I don’t know what Mr and I loved more about The Gallivant, the hotel, the food, the service or the entire Sands to ourselves? It certainly wasn’t the weather, but we can’t hold anyone responsible for that – December in the UK never holds out much hope weather-wise. When we arrived, the palms which fringe the motel-style retreat bowed in the wind and the rain lashed the wooden-clad main building, and it didn’t stop for two days.
The Gallivant has the feel of a laid-back beach house with all the perks of a well-run hotel and just a dune-clamber away from the English Channel.
The food here knocked me out, while I did expect all that the sea and the country larder brings I didn’t expect the standard in an out-of-the-way hotel, miles from the capital. Then I discover that the Head Chef is Ben Fisher who’s had bags of experience in some of the best kitchens in the world – The French Laundry to name names and to drop another Tom Aiken’s Restaurant. Luckily for residents and locals to Rye and Camber, he’s relocated to run the kitchen here at The Gallivant and boy is the food sublime.
After we unpacked and got ourselves showered and ready for dinner, we moved to the main hotel and took an aperitif in the lounge if a little small and Bijoux. A goldfish bowl of gin arrived with a local ale for Mr and whetted our appetite. The Hotel requests that children eat up until 18:30 and no later which works well for everyone.
After we’d finished, we took a table in the restaurant and surveyed the menu which had bags of choice.
Half a pint of prawns (£4.50) Colchester rock oysters (3/£6.50, 6/£12.50, 12/£24.00) and locally cured meats (£5.00) were just a selection of Titbits on offer from the Winter Supper Menu.
All the food is sourced as close to the Hotel as possible, and the illustrations provided a nice distraction as well as informing diners of provenance.
The Gallivant Fish Soup (8.50) was made with local Rye Bay fish and was as good as any I’ve had in France, crispy croutons a wickedly garlicky rouille and grated gruyere finished off a fabulous starter. This was served with the suggested wine a Quinta do Avellino Ribiero from Spain.
It was the Roast Dungeness turbot fillet, crisp potato and Jerusalem artichokes (£8.00) for Mr and it must have been good, he was stunned into silence throughout the whole dish. He also had the suggested wine the Cotes du Rhone Blanc Dauvergne Ranvier from France.
The second course for me just had to be fish and the day’s catch was an off-the-bone plaice, simply pan-fried and served with seasonal vegetables, I chose the hollandaise sauce on the side. It was just delicious. I had the suggested wine, the Argentinian un-oaked Chardonnay which as you’d expect worked well.
Mr had the roast Winchelsea salt marsh lamb (£19.00), cooked to perfection. The truffle smothered green beans with the garlic scented aubergine and buttery mash was an inspired plate of food.
Full-to-bursting we were weak and easily tempted by the blackberry and apple crumble served with a jug of proper custard (a little on the small side for us gannets). A deep fruit-filled enamel dish came with a good layer of buttery crumble; additional custard offered without question. Of course, we managed to eat the whole meal, and we waddled, sated, off to bed.
There are twenty bedrooms, all with little touches, which include beach bags, fluffy bathrobes, and all have a kettle, coffee, teabags and the offer of fresh milk – some are larger than others, some are refurbished. Two rooms have gardens (deck rooms) and benefit from a rain shower and another a huge tub (perfect for a soak after a walk in the elements). All have flat screen televisions and DVD players with a decent selection of DVDs in reception for those who can’t face the elements from the classics to must-watch Disney greats.
The bathrooms have the best toiletries – a brand I’d not heard of, but now covet – Noble Isle luxury bath and shower products along with a decent conditioner (Perry Pear) to wash the windswept look right out of your locks. A bottle of water in the rooms wouldn’t have gone amiss, but of course, there’s tap water for the less fussy.
We stayed in a ‘biggest room’, its entrance was external to the main hotel and not accessed through the reception. It was large, needed a little TLC in the bathroom department, but was warm; cosy had a fabulous bed and great linen. There was a seating area and a decent amount of room to wander around without bumping into the bed. A sliding patio door led to the outside world at the rear of the room, ideal if you have a dog. The Hotel refurbishment programme is ongoing, and it’s expected these rooms will be given a makeover at some point soon.
The deck room in the main hotel had the makeover, but was a little on the small side in comparison, great in the summer as it had a terrace, wholly miserable in the winter.
We woke to the sound of rain on the window and the prospect of a room change, but breakfast beckoned first. For those who have stayed in Soho Group hotels, you’ll be familiar with the recovery station but for those who have not it’s great fun. It consists of a table-full of things to make you feel a whole heap better if you’re suffering from a hangover – from Berocca energy tablets; Alka Seltzer to help settle the stomach and if you’re feeling so inclined the hair of the dog. Expect home-cooked breakfasts and the common cold table full of homemade granola and yoghurt pots in cute Kilner jars.
After breakfast, we wandered for miles along the beach, said hello to dog walkers and took the public footpath into Rye Harbour and used it to cut back through the well-manicured lawns of the golf club just in time for afternoon tea.
Each day at 4 pm there’s tea and cake laid out in the dining area, a large teapot is replenished, and swirl-topped cupcakes sat prettily next to it ready for scoffing.
There aren’t enough adjectives to describe just how brilliant the staff here are – from the reception to the kitchen and bar staff – we were made to feel like VIPs at every opportunity. They also had the time to chat with us which made our whole stay a real experience. Both chefs talked to me about the food on the menu after service and I really enjoyed finding out about it – a rare opportunity, probably only possible because we were visiting ‘out of season’.
The Gallivant is a great base to explore ‘1066 country’ and there are plenty of things to do, but personally I think you need to have access to your mode of transport, although buses do run right past the hotel. The Gallivant has plenty of information on things to do locally, and that includes kite or windsurfing for the more adventurous. If golfing is your bad, then there are quite a few courses and as I mentioned, one right on the doorstep. Rye is a beautiful little town, even in the lashing rain, and there are lots of antique shops and plenty of pubs in which to seek refuge. Visit the lovely man who runs the sweet shop full of sweet jars at the top of the town. The Gallivant also runs Private Cookery classes – details here. The Hotel has bikes which you can hire to explore the cycle paths of Romney Marsh.
Then we headed to the restaurant and enjoyed another aperitif while looking over the menu. Oysters were on offer and Mr jumped in head-first.
I opted for the ‘Taste of the Sea’, a plentiful platter of Rye ‘Frito Misto’ in the lightest batter. There were the freshest chunks of the best local fish, cracked crab claws, Atlantic prawns in the shell, celeriac salad with a prawn Marie rose sauce (£15.00) there’s also a Taste of the Land Board on offer featuring a Scotch egg, pork rillette, and local chorizo and pickle (£15.00)
Mr took the double-baked goats cheese soufflé, served with a tankard of celery and a green salad (£7.00) and was loathe to puncture the high-rise tower of cheesy lusciousness.
I can’t think of eating anything other than fish when I’m so close to the sea, so just had to have the Rye Bay sole which just fell off the bone, served with pink fir potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes, bacon and a vinegar reduction (£22.50).
The local game caught Mr’s eye and so he had the poached ‘Hole Park’ pheasant breast, a bread-crumbed leg confit, potato gratin dauphinoise and a tomato pickle (£16.50). We couldn’t resist a joint portion of cauliflower gratin with hazelnuts (£3.50).
I think the side order did for us and we had to leave the puds and cheese selection for when we next visit.
We woke up the next morning to another super breakfast, I had the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, Mr the full English all washed down by a large coffee.
The Hotel couldn’t do enough for us, even sourcing gluten-free bread and soya milk for me, without any fuss or request on my part.
During the winter there’s absolutely no point in packing fancy-schmancy clothes you won’t need them – warm, waterproof clothing with footwear you don’t mind getting a little oily if you take a walk on the beach will be your staples.
My Mum used the word ‘gallivant’ frequently when my brother lived at home – he was very social – so I was no stranger to its meaning but for those who aren’t it means to go in search of pleasure, or gad about. If you’re looking for a little action, or inaction, think about spending a night or two here. You will love it.
We stayed here for two nights – one of which was as a guest of The Gallivant.
The Gallivant Hotel, New Lydd Road, Camber, East Sussex TN31 7RB