London dealer Court Catering Equipment could finally celebrate the completion of a £1m project this spring, at The Langley hotel in Iver, Buckinghamshire.
Situated on the hunting estate and lodge of the third Duke of Marlborough, the site has seen many incarnations since its original development in the mid-eighteenth century; from a base for the Polish army during the Second World War, to the headquarters of British Gypsum, as well as being a location for various films such as Batman and the Iron Lady. However, with its acquisition by Arab Investments in the early years of the 21st century, the somewhat dilapidated buildings became destined to metamorphosise into a luxury five star Marriott country house hotel and modern spa.
Court’s contracts director Simon Gelber recalled: “Our first involvement was way back in 2007 when we undertook an initial investigation into the feasibility of installing kitchen ventilation to the possible designated catering areas in the building’s basement. However, following the financial crash, post-2008 the project was mothballed and not really resurrected until early 2015 when design work recommenced with a view to finally creating this landmark hotel development.”
It soon became apparent to Court that this was going to be a project of immense technical challenges with the basement kitchen being an area framed by double barrelled ceiling vaults creating limited head heights and severely restricting any passage for kitchen extract ductwork.
To add to the equation, Langley Park House is also a grade II listed building meaning that all works had to be approved by the conservation officer. In order to achieve a satisfactory solution to the ventilation dilemma, it would be necessary to dig out the basement to reach a workable head height and one that could enable correct extract rates.
Gelber detailed: “The margins of tolerance on the design were so small that, at that time, the decision was taken to eliminate any gas-fired cooking equipment from the specification and solely use electric items to give the final design a little more flexibility and not be tied in to the UK’s stringent gas regulations.”
In discussions with the architectural team and structural engineer, the distributor’s project team calculated that for all this to be satisfactorily resolved it would be necessary to lower the basement slab by 350mm which in reality meant digging out approximately 600mm to allow for the below ground drainage and then back-filling. This was no mean undertaking in a basement that had little direct access to the exterior and involved the spill being manually removed from the whole area.
The catering area designs were approved by Court’s client towards the end of 2015 which then enabled the distributor to commence detailed services drawings along with embarking on further calculations and drawings of the kitchen extract system.
At this point Court Catering commenced work on producing the project specification and estimate for the whole scheme which ultimately encompassed the main kitchen and wash-up areas, the banqueting facility in the Winter Garden function room area, the main hotel bar and on-display wine cellar as well as the ancillary pantries in the new build large spa area and the Clock House bedroom annex.
There remained one area not totally defined, which was originally conceived as a chef’s table dining facility with the adjacent wine cellar. During the course of 2016 the client decided that this was not the best use of this space and the dealer was commissioned to explore the possibility of expanding this into a teaching kitchen to provide guests with a facility to have cooking lessons from the hotel’s team of chefs and also from invited guest chefs.
According to Gelber: “At this stage, this meant a fundamental redesign and expansion of the catering facilities with all the inherent issues over the ventilation system and conservation restrictions. In partnership with the interior design company, Dennis Irvine Studios, various schemes were created for final client approval with the final selection being loosely based on a Shaker style country house kitchen décor.
“After much discussion and many revisions, a final scheme was approved and we was asked if we would be able to undertake the whole of the fitting out of this facility as, by this time, the relationship between the main contractor and client was beginning to deteriorate due to numerous ongoing problems and delays.”
He continued: “We have in the past been involved with building works, so this did not represent anything of a problem, and for this project we finally undertook not only the teaching kitchen fit-out but also the installation of all the hygienic wall cladding and safety flooring throughout the whole of the catering facilities, which had the benefit of greatly increasing the net worth of the overall project.”
One final complication arose, when towards the end of 2017 the new head chef was appointed who “almost inevitably” wanted to revise the food concept and which in turn involved one final revision to the various kitchen designs and a final uplift to the equipment budget – all this while the construction process was in full swing.
Gelber reported: “Thankfully all these changes were swiftly approved with little questioning over the final revised costs.”
However, the construction period throughout 2018 saw continuing delays, with promises regarding deadlines and programmes from the main contractor constantly falling short. “It was frustrating for the client, ourselves and our various sub-contractors who having bought in to the outline programme were inevitably having to delay attendance on site,” reflected Gelber.
But as the year progressed, slowly, area by area, the project began to take shape as ventilation canopies were installed, coldrooms constructed, walls fitted with white hygienic sheeting, and floors covered in vinyl, and finally as summer turned into autumn the first of the cooking appliances and stainless steel fabricated items arrived on site and were positioned and installed.
This continued intermittently as Gelber reported that the main contractor failed in all the catering areas (and elsewhere as well) to meet agreed deadlines. He concluded: “It was only finally as spring broke and the newly seeded grass turned green and grew that Court Catering commissioned the final piece of equipment and handed the catering areas over to the highly delighted chef and our patient, forbearing client.”