IT paved the way for boutique hotels across the country and 20 years later is still one of the most well-known names in the hospitality industry.

When Hotel du Vin opened in Winchester on October 1 1994, it was visionary in its approach to what is now considered almost a staple of the hotel world.

Not quite your average low-key B&B, but not as fussy as your highbrow hotels, it was an attempt at offering good food in a chic environment but without the mid-90s price tags and tailcoats.

Chairman and chief executive officer of the Limewood Group and Home Grown Gotels Ltd, Robin Hutson, started the business with fellow sommelier Gerard Bassett with whom he left Chewton Glen where he had been working as managing director.

“At the time in the provinces there was nothing like a boutique hotel,” Mr Hutson said. “There was some top end ones and there were some average ones in the town centre but there really wasn't much choice, particularly if you didn't want the ultra top end and we wanted to do something a little bit different.

“In 1994 there was no such thing as modern British cuisine, particularly outside of London. There was a pretty dire offering; there were a few beacons of excellence like Chewton Glen but it was amazing really.”

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The former Southgate Hotel was converted into 13 en-suite bedrooms advertising good value for money at sensible prices offering a double room at £75 and dinner for two with wine at £50.

Mr Hutson said it was a very different picture to how the High Street looks today.

“It's only 20 years but there were no coffee shops on the high street,” he added. “To see how far it's come in 20 years; we were right at the start of the casual form of eatery. Most restaurants still had dress codes and lots of rules like no children. At the time we were revolutionary.”

Despite its uniqueness Mr Hutson said it wasn’t all plain sailing and the business was largely saved during the Rosemary West trial hosting journalists from across the country.

He said: “That was when we first opened. That trial filled us up with a lot of journalists and, from a business perspective, it was quite a good thing. We were doing something very different at the time and there weren’t a lot of examples of that. It’s just a good sense of hospitality and service without a lot of pretentiousness.”

A little over a year after the £1.25 million project began – partly funded by racing driver Derek Warwick – the team were presented with best newcomer in the Egon Ronay Awards.

Nick Halliday took over the site – some of which dates back to 1715 – as chief operating officer in March.

“It’s about getting the balance of hospitality right,” he said. “It’s a very personal approach. We’re certainly not too formal but we understand quality in food – that’s at the heart of what we do. All the ingredients are very important; wine, cheese, coffee and the food we serve as a bistro.

“And we have to make sure the ambience is central to that. We have changed menus and we have got a new slant which is bar food and a new menu for the autumn. It’s got a good feel to it and it’s in keeping with the origins which is very important to Hotel du Vin.

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Nick Halliday, chief operations manager, Hotel du Vin

“I still think it’s fairly unique,” he added. “It’s different as a business but it still resounds with our customers. So long as we continue to deliver quality in the character properties we have got, it brings about the right experience. It’s all about engagement and making sure that theatre comes into play every day. Hotel du Vin is a rich tapestry in that respect and it needs to be busy to get the right feel and get the experience and feed off that buzz it creates.

“Part of it is the character of the properties you’re surrounded by. Natural brick and oak floors and old interesting features – and when you eat in that environment with the right vibe, and a team that engages in the right manner with customers, it works.”

Now the group is bigger than ever, with 15 hotels including in Brighton, Cambridge, Edinburgh and York. Four of its hotels are undergoing refurbishment, including Birmingham and Bristol.

As the Winchester business continues to lead the boutique hotel industry, Mr Halliday says it all stemmed from its opening 20 years ago.

“We certainly want to grow the business to find other locations,” he says. “And it’s important that threads from the past are carried forward. There has been an element of continuity.”