Chris Penn reveals details of new Birch hotel brand

Former Ace Hotel London managing director Chris Penn and business partner Chris King are launching new lifestyle hotel brand Birch – with the first property set to feature two restaurants by Robin Gill.

The former De Vere Theobalds Estate hotel in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, is set to relaunch as Birch on 24 April, billed as a “city escape” which “looks like a hotel, feels like a festival”.

The hotel is a joint venture between Penn and King’s management company, Performance Hotels, and owner Aprirose. The real estate investment company bought the property in 2018, and £8.5m has been invested in transforming the site.

The 140-bedroom property sits within 55 acres and will feature a farm, two restaurants and a bakery in partnership with the Dairy chef-restaurateur Gill, as well as three bars, 20 event spaces, a co-working space, fitness studios, a lido, a pottery workshop and rooms for screenings, music and art.

The hotel will run a cultural programme of events, workshops and masterclasses, as well as a busy wellness schedule, with guests encouraged to engage with and learn from the onsite butchers, bakeries and pottery makers.

Birch hotels will be identifiable by their What3words identity. What3words is a location technology system where every 3m x 3m ‘square’ of the globe has been assigned a unique three-word address. The upcoming opening will be Birch (handle.silk.comet) and more are expected to open “in the coming years”, all of which will have their own character.

Valeries Restaurant
Valeries Restaurant

Penn said: “We will start around London, maybe with a couple more and then hope to venture outside some key European cities pretty soon thereafter…

“We will do everything we can to not make any Birch space ‘typical’. Each space will be evaluated for its own merits, its own points of character and personality but all will follow the same mentality of facilitating escapes through nature, food, wellness, arts and community in an interactive and enriching way.”

King added: “Birch is a space for those living in cities to escape to. Whether you’re with us for a day or night, work or weekend, we want to leave you in a better place than when you found us.”

Birch reception
Birch reception

The redesign of the property has been led by architecture and design collective Red Deer, which set out to reuse and repair the existing site’s materials. Bedrooms will not have TVs or desks but will be full of locally-made artwork.

The Dairy Group’s Robin Gill and Ben Rand two on-site restaurants will include the Zebra Riding Club and the more casual all-day Valeries, serving meat and fish cooked on a grill and sourdough flat breads baked in a wood-fired oven. There will also be the eight-cover Gun Room private dining space. Both will follow Gill’s ‘farm-to-table’ cooking ethos using produce from the estate grown by farmer Tom Morphew. Morphew will also run garden walks, and teach gardening, composting and foraging. The wellness space will offer more than 30 classes every week including yoga, spin and meditation, and a 25-metre lido will be open and heated all year round from when it opens this summer. Treatments and massages will be available at the Parlour.

Birch will be open to both guests and members and anyone can become a member of Birch; the first tranche of memberships will be sold at £100 per month for an access all areas pass. Members can work in the co-working space, the Hub; work out in the Wellness Space; enjoy unlimited access to the cultural events programme; plant their own tree in the grounds; or learn how to make croissants and sourdough bread in the bakery. Membership also includes a free night’s stay and discounted room rates.

Manish Gudka, chief executive of Aprirose, added: “As we develop and grow our hotel offer, we continue to look for the best opportunities. Creating a concept hotel is an exciting first for Aprirose, working alongside best in class partners to deliver both a destination and experience at a well-located site. We look forward to the launch of the hotel later in the year, as well as subsequent Birch spaces in the coming years.”

In 2013, Penn was responsible for launching Ace Hotels into the UK; while King is a serial entrepreneur and founded Barlocal in London’s Clapham, which was sold to Be At One after seven years. The pair are also developing a second hotel brand, Steel Hotels.

“Birch is a transformational brand. That is to say that it can bring new life to an existing operating building through a transformational process,” said Penn. “Steel is a development brand, looking to build operations from scratch. This meant that Birch could come to life more quickly than Steel. Steel is coming, but needs building.”

Katherine Price