodland walks, enjoying time with friends in a Covid-safe outdoor space. The stunning surroundings offered guests some much needed time in nature, but it was missing something – a place to sit and enjoy a warm drink and a bite to eat in the fresh air. 

Responding to the demand of the public and wider community, the underused space was converted into the Courtyard Café. It was such a roaring success that plans were made to turn it into a permanent feature of the house, offering visitors a chance to enjoy more of the beautiful spaces that Ashridge House has to offer.  And so, The Bakehouse was born.

A New Beginning

With three years at Ashridge under her belt, new manager Kate Bowles had previously worked with Hult EF Corporate Education, which runs executive education programmes at Ashridge House. Prior to joining the team she had been part of a vibrant bistro, so when the opportunity arose to run the new café she jumped at the chance. The Bakehouse signalled a return to her real passions; food and hospitality.

In the flurry of activity before the main launch in January 2022, I managed to catch up with her amidst the drilling and dust of the conversion. We chatted all things Bakehouse and it was fascinating to hear about her love for the place and her vision for the future; to be the best! To offer the best coffee, the best food and the warmest, most friendly service. She spoke of the uniqueness of The Bakehouse and whilst there are a plethora of cafés in the surrounding area, there are none that match the palatial surroundings of Ashridge House. 

Entering through a panelled stable door the interior is warm and welcoming, with just the right amount of wooden cladding to juxtapose the industrial fashion of exposed brick and pipework. It feels like the perfect mix between cosy café and fashionable London brasserie. The smell of artisan coffee swirls in the air and it’s impossible not to try a latte. Needless to say, it’s phenomenal. Vibrant, earthy and decadent – much like the grounds of the house. Kate went for a classic black americano, pointing out that she limits her coffee intake to mornings only – a sensible approach to keep her circadian rhythm intact. Thankfully there is a delicious selection of the finest Tea Pig flavours to keep her satisfied throughout the day.

Curated Cuisine

The Bakehouse is brand new, and Kate’s excitement to watch it flourish is palpable. It’s clear to see the enormous potential of the place, not only as a beautiful space to grab a hot drink with friends but a delicious dining experience too. Kate is thrilled with the efforts of the incredible in-house pastry chefs at Ashridge House. For the sake of her waistline she’s trying to be moderate, but as the manager it’s imperative she sample all the fabulous fresh pastries and cakes. As we tuck into a decadent slice of chocolaty heaven, neither of us are complaining. For those who are able to restrain their sweet toothed nature, there are a selection of healthy homemade protein snacks that are delicious, nourishing and totally guilt free. 

Being involved in the menu planning alongside Head Chef Paul Patterson has been particularly exciting for Kate. As a child she was always cooking with her mother, creating new meal ideas for the family and broadening her taste experiences both at home and abroad. The new menu launching in January 2022 is spectacular, made freshly by the extraordinary in-house chefs, with lots of locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. It’s up there with the most popular eateries you might find in London, but with a home-cooked, heartfelt flourish.

For those of you who want a breakfast of dreams the Blueberry Pancakes with caramelized banana, crème fraiche & maple syrup will have you positively salivating. If you have health conscious habits and prefer a slow release energy breakfast then there’s  Bircher Muesli, honey ricotta & chia seeds or an Acai Mixed Fruit bowl with coconut granola. Perfect for those coming to the Bakehouse post workout in the luxurious on-site Leisure Suite The traditionalists among us will be delighted by a full breakfast complete with delicious potato rostis, local eggs and meats (plant based options available). Personally, I’ve always liked the simple things in life and am delighted to see the Bakehouse breakfast honouring the humble crumpet.

Lunch options will have you in a quandary between the Butter Roast Chicken or Flaked Salmon sandwiches, perhaps you’ll need some winter warming with the Soup of The Day and freshly baked bread hot from the oven. The salads, paninis and patisseries will make decisions so hard that you will quite simply just have to come back again. 

The main dishes effortlessly traverse the continents of Europe, Asia and North America. Moules Mariniere and Gnocchi straight from the Italian provinces to your plate in the palatial surroundings of the English countryside. Grilled Salmon Steak from the cool Scottish waters and a Goan inspired chicken curry with all the fragrant trimmings means there is something for every taste. British classics like Pie & Mash will warm the heart during the cold months, and who doesn’t enjoy sinking their teeth into a Big Burger? Vegetarians and vegans will be looked after as well.       

A Welcome Treat Where All Can Meet

Kate is confident that The Bakehouse will appeal to a wide range of guests. From the clients staying at Ashridge House to visitors from further afield. She hopes it will be a ‘real hub for the local community, whether that be walkers, cyclists, families enjoying the Ashridge Estate, dog walkers, Mums looking to get out with (or away from) the children for a morning coffee, ladies who lunch or weekend brunchers’ – there will be something for everyone.

Not content with being just a Bakehouse, Kate and the team are looking to put together a calendar of events and activities too. With ample and flexible space it’s an ideal option for people looking for a venue for a special occasion, or a local group in need of a meeting place. It has all the tradition and history of Ashridge House, with a relaxed modern feel that invites you to while away a birthday afternoon with friends, or treat your team to a day out. 

As much as Kate and I could chat all afternoon, sipping on artisan coffee and working our way through the delicacies on offer, there is work to be done to get the place perfect for the big launch in January. Before I leave there’s time for a quick mosey around The Storehouse – a gift shop adjacent to the café filled with inspiring ideas and produce from local suppliers. I leave with some Ashridge House gin, mulled wine and a beautifully wrapped bushel of Turkish delight. 

The whole Ashridge team have turned the pain of the pandemic into something so beautiful, a place that will bring people together whilst offering a safe space to enjoy each other’s company. There is the benefit of ample outside seating and plenty of fresh air and in the summer months guests will be able to find shade beneath the 19th Century porticos which enfold the courtyard.

As Kate and I say our goodbyes I ask if she could describe The Bakehouse in three words. We look out over the spellbinding gardens, watching the morning mist rise, the smell of freshly baked pastry floating through the air. “Three words”, she says holding onto her mug, “welcoming, flavourful and stunning”. As I leave, turning around to look at the majestic beauty of Ashridge House, I couldn’t agree more. 

By Amy – Ashridge House’s Resident Blogger

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