It was my birthday last weekend, and as a treat, my lovely HUSBAND (I still can’t get used to calling him that – either lovely OR husband to be quite honest), decided to book up a hotel that I had found while searching online a few years ago, but had never got around to going to.
The original reason for the search was “I want to go on the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch railway! I haven’t been on it for years! Where could we stay if we went down that way?” And one of the most aesthetically striking images was that of the Romney Bay House Hotel. How dramatic does it look?
So hubby decided to treat me. Having your birthday at this time of the year, you have to get used to the fact that the weather isn’t going to be great if you go away to celebrate it anywhere in the UK! We were actually quite lucky – it was bright when we arrived, although the potholed road leading to the hotel was peppered with pond-sized puddles. Soon after our arrival, the rain came crashing down again – and unfortunately there was scaffolding up as they had lost roof tiles in a mini-tornado the week before!
Owners Lisa & Clinton couldn’t have been more warm and friendly. You really felt that you were a welcome guest in their home – and what a home. A rambling maze of corridors and nooks and crannies – full of old fashioned character. I was surprised when we opened the door to our room and the sunshine streamed into a beautiful large space, including a wonderful large bathroom with a claw-footed free standing tub and separate shower cubicle.
Everything was clean and bright and well-thought out. The bed was extremely comfortable (I’m quite the insomniac, but I actually slept really well), and our view out over the sea was fabulous. Ive never been one for hangign around in hotel lounges, but there was a gorgeous cosy first floor guest lounge overlooking the sea and I’d spied a ginger cat resting in there, so popped in for a tickle. Everything felt right and homey. Lisa didn’t even give us a key for our room (the front door is locked and you have to ring to get in), she showed us where they were kept, and it was up to us if we felt we needed it. There was also a fully-stocked honesty bar downstairs, where you just noted your room number and what you’d helped yourself to (although we’d packed a bottle of Prosecco!)
We had read great things about the restaurant, and had eagerly booked ourselves in for dinner. There is no menu, and no choice of dining time. We were told what the menu was when we turned up, so I guess if we’d had any dietary requirements, we could have said then! Diners are expected to come down to the ground floor lounge (in front of the roaring open fire) for 7.30pm to be served drinks and nibbles, beofre being shown into the conservatory for dinner at 8pm. With the whole place feeling so homey, I did wonder whether Lisa would shout up the stairs for us to come down for dinner if we were late!
There are only 10 rooms at the hotel, and the restaurant reflects this – there were only 8 other diners on the night that we were there. The conservatory is a lovely space – and I can imagine it would be absolutely wonderful in the summer on a bright clear evening.
We were served by Lisa and two young waiters who couldn’t have been more professional, friendly and accommodating. Clinton in the kitchen served up a fantastic meal! I couldn’t have ‘chosen’ better.
The first course was a kind of thin poatato rosti topped with smoked haddock and spinach, topped with a perfectly poached egg with a very light cheese sauce. I’ve only been ‘coming back’ to fish over the past couple of years, and as I can’t stand smoked salmon, I was a bit dubious of what smoked haddock would be like, and was fully expecting to just grin and bear it. I couldn’t have been more wrong – the haddock had been smoked on the premises I believe and was absolutely delicious – exactly the right amount of smoke! The whole dish was delicate but full of flavour.
Next was honey glazed duck breat with fondant potato and vegetables. The duck was pink, tender and juicy, the potato buttery and soft, the roast parsnip sweet and the vegetables beautifully turned, fresh and crunchy! Perfect!
Dessert was a spiced bramley apple souffle, cinnamon cream with red berries and sugar lattice. this had a thin, light sponge base, the souffle was a really light whipped mousse and the cream had just the right amount of cinnamon. The crisp satisfying crack of the sugar-work with it’s very slightly burnt caramel taste was a brilliant contrast. Absolutely wonderful!
I could have ended there – but there were cheese and biscuits (and port) to be had. I’m not a massive cheese and biscuit with dinner kind of a girl, so I left most of that to him. However, I did eat most of the gorgeous little petit fours!
We wandered back up to our lovely room full (but not too stuffed) and happy and, looked out over the calm sea and even though it wasn’t my plan, fell asleep almost immediately!
Breakfast the next morning (you write down what time and style you want the night before on a pad next to the decent WiFi’s password) was the usual combination of buffet-style cereal, fruit etc, and we had both ordered the full english. We had our choice of eggs (me scrambled, him poached) – everything was tasty and well cooked – especially the sausages. But the absolute star of breakfast (at which there were far more people) was the seemingly endless supply of toast to be smeared with their homemade orange marmalade. As each table tried it, you could hear the wave of the same question over and over “What’s in the marmalade?” The answer was that Clinton’s marmalade had cinnamon, vanilla, bay leaf and (the flavour that made it so special) anise. They had some jars for sale at the honesty bar where you checked out, and we bought a couple – one for my parents and one for us. Lisa mentioned that this left just one jar from the batch and they’d have to make some more. I’d happily pay to buy some and have it posted to us!
So, that brought us to the last part of our trip – a quick return chug on the gorgeous Romney Hythe & Dymchurch railway – a not-too-mini version of a ‘real’ steam railway. My parents had taken me on it as a kid, and I’d been again when I lived in Kent – but I hadn’t been for about 20 years.
There’s something exciting about steam trains – the smell of the coke hanging in the air and the sound of the steam escaping from the funnel evoking all kinds of base emotions!
It may be small, but it’s perfectly formed, and proper grown-ups can still sit in the enclused carriages very comfortably. There is even a licenced buffet car. It was a perfect day – bright and brisk with hardly any clouds in the sky. We took the hour long round trip to Hythe and back to New Romney, puffing through the marshy countryside, baaing at sheep on the way – and checking out the few sights. It was exhilirating but relaxing and I loved every second of it. I plan to go on the Watercress Line soon as I’ve never been on it – or perhaps a return to the Bluebell Railway.
I even had the added pleasant surprise that the RHDR official guidebook that I bought contains a foreward by Ben Goldacre! Which seemed rather random.
What more could I have wanted for my birthday?