Like many Brightonians I speak to, I seem to find it inexplicably difficult to leave our Brighton bubble to appreciate all of the wonderful towns, villages and countryside in the surrounding area. Yet there is so much to offer. With that in mind my wife and I decided to take a little mid-week mini break to our neighbouring town of Eastbourne, a town that in recent years has reinvented itself from being known as a retirement village, to somewhere that has a real buzz about it, with cool independent cafes and bars springing up all over town and a youthful creative scene lead by the Towner art gallery. Although I have visited some of the surrounding picturesque villages and hiked across the nearby seven sisters I have not set foot in Eastbourne town for over twenty years! So we booked ourselves into the Port Hotel, a new contemporary boutique hotel on Eastbourne’s seafront that opened its doors to the public earlier this year. We had such a lovely experience I feel compelled to tell you all about it!
Arriving late afternoon feeling tired after a long hike and spot of lunch at nearby Alfriston village, we found the hotel easily due to its striking jet black façade which stands out from the traditional all white Victorian seafront hotels in the vicinity. We were able to park right outside with parking permits supplied by reception which is located on the ground floor space that also encompasses the restaurant, bar and lounge area. The interior of the hotel has a pale wood and pink pastel accents giving the place a tranquil and airy ambience which we immediately relaxed into. A mere glance at the exciting small plates menu designed by esteemed Head Chef Alex Burtenshaw , who has a pedigree of East Sussex boutique hotels to his name including Brighton’s Drakes hotel, convinced us to book a table for dinner before we were shown to our sea-view apartment.
The Port Hotel boasts nineteen rooms, six of which look out over the sea and I am glad we nabbed one of those. The apartment is the largest of the rooms and it had a stunning view over the beach and Eastbourne pier, I loved that they had a pair of binoculars on the table which was a really nice touch. The room itself is gorgeous, a super comfy king-size bed takes centre stage in a beautifully designed setting that carries the same serene feeling we had when we entered the hotel. At first glance it seems minimalist in design but the attention to detail is arresting, with beautiful glassware, Scandinavian furniture and even a record player with a varied selection of vinyl in one of the cabinets. The bathroom is huge with a giant standalone bathtub, his and her sinks and a walk-in power-shower. We soon settle in and unwind after our long day, plonking on some ambient music and soak in the tub to ease our aching muscles with the luxurious bath-salts and luxury soap products provided before heading down to dinner. Stopping first at the bar to enjoy a couple of Port signature cocktails, the “Onyx” – Sussex Gin, Port Infused Pear Gin, Bitters, Egg Whites, Sugar Syrup which are a must try!
It seems word has got round about the Port restaurant as it is buzzing, and full of happy content diners conversing over some quite delicious looking plates of food. We finished our cocktails and chose something to drink with dinner from the inspired wine list which boasts a fine selection of locally produced wines as well as some from further afield.
Port restaurant has a passion for local produce and a commitment to supporting food artisans in the region, the food menu consists of little delicacies, and fish, meat and veg Port plates with four or five dishes under each heading. Everything on the menu looks so delicious it was difficult not order everything we saw. We were absolutely famished so it was a relief when the little delicacies, Popcorn Mussels and savoury doughnuts we ordered arrived. The doughnuts are a delight, they are delicate, light and fluffy but but contain powerful rich and punchy flavours from Sussex Charmer cheese and Marmite custard which shock the taste-buds into overdrive, with the subtle sweetness from the dough only coming through at the end. The mussels are ridiculously moreish and taste great dipped in the accompanying punchy chipotle mayo.
The small plates are casually served as they are cooked and arrive staggered throughout the course of the evening, which is what I love about small plate dining. First up; Tiger Prawn Sando with Satay and Nori Mayo from the fish section and roasted hispi cabbage from the veg. The Prawn Sando is brimming with punchy Japanese flavours, with gorgeous plump tiger prawns in a crisp katsu coating. This hispi cabbage, charred to perfection with a potent smoked black garlic mayo really bringing out the earthiness of the cabbage, topped with a generous helping of pangragattato to give each mouthful a pleasing crunchy texture.
The next dish to arrive was a beautifully presented and gloriously succulent piece of duck breast, expertly paired with a dollop of slightly citrus quince purée which brings the meaty flavour of the duck to the forefront, purple bitter leaves add to the aesthetics and a lovely rich ju compliments and does well not to overpower the wonderful contrasting flavours present in on the plate. Whilst this is devoured another plate from the veg section appears, charred Romonesco topped with a sweet a carrot and harissa sauce and a tangy zesty and slightly smoky salsa verde, which was delightful in itself and the perfect accompaniment to the duck.
We finish by sharing Clapham Farm goat kebab on a light and fluffy flatbread and various condiments to compliment the flavourful and surprisingly tender meat. My favourite dish of the night as It surpassed all expectations even after the awe inspiring plates of food that came before. The meat was gorgeous and full of flavour, and the various sauces liberally scattered including a coriander dressing, and a zesty yoghurt, made each mouthful an adventure.
True to form, my wife was unable to resist the dessert menu, which consisted of some luxurious and decadent sounding exciting concoctions that to be fair, most would struggle to ignore. After much deliberation she plumped for a stunning blackberry parfait topped with a crisp chocolate slice, ground Sorral, and smoked Cobnut shavings. I was begrudgingly allowed a mouthful and I was astounded. There was so much going on with flavours, textures and temperatures that I would call this dish a masterpiece in dessert making.
After a couple more drinks at the well-stocked bar we retired to our magnificent apartment where we enjoyed a cracking nights sleep and a well deserved lie-in before heading down to a phenomenal breakfast that really topped our stay off nicely. The restaurant already packed with locals enjoying brunch. The maple glazed bacon deserves a special mention and simply must be tried to be believed.
Our entire experience of Port Hotel was nothing short of fantastic. The memorable and affordable modern hotel is a great addition to Eastbourne seafront. It’s original style with focus on the minutest details provides a fresh appeal to a newer audience, and the restaurant rivals the very best that is offered in Eastbourne’s well-known foodie destination neighbour Brighton. I would make the trip again if just to eat here! Though I suspect we will be staying here again very soon.