Royal Harbour Hotel
10 – 12 Nelson Crescent
Kent CT11 9JF
Tel: 01843 591 514
I’m just 1.5 hours from London and I’ve checked into my Bo-Ho four-poster bedroom with views over Ramsgate harbour that lies in front of the hotel. Divided among three buildings The Royal Harbour Hotel is a rabbit warren of shabby chic meets Victorian boarding house. In the lounge I found a turntable (remember those?) with a few hundred discs of vinyl to spin at one’s leisure. The real fire adds more than just obvious warmth; it adds a homely charm so often missing in the modern boutique hotel. An honesty bar and complementary late night cheese and biscuits (brilliant idea) complete the scene of this picture postcard hotel.
I’ve written before about the unusually high number of historical notaries who have lived or spent time in Ramsgate, well The Royal Harbour Hotel can make the claim to fame of being where novelist and playwright Wilkie Collins lived. Widely believed to be the creator of the modern detective novel with the publication of Moonstone in 1868 he enjoyed the sea vistas from Ramsgate in the 1870’s no doubt with a little more wealth to enjoy.
There is also a quiet library to enjoy any number of nautical books at your leisure. I noticed an old imprint of the now popular Poldark lurking on one shelf. This is the sort of place it might take a few days to discover fully as there are so many nooks and crannies – great for hide and seek!
The Empire Restaurant Room is one of the reasons for my visit, to be more specific Craig Mather the newly ensconced chef. Craig was up until recently chef lecturer at East Kent College. Prior to that he worked in Michelin starred Mallory Court for four years amongst other Kitchens. Craig’s presence is significant as it raises the culinary game in Ramsgate to new higher strata. In short his cooking is amazing.
The Empire Room is decorated like a St. James club. Dark walls, low lighting, framed copies of Empire Magazine and old furniture are my company for the next two hours. The service is friendly and unfussy. The food is glorious.
My starter of smoked eel soldiers and soft boiled egg was not only an unusual dish full of smoky flavour; the breaded eel was also pleasingly crisp and served well as foot soldiers to take me into battle with the main course. Pork and black pudding belly and triple cooked chips (that really were cooked three times unlike many that proclaim to be) was a worthy meal of generals. The pork loin was truly succulent and the belly had that sort of gooey chewy top that you couldn’t and shouldn’t call crackling, it’s far too nice for that.
The people around me were a mixture of locals who have discovered the best-kept secret of Ramsgate on their own doorstep and happy visitors who have lucked out and decided to eat in. It’s all quite unassuming at The Empire Rooms, no pomp and circumstance (or even Elgar on the sound system) but my goodness the food is good. I finished off the meal with a zippy lemon tart surrounded by a medley of fruit and tiny meringues.
Mornings in the breakfast room of the hotel are where they should shoot commercials promoting the seaside. The sunlight streamed in casting shadows of the small vase of flowers on my table as I ate the perfect full English (you have to, don’t you when away). It’s a make your own toast and tea affair here and the better for it.
Surrounded by nautical maps I took breakfast at a leisurely pace. There is something very soothing about looking at maps of far-flung places, a reminder of where you have been and planed trips to the unknown. I was rather sad my start to the day didn’t last longer.
The Royal Harbour Hotel is a little gem of place that offers great value and food fit for a king let alone his army. I urge you to give the sleepy corner of Kent a visit and prepare to slow down, take in the views and enjoy a splendid meal with the knowledge that the person who created it has been poacher, gamekeeper and Michelin trained.