Casa Hotel, Chesterfield – Review
By Elizabeth Stanforth-Sharpe, July 2022
Chesterfield is a town that has evolved over two thousand years, to emerge from a Roman fortress, its transport links making it an important trading exchange in the Middle Ages, and the natural resources of both agricultural land and rich mineral deposits in the surrounding countryside marking it out as a place where new industries and ideas have emerged throughout history. It’s a busy, thriving scene with lots going on. Casa Hotel has created a much needed oasis of calm amidst the hustle and bustle.
Once you spot the colourful flags waving, and turn into the Casa car park, the traffic noise could be a hundred miles away; it feels so tranquil and quiet, the grounds surrounded by lush greenery. Just outside the entrance is a water feature that incorporates a vortex, and it almost feels as though the stresses and pressures of the world are being temporarily swirled away and you are being invited to breathe in restfulness as you step over the threshold.
Casa’s owner, Steve Perez, envisaged a boutique place where business associates and wedding guests might equally feel at home, and he has certainly achieved that. It is elegant, refined and yet retaining a deeply friendly and welcoming feel. There is a genuine feeling that no matter who you are, or whatever your reason for being there, all the staff want you to have a relaxing stay. I don’t think I’ve heard the words, “If there’s anything you’d like, just ask”, so many times as I did during my visit.
The hotel has been collecting awards since 2011. An AA four-star rating, Trip Advisor’s Traveller’s Choice 5th in the UK, the estimable AA Hotel Silver Star Award, and two AA Rosettes for the Cocina Restaurant.
So, what is it that makes Casa so special? Casa means ‘home’ in Spanish, and the Spanish influence doesn’t stop there. Even the key cards show your room number declaring it to be ‘A Home From Home’. Perez has taken his own heritage, years growing up around, and then working in, the hospitality industry in Spain, to create a unique Mediterranean ambience, that brings the sunshine, warmth, and kind open heartedness of that region right into the centre of a Derbyshire market town. Neutral walls, warm rich woods, coppers that gleam like evening sunshine, and just enough brighter colour added to the palette through quirky little touches like beaded wall lizards dotted around the building, beautiful sculptures, and well-chosen art works, to be welcoming without being cluttered.
The Gecko and Spanish wall lizard have long held mythological links as symbols of rest, retreat, healing and renewal, and it can be no coincidence that Casa has taken this creature as its logo. The charming staff all have a beautiful Gecko badge as part of their uniform, and the emblem runs as a keynote throughout. Just as a lizard bathing in the sunlight on the side of a Mediterranean building appears perfectly relaxed and chilled, so are the staff at Casa, but just as a Gecko has eyes that miss nothing, attentive to the slightest detail, balancing calmness with responsibility, the staff are always ready to respond to both client and needs.
The hotel has several different room options. For those who really want to tune out from the world for a while, there are luxury suites with hot tubs, jacuzzis and saunas, there are junior luxury suites which include emperor sized beds and lounge space, and very comfortable double rooms for the more modest stay, with several other permutations available. Cribs can be accommodated in all rooms, roll-away truckle beds cater for toddlers, and rooms with single beds and connecting doors are available for older children, making fuss-free family stays a possibility. There are also fully accessible deluxe double suites for wheelchair users with widened doorways, good turning areas, handrails and wet rooms with seat showers, which are just as well-thought through and beautifully designed as every other area of the hotel.
I stayed in a deluxe double room which had a king size Hypnos bed, ample dressing space, a writing desk and chair, a fridge with fresh milk and bottled Harrogate water, tea and coffee making facilities, glasses, take-away cups for those rushing off to a conference, or the like, first thing in the morning, complimentary biscuits, a suitcase rack, ample hanging space, a box of tissues, an ironing board and iron, a hair dryer and volumizer, and charging units, HDMI ports and sockets for all eventualities.
A dry-cleaning service is offered by the hotel, and bags to put clothing items in were easily accessible. The room had excellent air-conditioning, a secure safe, a wall-mounted flat screen tv, and free wifi. A hardback, photography-laden, book had information about the surrounding area, doing away with the need for a plethora of tourist information leaflets. The ensuite held a shower, hand-basin and toilet, a wall-mounted magnifying shaver/make-up mirror, both British and European shaver sockets, a good supply of towels, a non-slip bathmat, and complimentary toiletries – fragranced with citrus and jasmine to capture the atmosphere of bathing amid the scented orange groves of Spain, naturally. There were lots of mirrors throughout and good lighting for various tasks. If a bath is required rather than a shower, I am assured that a similar room with that option is available.
The room service menu includes a good selection of light meals served between noon and 9:30pm, and pizzas and sandwiches can be ordered from 9:30 until late.
It’s always wonderful to discover a place that is not only passionate about the food it serves, but also about telling a story through the dishes it selects. Casa is one of those places.
Perez not only owns the hotel, but he also owns Walton Lodge, a farm located just four miles away from Casa, which provides nearly all the fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs and kitchen garden requisites used by the hotel kitchen teams. What can’t be sourced by Walton Lodge is found through supporting other local, independent businesses. This means that produce is seasonal, has no air miles attached, and is as fresh as it can possibly be. This is Derbyshire fare grown or raised on the doorstep but used in dishes that have a strong thread of Spanish influence in their thought, make-up, and presentation; it’s a winning fusion. Indeed, Perez is so fervent in promoting his cuisine that he has written a book, ‘Mi Casa: Spanish-inspired Recipes from the Heart of Derbyshire’, which includes several of the hotel’s favourite recipes and tells the story of Casa’s growth and vision.
When the menu changes with the seasons, the staff are all involved in a ‘Cook Off’, tasting the new dishes, selecting their favourites and giving all the opportunity to speak knowledgeably and authoritatively about the food served.
A ‘Barca’ is a Spanish boat (as well as being the colloquial name of FC Barcelona!), and the Barca bar styles elegant coastal chic with festive Catalonian food. Teal blue booth seating set around foliage strung with casual suspended lighting gives the space a convivial, relaxed ambience that is perfect for meeting up with colleagues over freshly brewed coffee, or a light lunch of club sandwiches or superfood salad, leaving just enough room for the chef’s cheesecake of the day, or a rich, dark chocolate Brownie served with vanilla ice-cream. As day moves into evening, light levels lower and the Barca bar takes on the ambience of an intimate small plate restaurant, serving tapas, Spanish chacuterie and cheeses, with an extensive drinks’ menu. Tables in the Barca bar operate on a first come, first served basis, with no reservations taken, and on Friday nights they operate 2 for 1 on all cocktails between 5.00p.m. and 7.00p.m., making it an inviting option for locals to celebrate the end of the working week.
Eating in the Cocina restaurant is a joy filled experience that exudes sumptuous indulgence and quality. The restaurant is decorated in graceful shades of Payne’s grey, Phthelo blues, ultramarines, and Aegean teals, echoing the Mediterranean Ocean in all its moods, the tiles capturing the stillness of the waves on a calm day, with hints of terracottas, maroons and olives to soften the impact. A Jospar charcoal fire grill from Barcelona is in place for those who request steaks.
‘Cocina’ means ‘kitchen’, and here it is taken literally in every sense of the word. Large windows allow diners to watch the chefs prepare the food they have ordered and, whilst not strictly food theatre in the true interpretation, it is just as mesmerising and entertaining. The kitchen team appear to have such harmony in their respective part of the whole that it is almost dance-like to watch, and the artistry of arranging the food on the plate is pure creative pleasure. We eat with our eyes first. Food made from the freshest, most colourful, ingredients and put together with love and passion in the task is an art form that always conveys through the appearance and taste, and I can honestly say that my meal at Cocina was exquisite and will live in my memory.
The menu is a celebration of seasonal eating, so will vary, but my starter was a Thai spiced soup with a Yuzu emulsion and watercress, which was a bowl of warm, rich, citrussy gorgeousness. I didn’t think it could get any better, but then I had my main. I selected Butternut Squash, Spinach and Feta filo tart, with a medley of seasonal vegetables and crispy potatoes. The filo was a delicate, crispy and buttery hug, enfolding the tenderest of sugar snap peas, broccoli florets, radishes, asparagus and more, surrounded by a velvety creamy sauce, that tasted divine. I also got the opportunity to sample the Pea and Goat’s Cheese Risotto, in which the rice was cooked just on the softer side of al dente, the grains plumped and with that lovely rolling wave texture that shows it is creamy but not too thick. The Goat’s Cheese added a depth of flavour without being overpowering.
I am not normally a dessert person, preferring savoury tastes over sweet, but I do love rhubarb, so I opted for the Yuzu, Rhubarb and Lemongrass Panna Cotta, accompanied by sesame and cashew nut granola, miso caramel and poached rhubarb; a non-sweet, sweet, that was sumptuously decadent, and was just perfect for my palate. I also tasted the Key Lime tart, served with baked meringue, micro basil, kiwi salsa and a scoop of kiwi and lime sorbet, which had some lovely elements to it.
Perhaps the inclination is to think of a three-course meal like this as having tiny portions. Not so at Cocina. The plates were generous, beautifully presented, it felt as though I had been the recipient of a home-grown hospitality that was utterly delightful, and I ended the meal well fed and feeling very spoiled.
On both restaurant menus there are a good selection of vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and dairy free options highlighted and, if the kitchen know in advance that a particular food allergy needs to be catered for, they are more than willing to oblige.
Breakfast at any hotel is always a more rushed and informal affair, but at Casa it still had a strong signature of the seasonal, fresh produce I had already encountered. I selected scrambled eggs, a poached egg, cooked tomato, and hash browns from the Full English buffet; I was not disappointed. When fresh, free-range eggs from happy hens are used, the difference in taste, colour and texture is incredible; the poached egg had a rich golden yoke, but the scrambled eggs were the star of the show – a soft, luxurious, creamy, buttery flavour that lasted; eggy gloriousness. If the scrambled eggs were the star, the hash browns were a very close contender; they looked impressive, were crunchily crispy on the outside with an inside that melted in the mouth and tasted amazing. In addition to the serve-yourself Full English buffet, it is also possible to order a variety of other cooked items, and porridge, as well as there being the usual selection of juices, cereals, granola, yoghurts, fruit and pastries. No-one needs ever complain that they left Casa in need of food.
Hotels that have a clear theme can either get it right, or veer on the side of Disneyesque. Casa most definitely gets it very right. Every small detail has been lovingly thought through by someone who cherishes both his heritage and the Derbyshire landscape he now calls home. The hotel is tastefully decorated, calm and peaceful. The staff could not be faulted, from the Manager, through Front of House team, the Chefs, and the restaurant staff, to the cleaners; they were all smiling, attentive without being intrusive, and willing to answer questions professionally and with genuine interest. There is a strong ethos of encouraging career progression, and especially in helping young people find their first steps in hospitality, and the general contentment of everybody there radiates out to the guests.
Chesterfield is, of course, a gateway to the beautiful Peak District National Park, which offers something for everyone – breath-taking scenery, wonderful tea shops, historic houses, interesting art galleries and much, much more, but I would also strongly encourage visitors to explore the market town of Chesterfield itself.
The 13th century St Mary and All Saints is the largest church building in Derbyshire, known for its crooked spire which can be seen for miles, but with some interesting features to see inside too, including the tombs of the Foljambe family, and, if you are lucky, you might just spot one of the peregrines that nest in the tower. Steam enthusiasts might be interested to know that George Stephenson spent the last ten years of his life in Chesterfield, where, amongst other achievements, he invented a cucumber straightener. The museum is being developed to tell more of his story, there’s a statue in the town centre, and his tomb can be seen inside Holy Trinity Church. The Chesterfield Canal is a charming place to explore from the towpath, which goes by the evocative name of The Cuckoo Way.
There are two theatres with the intriguing names of The Pomegranate Theatre and The Winding Wheel Theatre, and some wonderful independent shops in the narrow medieval streets of the Shambles, which also encompasses The Royal Oak pub, dating back to the sixteenth century and whose building originally served as a rest house for the Knights Templars during the Holy Crusades of the twelfth century. The Yards are another great place to find modern artisans, foodie outlets and cafés, including several vegetarian options. The Victorian Market Hall is well worth a visit, as is the famous open-air market that has speciality days like flea, vegan and crafting markets as well as the usual stalls. Nearby Revolution House, where the 1688 plot to overthrow James 2 was put together, is a picturesque, thatched house that often holds heritage craft days.
“Home from home”
Other locals whose stories are woven into the fabric of Chesterfield include Joseph Siddall, the famous watercolourist once proclaimed to be ‘the best draughtsman in England’; Richard Barrow, colliery owner, philanthropist and founder of Stavely Iron and Coal Foundry. The village of Barrow Hill was named after him, and Barrow Hill Roundhouse is the last surviving railway round house in the UK with the turntable still operational; Olave Baden Powell, founder of the Girl Guide movement was a Chesterfield lass; Joe Davis, the snooker player, and travel book writer Violet Markham, who became Chesterfield’s first female Mayor in 1927.
Chesterfield has sculpture trails for the children to follow, there’s usually live music and outdoor entertainments going on somewhere, and it’s the focus of massive new developments, including the Batch Hall, Glass Hall and Walton Mill complexes which will bring new conference and office spaces, shops, and industries into the town. It is fast becoming a vibrant, lively place to be, with a goodly mix of historic and contemporary, and Casa as its flagship hotel ‘es un hogar lejos del hogar en medio de todo’ – a home from home in the middle of it all – and a very wonderful and welcoming one at that.
Casa Hotel, Lockford Lane, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, S41 7JB
Rooms available from £105 per night
*rate subject to change