The Shurland Hotel in Eastchurch

PUBLISHED: 15:19 22 March 2014 | UPDATED: 15:20 22 March 2014

KL-April2014-ShurlandHotel

KL-April2014-ShurlandHotel

Rikard Osterlund

Kent Life stays the night at this revamped gem on Sheppey

My mood wasn’t the best as I arrived on the Isle of Sheppey in the dark and wet and battled my way slowly through Friday rush-hour traffic towards The Shurland Hotel in Eastchurch.

But it was easy to find, on a prominent corner next to the substantial All Saints church in Eastchurch, and the welcome in the smart black and white reception area was warm and friendly.

I was whisked up to the Aquamarine Suite and, minutes later, lying back in a hot, bubbling jacuzzi bath, started to feel feeling distinctly better.

The room is quite plain, but perfectly comfortable – a three-seater squashy cream sofa, a four-poster bed with a gauzy drape, simple wooden furnishings and a distinct lack of ‘frills’ – but, as I was soon to learn, all this is about to change.

The hotel’s name references Shurland Hall, near Eastchurch, named after its original 12th-century owners the De Shurlands. While not quite of that vintage, as our ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures show, there was quite a bit of reconstruction work to be done when three business partners bought The Shurland last summer before its official opening in October.

The ground floor was the first target and £1000,000 was invested in gutting, enlarging and basically transforming a very traditional and dated area into the crisp, contemporary space it is today.

The black and white theme that begins in reception continues through to the bar, lounge and restaurant, with black stencils of birds on the white walls, black leather seating, stools on chrome pedestals up at the smart, well-lit bar.

It’s all very different from the ‘busy’ carpet, red-patterned wallpaper and shiny wooden furnishings of before and it has inevitably meant a change of clientele to an extent.

Other changes at ground-floor level include The Island Gym & Spa, where just under £1m has been spent on new state-of-the-art equipment, a sauna and solarium. It’s up to 500 members already and the facilities are all available to hotel guests: next time I’ll pack my trainers.

I opted to eat in the bar as the restaurant is quiet and it looks more fun: people are eating all over the ground-floor area, either from the bar menu (baguettes, grills, jacket potatoes) or the more elaborate restaurant one, and there’s a nice, happy buzz.

My visit coincided with the start of the new Spring menu (they will change every three months). After some fresh, warm poppy seed bread served with oil and vinegar and good butter, I tucked into pressed terrine of slow-roasted pork belly served with apple chutney and wafer-thin granary toast.

Managing to be earthy, meaty yet light, the terrine was perfectly complemented by the sweetness of the chutney and a beautifully dressed rocket salad.

A fine red Italian Barolo Giacosa Fratelli was the perfect accompaniment and also went very well with my main course of Gressingham duck.

Pan-fried, the richness of the duck breast was offset by a deliciously sharp blueberry glaze and the simple accompaniment of Savoy cabbage and roasted carrots.

Other choices include pan-fried sea bass on chive mash, rack of lamb, steaks and beer-battered haddock with hand-cut fries and minted mushy peas (the choice of the largely male clinetele in the bar that night).

I was delighted to see a separate vegetarian menu, with four choices per course and imaginative ones at that – spiced couscous with roast artichoke and tomato ragout and an Asian-style vegetable curry with sticky rice both tempted.

I knew to expect a lot from the desserts, something of a speciality of chef Simon Dallas, and I was not to be disappointed. His Normandy apple flan with sauce Anglaise was stunning: exquisitely thin pastry, strawberries adding a hint of extra sweetness to the sharper apples.

After a good night’s sleep I took breakfast in the restaurant, which overlooks the substantial parish church. With a tiled floor, part-panelled walls in black and white, leaf wall decorations and sculptural pieces in its alcoves, it seats 46 on high-backed black leather chairs at sturdy square tables and is clean, smart and simple.

Penny, efficient and friendly, served me poached eggs on wholemeal toast just how I like them, my only comment would be that I would have preferred a cafetière of coffee rather than having to ask for it by the cup.

The manager showed me round the rest of the hotel, and discussed the plans for the bedrooms – perfectly functional, they don’t yet match the style of the revamped ground floor but even by the time you read this, changes will have been made to all rooms and the busy carpets in public areas brought into house style.

One area I was really impressed by is the large function suite with its own bar and sound system. It’s already proving very popular for weddings and corporate functions but is also highly versatile: a local judo club was using it early that morning.

All in all, an interesting addition to Sheppey, one that’s at the start of its journey but already making big changes and attracting a wider clientele and increasingly from further afield. Definitely one to watch.

The essentials

Where: The Shurland Hotel,

79-81 High Street, Eastchurch ME12 4EH

01795 881100 or info@theshurlandhotel.co.uk

www.theshurlandhotel.co.uk

What: hotel of character with a bar, restaurant, gym and spa (free to guests) an dlarge function room

When: food is served in both the bar and restaurant Mon-Sat from noon until 9pm, Sun noon to 4pm

How much: starters £4.90-£7.60, mains £10.60-£16.90, desserts £4.90-£5.10

Meet the chef

Simon Dallas, head chef, The Shurland

1. Tell us a bit about you

I trained at the Dorchester, Mayfair, Piccadilly and Meridien Hotels in the 1970s and was head chef at The Hurlingham Club and executive chef for event caterers Payne and Gunter, cooking for among others Henley Regatta, Goodwood racecourse and The Queen’s State Banquet for her 40th anniversary. I worked at a three-star Michelin restaurant in France and have been a consultant and owned my own business for the past seven years. I live in Deal and have been at the Shurland since August 2013.

2. Your principal local suppliers?

We use Brambledown, the local farm shop, daily for our fruit and veg. We buy our meat through a family butchers on the island and fish is bought locally wherever we can get the best, we tend to shop around

3. Do you have a signature dish?

Not really – but I do enjoy home curing and home smoking. And we pride ourselves in making all of our desserts, including the ice creams

4. Who has influenced you most?

Monsieur Martin, an old French chef at the Piccadilly Hotel, London in the early 1970s who had served under Escoffier himself. He ran the brigade like an RSM and carried on working until he was in his 70s

5. Your must-have kitchen gadget?ww

A paring knife that must be over 20 years old now - it just seems to fit my hands

6 Who would you love to cook for?

I have cooked for many members of the Royal Family, including Diana, many famous sports stars and actors - but never for Tommy Cooper. I would have loved to have met him, he’s my all-time my hero.

Did you know?

● Sheppey comes from the Saxon ‘Sceapige’, meaning isle of sheep, and the marshes which make up much of the island still provide grazing for large flocks of sheep

● British aviation history started at Eastchurch

● Samuel Pepys established the Royal Navy Dockyard at the main town of Sheerness

● When Henry VIII wanted the River Medway as an anchorage for his navy, he had a fort built to protect the mouth of the river. Garrison Fort was built in 1545 but forced to surrender to the Dutch Navy in 1667 when, for a short time, a force occupied the town

● Some Sheppey inhabitants call themselves Swampies, a term that began as an insult but for some has become a term of endearment and a way of reinforcing identity

● The Sheppey Crossing was opened in 2006, rising to a height of 115 feet above the Swale.

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