My wife and I spent a very disappointing 6-8 November weekend at The Place at the Beach. We booked our weekend stay after viewing the hotel’s web site. As it turned out, the gap between the web site’s pretensions and our experience was huge.
According to the web site, the Place at the Beach is “a hotel alongside the beach”, and “one minute’s walk from…wonderful beaches”. This isn’t true. The hotel is situated across the road from a large park with adjacent sand dunes. It took us about fifteen minutes to walk through the car park and the park itself, and then up and over the dunes to the beach. The hotel’s web site also boasts that it was the Sunday Times’s “Rural Hotel of 2009”. After our experience, I checked on the internet and it’s true that a 16 February 2009 Sunday Times feature story named The Place at the Beach as its Best Rural Hotel. However, that was under the hotel’s previous owners, the current owners having bought the hotel in August, 2009.
According to the web site, the restaurant is run by “a classically trained chef”. At dinner on our first night, we waited nearly a half hour for our food to be served, despite there being only six other customers in the restaurant. When our food arrived, one dish was very undercooked, so we asked that it be cooked some more. Our server took it back to the kitchen but returned a few moments later, informing us the chef told her that this was the way it was meant to be cooked and that it didn’t look as rare under the kitchen lighting as it did under the restaurant lighting. We asked again that it be cooked a bit more. About twenty minutes passed before it was brought back, still too rare, and this time as hard as a rock (perhaps having been zapped in the microwave?). In any case, it was inedible.
Fast forward to Sunday morning breakfast when both my wife and I ordered eggs with mushrooms, tomatoes, and brown toast. Apologising, the waitress and restaurant manager explained that we could have eggs, but no mushrooms, tomatoes, or brown bread, as none of those items had been available that morning at the corner shop! The web site description of the restaurant refers to its “locally-sourced food”. It makes no reference to the corner shop!
The restaurant managers and some of the servers did an admirable job of trying to cover up for the inadequacies of the kitchen and the hotel’s general management: “We’ve only been going for three months under the present owners”; “We’re launching a new menu tonight (though the brochure in our bedroom indicated the menu had begun two weeks earlier)”; “We’re about to start training our staff”; and “We’re going to be refinishing the floors and replacing all of the tables and chairs”. Another staff member, Lisa, who worked at reception, did a very professional job, greeting us warmly, and providing us with copies of walking tours in the area. Also on the positive side, our room was clean and quiet, and large enough for the bed, though not a chair.
What struck us most was that the owners don’t seem to know what customers they’re aiming to attract. According to the hotel's “How to find us” web page, the easiest way to get there is by taking a private plane or helicopter to nearby Lydd airport. That suggests an appeal to very wealthy customers. Yet, a staff member told us that a high proportion of customers come to dinner or stay over because they’re drawn to events at the Pontin’s Holiday Park a half-mile down the road.
During the first months in the life of a small hotel/restaurant, you’d expect to see hands-on ownership, ensuring cohesion between the hotel, the restaurant front-of-house, and the kitchen. During our visit, no-one appeared to have authority to get things done outside of their own area. The brochure in our room included a message from Tudor Hopkins, one of the owners, asking customers to call him on his mobile with any questions or comments. Taking him at his word, we phoned his number and left a message, saying that we’d like to tell him about our experience of his hotel and restaurant. Instead of phoning us back, he sent us a text asking, “Who is this?” Later, we were told by staff that he was away for all of the next week. Hopefully, while he was away, for the sake of some of his conscientious staff, he’ll have figured out what to do with this place, starting with the kitchen.
As I prepared to post this review, I noticed another one, dated 4 September, 2009, making many of the same points I’ve made here. So, two months on the hotel/restaurant continues to offer much the same as it did two days after opening!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Welcome to our coastal restaurant with rooms, across the road from the dunes of Camber Sands and beautiful sandy beach beyond. Inspired by the coastal motels you might find in California, we're a calm and relaxing hideaway from the stresses and strains of modern life. We have 20 amazing bedrooms all decorated with an eye to the Hamptons and serve great food using almost exclusively locally sourced fresh ingredients. In 2016 we were included in The Times 'Coolest Beach Hotels - No. 4', The Mirror's 'Top 10 Seaside Hotels in the UK' and Squaremeal's 'UK's Best 100 Restaurants'. The private coastal garden incorporates mini secluded decks behind all the Garden and Luxury Garden rooms and is also home to The Beach Hut, where guests can enjoy relaxing massages and lovely facials after a day on the beach using ethical and natural health and beauty products that are exclusively blended in the UK. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- The Place At Beach
- Place At The Beach Rye