12:00PM, Thursday 25 April 2019
The historic Monkey Island Estate officially reopened this month after an extensive refurbishment.
After being bought by YTL Hotels in July 2015, the hotel and restaurant was due to reopen in February but this was pushed back ‘to ensure the property is 100 per cent ready in every capacity’.
The delay is perhaps not surprising - renovating a neglected grade I listed building is no mean feat.
General manager Lee Kelly said: “A grade I-listed building from the 17th century is not an easy project at all.
“It was in truly a dilapidated state, it did need a lot of tender, loving care so unfortunately we really did have to strip it back.”
The history of the island dates back to 1197 but the estate really began to take form when the third Duke of Marlborough bought the land in 1723 to create an angling retreat.
He commissioned two buildings on the island which is straddled by the River Thames – a two-storey fishing temple and an octagonal fishing pavilion for sleeping and entertaining.
Over the years both buildings were extended and today the white bricked temple has 30 luxurious bedrooms and the pavilion is a space to enjoy food and beverages.
Previously used as storage, the pavilion is now home to The Monkey Island Brasserie and The Monkey Bar – open to non-residents as well as hotel residents.
With a twist on the traditional French brasserie, modern British cuisine is served from a menu designed by executive chef William Hemming.
Diners can enjoy their meal inside or on the terrace, surrounded by the immaculately manicured grounds.
Within the pavilion is the Monkey Lounge – the grade-I listed part of the building.
On the ceiling of the lounge is a painting of monkeys punting, fishing and hunting. It is the work of French specialist Andie de Clermont and was completed by 1738.
The whole hotel is designed to be a ‘celebration and a tribute to the storied history of the island’.
Lee said: “It’s beautiful, why would you change it?”
There are black and white photographs of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra having a picnic on the island, and peacocks in the wallpaper– a bird that used to inhabit the island.
The hotel has a floating spa with three treatment rooms on a traditional English canal boat.
It also hosts events including conferences and weddings, Lee said: “We just really work bespokely, and the great thing, because we’re new, we’re also open to ideas.”
There are two meeting rooms as well as The River Room, which overlooks the Thames, and the Marlborough Ballroom which can accommodate up to 130 people.
Lee said: “When you talk to people about Monkey Island everybody has such a fond memory whether, they’ve been to a wedding here, whether they’ve had a celebration, that’s what I really want it to be again.”
YTL Hotels was founded by Yeoh Tiong Lay who ‘always had an affiliation to Bray’ and who ‘was the one who personally fell in love with Monkey Island’.
Sadly Yeoh Tiong Lay did not get to witness his vision of the hotel materialise, he died in November 2017.
A statue of him in a chair and looking out across the River sits under a tree on the island.
To find out more about Monkey Island Estate go to www.monkeyislandestate.co.uk/index.html
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