Ronnie Kimbugwe shares his hopes for The Mitre and all who spend time in the ‘grand old lady’ since she’s been given a stunning new lease of life.
Words: Lucy Donoughue
Ronnie Kimbugwe, Culinary and Operations Director of The Mitre, sits opposite me framed by a window revealing Hampton Court Bridge and the glinting River Thames stretching into the distance behind him. We’re in the 1665 restaurant, one of two in the hotel (the other is The Coppernose, a nickname given to Henry VIII). With the glass of wine that’s magically appeared in front of me and the convivial atmosphere, it’s a very pleasant way to spend a late autumn lunchtime.
The Mitre has been given a brand-new lease of life by the Signet Collection, and the result is stunning. The concept, as explained on their website, is; “where quirky British sensibility meets elegant authentic luxury... blending the old with the new, the refined with the comfortable, and the local with the worldly.” I would say this sums up The Mitre’s rejuvenation perfectly.
“We’re in your neighbourhood, we’re your location and we want to feel part of this community too.”
“She’s a grand old lady,” Ronnie says warmly. “But her furnishings and aesthetics hadn’t been changed since the late 1980’s, so we thought it would be nice to give her a new wardrobe.” And why did The Mitre in particular catch the eye of the boutique hotel group? “We love heritage and great British things,” he explains. “The Mitre’s location is just amazing, and the building is steeped in history.”
While her past is deeply important, breathing new life into The Mitre’s splendid surroundings has been an absolute labour of love for Ronnie and the team. They’ve had the added complication of negotiating Covid restrictions throughout the refurbishment and re-opening of the hotel, having to tailor every single element of their service to ensure their guests, diners and team members are safe.
The Mitre’s new offer launched around the August bank holiday, with Ronnie working side by side with team members to respond to its (rightly) enthusiastic reception. Team working is important to him, and he’s committed to forging a strong and supportive staff dynamic. It’s fundamental, he says, not just for the business but for the wellbeing of every employee.
“We work when other people play, and that can be hard,” Ronnie explains. “We’re all on this planet for a small amount of time, and we work for a fairly large amount of it, so isn’t it better to enjoy the work that you do? That’s why I want to keep the team happy. I need them to understand that they’re all incredibly important to us.”
It’s evident that Ronnie cares deeply about The Mitre’s employees as well as every guest that passes through its newly polished doors. As we continue our chat, his eyes occasionally flit around the room, and he politely breaks off our conversation to gently suggest a member of the team assists a diner with her baby and pram, before she even steps away from her table.
This attention to detail, and to guests’ happiness is at the very heart of The Mitre’s offering. It’s not only about the hotel’s residents though, as Ronnie is at pains to point out. He wants the local community to know, and feel, like The Mitre is always theirs. “I don’t want the great people of Molesey and this part of the world to think of us as just a hotel,” he states. “We’re in your neighbourhood, we’re your location and we want to feel part of this community too.”
This neighbourly love extends to working closely with Hampton Court Palace. “They have some of the best gardens in the country,” Ronnie says sincerely. “So absolutely I’ll be buying their vegetables and putting them on the menu. We’re already using the honey they produce in our cocktails and working with them to give hotel guests tickets to visit the palace. Hampton Court have been so helpful to us so we want to give back as much as we can.”
The Mitre has high hopes for continued collaborative working in the future, but right now Ronnie shares, it’s one step at a time while Covid looms large over the nation. Nothing, however, can stop their grand designs for a spectacular first Christmas. “Think trees, colours, fairy lights, class and dignity,’’ he explains, beaming. “Menu wise, there’s going to be some quirks, tweaks, theatre and fun drinks. It will be amazing.”
And what will Ronnie be doing on Christmas Day itself? “I’ll be working! I can’t ask my team to do something that I’m not prepared to do,” he says emphatically. “But in the evening, I’ll get in my car and drive to my wife’s family home in North Shropshire, where my Christmas dinner will be wrapped in tin foil in the oven, and there’ll be a place for me at the table.
“I’ll kiss my wife and my baby, have a good night’s sleep – and then on Boxing Day, I’ll get back in the car and come to The Mitre, ready to start all over again.”
The Mitre offers Christmas party menus and is now taking bookings for Christmas and New Year’s Eve Celebrations. Pre-booking is essential. The Mitre operates a Covid secure service.
The Mitre, Hampton Court Road, East Molesey
Images: Courtesy of The Signet Group