Cheese topped Cottage Pie
The Walpole Bay Hotel
Fifth Avenue, Cliftonville
Kent CT9 2JJ
Tel: 01843 221703
A bygone era is ever present at The Walpole Bay Hotel. The patina on the marble steps tells all. Worn through popularity and loyalty their 98 years hold many a story. It is really as if time has stopped. This wonderful Edwardian style building that sits proudly on Fifth Avenue, Cliftonville Margate has 42 rooms, a grand dinning room, snooker table, ballroom with sprung maple floor and bags of character in every nook and cranny. It has withstood the test of time, the great depression, mods and rockers and even nouvelle cuisine! The original trellis gated Otis Lift installed in 1927 still works. My younger son really enjoyed being lift monitor for the weekend.
The tour de force that has made this place tick for more than 25 years is Jane Bishop. Jane and Peter (her husband) started the unenviable task of renovating a dilapidated grade II listed building out of love. They are still doing so. Passing it when they were courting many years before they had always dreamed of living there and running it as there own. So one day they did exactly that. They scraped together enough money for a deposit but were let down by the banks. The owner let them go ahead anyway giving them a few years grace such was his belief in their passion to succeed. They are still very much here.
You may be familiar with Jane she’s quite famous after her appearance on Channel Five’s television series The Hotel Inspector. As well as running the hotel with Peter and their family Jane also regards the hotel as a living museum. There are artifacts strewn around every corner of this quirky building, many donated by visitors over the years. It’s as if there is an unspoken unity with people who have never met but believe in the same end. The museum must continue. Jane’s philosophy is to never refuse anything. As a consequence there are numerous wooden cased sewing machines arriving almost daily. Each contributor is registered for posterity.
There is another quirk to The Walpole Bay Hotel, some years ago a writer came and stayed and faked disappointment with the table linen. He asked a bewildered Jane for a fresh linen napkin. After a short time on his own in the bar he presented Jane with a wonderful sketch of characters in the bar. The napkin collection was born. There are now so many framed napkin pictures that they hang all the way up to the 2nd floor. There are many famous names among the contributors Tracey Emin has made her mark. From Margate she has been a long time fan and patron along with the Brit Art crew who used to regularly party here.
It seems churlish to say it but the food really isn’t the point here. You come to this part of the world to soak up a bit of history, history of the great British seaside. But we did have an enjoyable evening working our way through a good duck pate that came with an excellent homemade relish. The deep fried beer battered fish and chips were tiptop, crispy batter and golden chips. A pleasant surprise for my occasionally fussy son was a tropical fruit platter as a starter. A char grilled breast of chicken with brandy and mushroom sauce was less successful as the strong brandy swamped the delicate chicken. A cottage pie was covered in melted cheese and tasted great but I would have preferred a better ratio of filling to mash. The puddings were fine and a decent if unadventurous cheese board completed the evening. Prices are reasonable about £6 for starters and £12 -£15 for mains.
In addition to the napkin art there are hundreds of photos on the walls. Many a film star and TV personality have graced this establishment. It is quite fun spotting them, even the Marques of Bath has stayed here.
Breakfasts here are good. They are a self-service affair with a simple selection of hot food and fruit, cold meats and cereals in individual boxes, which my kids love because we never have them at home. The bacon was superb and the sausages not bad either. In fact there was something for the whole family. Also the orange juice was fresh, so often a let down in smaller hotels.
But to dwell on the food is missing the point. Here you get a capsule of a seaside hotel of old. A neon sign not fully working, a front door with tricky handle and staff who charmingly went to their own car to get a CD when we asked for some music while eating. This is a million miles away from any corporate hotel experience. The Walpole Bay Hotel has dignity, charm and an eccentric elegance. I do hope that this grand old dame of Margate continues to reign for another hundred years in her unorthodox fashion.
To find out more about the hotel or make a booking go to:
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