The Royal Harbour Hotel and Empire Room restaurant, Ramsgate
PUBLISHED: 08:05 05 July 2014
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Kent Life stays in a Grade II listed Georgian townhouse overlooking Ramsgate's Royal Harbour
Part of Ramsgate’s best known historic garden crescent with magnificent south-easterly views over the Royal Harbour, yacht marina and English Channel, staying at The Royal Harbour Hotel is an adventure right from the word go.
For starters, the main hotel and 19 of its bedrooms are in one Georgian Grade II listed townhouse, while 39 steps along (yes, really!) is a recently acquired second townhouse with eight individual bedrooms, one of which was mine for the night.
The Empire Room restaurant, which opened in January, is in the basement of the hotel but with a main entrance down a flight of stairs halfway between the two.
Umbrellas are provided for quick dashes between the different sites, but on my visit Ramsgate was at its sunny best and my front-facing Royal Oak Suite with tall sash windows opened onto an adorable little balcony for two overlooking the seafront.
Decorated in a cool Copenhagen heritage blue, with stripey curtains, armchairs and sofa, plump cushions decorated with ship motifs adorn the oak four-poster and the walls are hung with original paintings.
There’s a big world map on one wall and above the pretty tiled fireplace, whose mantelpiece sports two globes as bookends to volumes such as The Coral Island, is a map depicting sea voyages from Dunkirk to Berlin made by Winston Churchill ‘in defence of the British Commonwealth and Empire, between June 1940 and July 1945.’
It’s all terribly patriotic, but done with enormous charm and there’s a wonderful contrast with hi-tech touches like a TV in the stylish black, white and chrome fitted bathroom, a flat-screen LED Smart TV in the bedroom and a mini Nespresso machine.
Dragging myself away from the books I locked up the house, noting with satisfaction the blue plaque informing me that Wilkie Collins also stayed here, and trotted along to the snug basement bar to meet up with owner James Thomas and his sister Victoria Nielsen, campaign director for Hungry for History, who organised the Waterloo Dinner held at The Empire Room and featured on page 41 in this edition.
When our respective guests arrived we all went into dinner in the gloriously Heritage Red-painted restaurant with its mix of antique wooden tables and chairs, proper linen napkins, fresh flowers, stylish wine glasses and framed magazine covers.
History books fill bookcases, rich rugs adorn the stone and wood floors and in winter the wood-burning fire adds to the warmth of this elegant yet informal room, softly lit by individual lamps on side tables.
As befits the club-like setting, the 30-cover dining room specialises in classic British dishes. These included my tender asparagus spears in anchovy butter topped with a perfectly poached egg and My Dining Companion’s tasty prawn and avocado salad.
Star of the meal for me was sea bass with samphire and steamed clams, which gave a real taste of the sea and was perfectly accompanied by Riverdale Sauvignon Blanc.
MDC enjoyed her crispy chicken served with vibrant spinach and a vegetable potato cake but wasn’t as brave as I was with the (very sweet) puddings we chose.
“Next time I’ll have the crumble” she said, watching with what I suspect wasn’t admiration as I demolished my own dark chocolate and peanut tart with home-made peanut butter ice cream (divine) and started on her intriguingly named ‘something nice in a glass.’ This idea goes back to Jamie and Victoria’s childhood and was their favourite pudding request.
On this occasion I am really not sure what was in said glass, but suffice to say it was chocolate, a bit like a grown-up melted Mars bar and gooey, rich and groaning with calories. Reader, I nearly managed the lot.
MDC then sensibly went home but I have to confess I joined Victoria and her guest back in the main hotel and sat perched on the fender seat by the lit open fire in the front sitting room, chatting until the wee small hours. It’s that kind of place.
There are three sitting rooms and all are wonderful with their stripped floors and inviting armchairs. There’s even an honesty bar. Beautiful things abound: a roll-top desk, paintings on every wall, a courtyard herb garden to the rear.
There are binoculars with which to scan the high seas (Ramsgate was home to the Commander of the Channel Fleet), a working gramophone player and old vinyls, books by the hundred and well-loved board games and toys for the younger visitors.
After not many hours sleep at all (but in a divinely comfortable bed) I was back in the hotel actually eating breakfast, despite the vast amount I’d already consumed.
It’s all terribly grown up – you make your own pot of tea or cafetière of coffee, toast your choice of bread, help yourself to fresh fruit, cereals, cold meats and cheeses and just say what you want for a cooked breakfast – there’s no menu and as long as it’s not outrageous, like half a roast swan, say, chef will rustle it up in a trice.
This place is a real gem, a home-from-home and if you’re anything like me, and I suspect you are, you won’t ever want to leave and will certainly return. Loved it. n