It may come as a surprise but for many years The Grand Hotel Eastbourne has been the only full service five star sea view hotel on the south coast. With the vagaries of the various Visit England and AA accreditation schemes, there were perhaps assumptions that – naming-no-names – other imposing large seaside hotels in our corner of the world have consistently held the full five stars but that isn’t the case; the grand old dame of Eastbourne, affectionately known as The White Palace, has had a steady and firm grip on that crown.
The property wasn’t actually built to welcome paying guests but rather as a private residence by William Earp in 1875 for himself and his 13 children. With a facade of just over 120 metres that must have been quite the place to play hide-and-seek. When the family moved out, the only real suitable use for the building was to become a hotel and through the late Victorian and Edwardian periods it welcomed the upper classes and wider great and good of society including names such as Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Conan Doyle and various European royalty.
I relay this not to bore you with history but rather to set the scene because The Grand Hotel Eastbourne offers a level of grandeur and hospitality that is unmatched on the Sussex coastline, something it has done for decades. Walking into the lobby is like entering a bygone, more reverent era with a slightly hushed, discreet atmosphere that is thankfully counteracted by the personability and efficiency of the friendly staff.
The eye is naturally led to the grandiose Great Hall which follows on directly from the lobby. It’s here that in the 1920s and 30s the Palm Court Orchestra broadcast live on BBC radio every Sunday due to the near-perfect acoustics. It’s also where my food and drink partner in crime Nathalie and I settled down for that most classic of English dining traditions: afternoon tea.
I’m a huge fan of afternoon tea however it’s rare that I have the time – or indeed room in my stomach – to indulge in it very often. Also, it’s very easy to be let down by an afternoon tea as it’s typically not a cheap way of eating so you need to be 100% confident that those eye-catching tiers of dainty sandwiches, scones and fancies are homemade and freshly baked, rather than bought from cash-and-carry and defrosted that morning… again naming-no-names!
As you’d expect, the afternoon tea at The Grand Hotel Eastbourne is impeccable, which comes as no surprise as they’ve had a good hundred years or so perfecting it. As if my magic, glasses of Canard Duchêne Demi-Sec Champagne appeared before us; the semi sweet – or technically speaking, semi dry – sparkling wine being the perfect match for the light finger sandwiches and patisserie.
There’s a menu of 12 leaf teas, but for me only Darjeeling will do and I felt like quite the little prince as I didn’t have to pick up the teapot once as the discreetly attentive waiter was never more than a step or two away.
In terms of sandwiches, all the classics are present and perfectly lined-up like tasty little soldiers; you clearly can’t call it ‘afternoon tea’ without cucumber and cream cheese. A nice twist was that – in addition to the bread clearly all being baked in the hotel – each sandwich slice had its own flavour to match the fillings. The mini quiches made with Sussex Charmer cheese were a nice nod to locality.
The pastries and cakes change regularly but on our visit we were plied with an unbelievably airy banana-bread sponge, tiny lemon curd meringues and little chocolate mousse cups all dressed-to-impress with fresh summer fruits and edible flowers.
The true test of an afternoon tea though is always the scones and these didn’t disappoint; pleasingly warm, impressively light, perfectly moist and thankfully not in the least bit crumbly. Whether you prefer your clotted cream and strawberry jam spread Cornish or Devonshire style, I can share that every mouthful is sublime.
Afternoon tea is priced at £30 or £38.50 including a glass of Champagne from Monday to Thursday with a slightly higher price at the weekends. There’s more than enough food for a filling meal – in fact Nat ended up boxing up a few treats to take home to her husband, which was probably much appreciated rather than another courgette from the allotment glut – and when factoring in the shear quality of food and service, the wider experience represents genuine good value.
There are plenty of other reasons to while away some time at The Grand Hotel Eastbourne with its award-winning Mirabelle fine dining restaurant, cocktail lounge and oodles of leisure facilities to rejuvenate mind and body including indoor and outdoor pools and health club featuring extensive fitness and spa.
With further renovations to the fabric of this listed building to come, it’s safe to say this old girl will be alive and kicking for many more years to come.
The Grand Hotel Eastbourne, King Edward's Parade, Eastbourne BN21 4EQ
01323 412 345 • www.grandeastbourne.com