Hotel review: Botany Bay, Kingsgate
PUBLISHED: 11:53 05 May 2014 | UPDATED: 11:53 05 May 2014
Kent Life enjoys a seaside break
For fans of proper family seaside holidays, the revamped Botany Bay Hotel on the magnificent clifftop at Kingsgate is the place to head this summer.
The hotel started life as a private house, known as the Fayreness. During the Second World War it was commandeered by the Royal Navy as a billet for wrens and its imposing turret (now a delightful suite with fab sea views) was used as a watchtower.
At the close of the war it became a convalescence home and in the sixties it was converted into a licensed hotel, The Fayreness. Extended further in 2000, it was acquired by Shepherd Neame 11 years later, who invested £1.4m in its redevelopment.
We visited just days after its March opening and the place was already buzzing, helped by the gorgeous spring sunshine, which drew in plenty of locals, walkers, families and golfers – North Foreland Golf Club is right next door.
There are 30 bedrooms and my spacious, sea-facing room had a balcony with a table and chairs for two, a comfortable sleigh bed and a smart white en suite with plenty of fluffy white towels and a pair of bathrobes.
Downstairs is largely open plan, with a popular bar, brasserie and coffee lounge where a constant flow of visitors enjoyed drinks and food, many of them spilling out into the sunny outdoor seating area.
The modern restaurant is in a separate orangery and reflects the seaside colours of greens, greys and cream seen throughout the hotel, with plenty of nautical artefacts and framed black and white photographs of local scenes for good measure.
Accompanied by My Gorgeous Daughter, who I swear is part-mermaid, we headed straight for the beach, just a hop and skip away. With its golden sand just made for bare toes and those spectacular chalk cliffs and stacks made famous by Visit Kent’s iconic posters, it’s quite frankly sublime.
We walked nearly as far as Margate, stopping for a quick bite to eat at the Jetski café at Cliftonville before heading back in a Broadstairs direction as far as the imposing Kingsgate Castle.
Sea air and sunshine knocked us for six and we admitted defeat and headed back to base for a cuppa, a bit of a rest and a reviving shower before dinner.
Head development chef Simon Howlett has overseen the menus for Shepherd Neame’s six hotels in Kent, making sure that each offers individual menus that suit both the clientele and the location.
In the case of Botany Bay, unsurprisingly, seafood dominates, but as well as classic fish and chips there are contemporary British dishes such as treacle and sea salt-glazed pork belly and herb-crusted rack of Romney Marsh lamb with red braised cabbage, cranberries and apples.
Simon uses Griggs of Hythe for fish, J C Rook and Godmersham Game for meat and R J Kingsland for fruit, veg and cheese.
Popularity can sometimes brings its challenges, however, and such had been the demand for food during the day a disappointing number of dishes had run out by evening, leaving a fairly limited choice. Possibly a rethink on running restaurant dining at lunchtime, in addition to a bar menu, might be in order.
From the starters that remained we opted for the seared scallops (without pancetta for non-meat eating MGD), which were fine but sat on rather watery cauliflower purée. My chicken liver and pork pâté was flavoursome and enhanced by good fruit chutney, but the pre-packaged salad was a let down, as was the tasteless white toast (no choice was offered).
Our fishy main dishes didn’t delight either; both the sea bass fillets and pan-roasted paprika monkfish were overcooked and under seasoned and the promised accompaniments for the bass – mange tout, baby sweetcorn and seaweed – were noticeable only by their absence.
Desserts rather continued the theme. MGD adores bread and butter pudding, but apparently so had the lunchtime diners and there was none left: pity, laced with Baileys and accompanied by sea salt bananas and custard it sounded delicious.
You can’t go wrong with local cheeses, however, and we enjoyed Kentish Blue, Ashmore and Chaucer served with crisp biscuits, grapes, celery and quince jelly.
The airy restaurant, with windows on three sides and an atrium roof, was busy with parties ranging from couples up to groups of 10 and the very young waiting staff I think found it all a bit overwhelming.
It was, however, the very first weekend and I am confident the teething problems will be swiftly resolved; this is a splendid addition to the area and from comments by other diners, a welcome improvement on what was here before.
And after a comfortable night’s sleep, we both really appreciated the sea view as we ate our perfectly cooked poached eggs before heading off to the sunny beach again for a final, reluctant, goodbye.
We can’t wait to return in the summer for more sand and sea and to find out how the hotel is progressing - but next time I’ll encourage chef to make a few more batches of bread and butter pud … n