Kent Life reviews the Hythe Imperial and its Coast Restaurant
PUBLISHED: 19:14 25 January 2014 | UPDATED: 19:15 25 January 2014
You don't have to wait for summer to head for the coast - the magnificent seafront Hythe Imperial has everything you could desire for a romantic break
Poised majestically on the seafront like a splendid liner in full sail, the Mercure Hythe Imperial Hotel and Spa has stood at the heart of this appealing seaside town since its opening in 1880 under the name The Seabrook.
Wonderful in all weathers, I visited during the stormy start to 2014 and it was truly exciting watching the wild sea from a warm interior, then venturing outside when the sun briefly shone for an invigorating walk along Prince’s Parade.
So grab your Valentine and book a mini break – the Imperial really has go it all, from a renowned nine-hole golf course to a luscious spa and leisure centre, vast bedroom suites and a new restaurant.
Sold to its current owners in 2008, the hotel got an exterior facelift in 2011, including a new roof and windows, and was repainted in soft grey. Refurbishment continues inside as well, the most recent change being Coast, its new face of dining.
Once inside you are struck by the sheer sense of scale and elegance. A tranquil lounge is to one side, the spacious Martello bar to the other, while the double-fronted, wood-framed reception desk even makes checking in a rather grand experience.
I stayed in the Hythe Suite, a sea-facing delight at the end of a broad corridor you could hold a dance in (public and private areas are all on a very generous scale).
Decorated in duck-egg blue, the huge bedroom has tall windows and individual pieces of pretty furniture, including a writing desk and dressing table, plus a supremely comfortable four-poster.
The white en suite bathroom has a black and white tiled floor and there’s a generous lobby area with good hanging space. I could have moved in there and then.
My treats continued with a visit to the basement where ESPA Spa offers a range of treatments from facials to hot stone massage. Just down the corridor is the leisure centre with a pool and gym.
My mission, however, was relaxation – and I achieved it thanks to chirpy young therapist Rachel McConnell, who administered a ‘My Aroma Indulgence’ full body massage: 85 minutes of pure bliss.
Floating on a cloud of scented oils, I wafted up to my room for a quick lie down (hard work, these massages) before meeting my friends for dinner.
It’s years since I ate at the Imperial, but the transformation of the former rather tired dining area is a joy and Coast (which opened last November) looks set to make its mark as a restaurant in its own right.
Contemporary and luxurious, patterned panels of seascape blue are complemented by Italian-designed furniture, Villeroy & Boch glassware and crockery, plus cutlery designed by Robert Welch.
The seasonal modern British menu changes daily and reflects chef Tony Borley’s commitment to local suppliers, from Griggs of Hythe for fresh daily fish and seafood, meat sourced locally from Huntleys of Tenterden to free-range eggs from Coastal Eggs in Canterbury.
Tony, 33, grew up in Saltwood, has owned a restaurant for 10 years and has been a head chef since he was 19, so he’s a safe pair of hands in the kitchen.
I tried his signature dish of pan-seared scallops on Marsh samphire and crispy pancetta, and while I could have easily managed a bit more of each, it was a tasty introduction to my standout main dish of gilt-head bream on a bed of crushed new potatoes with a red pepper salsa.
According to Greek mythology, this particular fish was considered sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, so do bear that in mind if you’re on a romantic date!
With its sweet tasting flesh, the skin cooked perfectly crisp, this could well be my new favourite bream family member.
Across the table My Talented Writer Friend was getting deliciously messy with her yummy shell-on tiger prawns in garlic and parsley butter, while the one we shall call The Driver was relishing tasty chicken livers pan fried in sherry and mustard.
Their main dishes had the uncluttered, confident style of my bream. Darne (the middle cut) of salmon atop a spring onion rosti, served with pancetta-wrapped asparagus and watercress dressing for MTWR; “beautifully done” venison rosettes for TD, slow roasted with juniper berries and served simply with Rosemary new potatoes, carrots and broccoli.
Puddings were all a little on the heavy side for us, with quite a bit of cream and chocolate involved, but by the time you read this there will be lighter options on the menu ready for February’s diners.
We were looked after very well by restaurant manager Jacob Ovecka, who hails from the Czech Republic and was a great help with wine pairing suggestions from a good Les Grands Vins Mercure list.
Coffee followed in the relaxing bar near reception, then I had the luxury of snuggling down in one of the most comfortable beds ever, while a wild storm raged on outside.
Impeccable poached eggs for me in the morning, a tour of the hotel with lovely marketing manager Emma Betteridge and then – reluctantly – I made my way home and back to reality. For a spot of escapism and a romantic winter getaway, I can’t think of a finer place to recommend. n