I love lamb. I love its marbled noisettes of sweet and tender flesh, its buttery softness and crispy fringes of golden fat, but The Gallivant‘s rack of salt marsh lamb is the finest dish I’ve had the joy to devour. Strange, you may think, to begin a hotel review with such a focus on one dish but food is at the very core of this East Sussex idyll. The team at the cool, low-lying, motel-style hotel has been awarded the highest accolade from the Sustainable Restaurant Association, putting it on a par with Grain Store, River Cottage and Le Manoir.
1. Local menu
The menu (celebrated by the likes of The Times, Condé Nast and Food & Travel magazine) boasts 95% of produce from within a ten-mile radius of the front door. It’s also the only hotel in the UK to offer a sparkling wine list consisting of only English wines (there’s a genius ‘Recovery Station’ at breakfast where you can mix your own Bloody Mary, too, to help with any fragile heads the morning after the night before). And these little touches, make this weekend away feel all the more special.
The seaside motel may not look the grandest from the exterior but located across the road from the vast, golden expanses of Camber Sands in East Sussex, this hotel takes fresh produce to a whole new level.
2. Incredible produce
Admittedly, I had thought the hyper-local-menu-thing was more gimmick than form factor, but the food is infinitely more innovative, exciting and flavoursome thanks to the local sourcing.
Our tender, ruby beef carpaccio starter was sublime, the golden pan-fried dover sole was sea-fresh and innovatively twinned with caramelised yoghurt and roasted cauliflower florets and the Romney salt marsh-bred lamb main, well, an all-time favourite.
Chefs Oliver Joyce and Kevin Bennett know their fishermen, game shooters and farmers by name. Virtually all the beef, pork and lamb is sourced from Jamie Wicken, a local butcher recognised by Rick Stein as a pro at all things rare breed and the changing, seasonal menu celebrates them all in turn. The in-house team also make their own bread, cure their own bacon, make homemade granola bars for breakfast and serve their own filtered water instead of bottled brands.
3. Beach, chic, retreats
The intimate, chilled-out hotel sits across the road from the grass-fringed dunes of Camber Sands, meaning evening strolls along the beach, morning swims or romantic walks are quite literally on your doorstep.
4. Beautiful bedrooms
Outside, the hotel is unassuming but inside the New England-esque, coastal chic style points rocket. The natural hues, white-washed floors, reclaimed timber shelves and vintage grey bookcases create a serene and cool vibe. Soft sheepskins are draped over slatted white chairs, Breton stripe cushions adorn plump sofas and the Scandi-style reception has candles, books, magazines and dog biscuits for guest pooches.
The 20 beautifully serene bedrooms have a feel of the Hamptons – all tongue-and-groove-Pinterest-worthy panelling – with little touches perfectly placed; flip flops for sandy toes, a hessian Gallivant beach bag for towels and picnics, retro radios and classic books atop shabby chic shelves. There is a floor-to-ceiling pantry cupboard in the accommodation wing in lieu of individual mini bars – guests simply wander to the larder, pick from the (local) goodies on offer and note their room number down in the book.
There are kooky hooks rather than wardrobes for your clothes (not ideal if you’re an overpacker), Egyptian cotton sheets and luxury toiletries. Rolltop baths and open-plan bathrooms complete the look in the lux rooms. The ‘Deck Rooms’ have beautiful private courtyards – perfect for nightcaps with the lanterns lit or morning coffees in the sunshine. We did both.
The coastal garden, open to overnight guests, is also now home to the Beach Hut where from the end of September guests can enjoy restorative massages and relaxing facials after a day on the beach.
5. Brilliant breakfasts and brunch
Whoever said breakfast is the most important meal of the day, should book in at The Gallivant because anywhere with a Bloody Mary bar gets my vote. Homemade granola bars, fresh pastries and baked breads, compotes, juices, gluten-free banana bread, cakes and yoghurt pots with zesty berry coulis complete the inclusive offers for B&B guests, and for an additional cost hungry diners can choose from the hot menu. FYI, the buttercup-coloured Burford eggs were to die for.
So a genuinely chilled out, stylish retreat with superb dining and a beach on the doorstep. It’s little surprise that loved-up couples in need of sea air and divine dining are escaping to this corner of Sussex. It has the air of childhood holidays gone by and is a place to fall in love again. Five minutes down the road – passing the Romney marshes and those delectable little lambs once more – is the charming village of Rye with its cobbled streets, old pubs and antique shops.
Chantal Borciani is a freelance travel writer and reviews destinations, restaurants, hotels and wellness spas, and specialises in over 50s travel trends. Twitter: @ChantalBorch