YOU may have heard about Grantley Hall, a country house and estate near Ripon, which has been converted into a hotel.

That’s something of an understatement, to be fair.

The transformation of this handsome stately pile that fell on hard times, being used as a local authority training centre in recent years, into what it is today is by any measure quite remarkable.

The Northern Echo:

The hotel, spa, conference centre, four separate restaurants and extensive ornamental gardens is being touted as the best country house hotel and spa in the North of England thanks to the little sum of £70m being spent on the restoration.

The woman behind this most conspicuous of splurges is Valeria Sykes, the former wife of Meadowhall shopping centre millionaire Paul Sykes, who decided to sink a good chunk of her divorce settlement into the project.

You could easily run out of superlatives to describe what has been done here. It’s the last word in just about everything. It’s as if a designer sourced the very best for the restoration only to be told to go away and try harder.

The Northern Echo:

Exclusive is a devalued concept these days but its use by Grantley Hall is fully justified. For example, don’t just turn up on spec for a bit of a nosey. When we arrived at the grand gatehouse entrance, the gate was firmly shut. A man in tweeds came out with clip-board to check we had booked.

Having established our bona fides, the gate was silently swung open and we were waved through.

At the hall front entrance, another tweedy clipboard-bearing gentleman checked who we were, indicated where to park next to the assorted top-end Range Rovers, BMWs and Maseratis, took our car keys (perhaps to move our humble Audi elsewhere if another prestige marque needed to be accommodated) and then escorted us to the front door.

The Northern Echo:

Here the flunky factor went through the roof. There was one to open the door for us, another to point us in the direction of reception where a small army of immaculately turned-out staff checked us out all over again before we were escorted to our chosen eating option – Fletchers Restaurant where we were trying Sunday lunch.

We could also have eaten at EightyEight – a pan-Asian eaterie and bar – or in the Shaun Rankin restaurant where the 12-course Taste of Home menu plus wine pairing costs the thick end of £200 per person. But it’s not open on Sundays – no doubt much to the relief of the D&S Times accounts department which had a collective seizure the last time we went to a similarly-pricey fine dining establishment.

Mind you, Fletchers is hardly bargain basement – a luxurious brasserie with lots of oak panelling and upholstered in rich autumnal shades. Most tables had rather fetching views over the surrounding parkland.

The Northern Echo:

Some of them were far too close together however. Next to us was a table of four celebrating one couple’s golden wedding and we could, if so inclined, have told you everything about their wonderful marriage. By the end they almost felt like old friends. We might get an invitation to their diamond do.

That aside, our Sunday lunch was very enjoyable. Service was impeccable and what we ate was of the highest order.

Sylvia’s roast beef striploin (£25), served with crunchy Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, root vegetables and a proper, heavily-reduced beef gravy, was thickly-sliced and beautifully flavoured.

The Northern Echo:

My halibut (£27.50) was a slab of meaty, translucent flesh, beautifully cooked and served with a pungent melange of capers, smoked cods roe, chicken butter and braised chicory.

We shared a cheeseboard (£12.50), served with quince, chutney and oat biscuits. It was a little unimaginative - aged cheddar, a brie and Yorkshire Blue – but peerless in quality.

And I also managed a chocolate and coffee caramel delice (£11). The Valrhona chocolate (the best in the world – what else?) was simply glorious in this classic flavour combination.

The bill was steep considering we skipped starters. When two small glasses of admittedly top-notch Malbec and pinot grigio (£7.80) and a latte (£3.90) were added, plus the 10 per cent service charge (which might or might not have been discretionary but it wasn’t clear and I definitely wasn’t going to ask), it topped £105.

The Northern Echo:

Grantley Hall

Grantley, Ripon HG4 3ET

Tel: 01765 620070 Web:

Sunday lunch served noon-2.30pm

No access problems. Every conceivable dietary requirement met but vegetarians won’t be enthused by the choice.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 10, service 10, surroundings 10, value 7, flunky factor 10