WHEN the Plumpton family called time on the Botleigh Grange Hotel and handed the reins to new management, it was the end of an era.

It had been in the family’s hands for 200 years and while a hotel management company had run it successfully for the last few years of their ownership, it lacked the personal touch that had helped to make its name.

Despite its grand setting in 14 acres of formal grounds, the imposing white turreted building seemed a little unloved. Locals, who knew and loved the place in its heyday, could forgive the tired pink pelmets, 1970s fire doors and swirly carpets, but as customers’ expectations of luxury grew, people struggled to identify with the hotel.

Happily though, one man was waiting in the wings to turn it all around.

When the chance arose to buy the property, new general manager Moh Rashid and his business partner, seized the opportunity with gusto.

And they are under no illusions about the task ahead. Moh looks me squarely in the eye as he says: “We have plans. Big, big plans. We are lucky, we have a lot of great things to work with. There is a lot of history here and character, which we do not want to take away. But we want to update the reception and the dining area. Our aim is to work our way along, refurbishing all the bedrooms too. It’s very exciting.”

He points to a corner of the sleepy lounge where he hopes to add a bar and tells of plans for a brand new café on the ground floor. The man at the helm of all this, has had success at hotels in Scotland and Manchester but he has left all that behind to concentrate fully on this latest venture in the south. And his influence is evident – the new café will have a spice theme, with dishes inspired by far flung destinations.

It’s a bold move, but with so much nearby trade to tap into you can only admire his canniness for drawing people in.

But this is only part of the plan. Two other important areas are to be tackled – service and the restaurant, which already has an AA Rosette and a good reputation. “We want to build on that success,” says Moh of the rebranded ‘Hampshire’s. “We are not satisfied, we want to gain two, three Rosettes. And we will.”

Local produce is already at the heart of the kitchen but to gain more rosettes the hotel must grow and use a certain amount of its own produce, another tick that Moh hopes to add to the list.

When we visited, the dining room was still under refurbishment – a new glass dome, light fittings, furniture and artwork were all on order – but even without these adornments it is a pleasant space. Light, airy, if not slightly cavernous when few diners are in, we were seated by glass doors which open out across the garden on a mild evening.

The new summer menu had me at ‘Moroccan spiced rump of lamb’. Thoroughly delicious and pink in the middle the dusting of spice took a tried and tested dish to another level. My partner equally enjoyed his fillet steak, well cooked and perfectly balanced with the potato rosti and juicy roasted tomatoes.

We made the most of the plentiful seafood on offer for our starters – the fishcakes were a delicate delight and the mustard mayonnaise elevated the dish. The smoked salmon blinis burst with flavour. And I took our very savvy waitress’s advice on the creme brulee. The sugary coating of creamy custard was just this side of caramelised and gave a satisfying crack with the spoon.

All in all, service was exceptional and the food surpassed all expectations. I look forward to watching the restaurant’s progress and am certain that the promises will be delivered.