I can’t say that Eastbourne ranks particularly highly as a culinary-led destination in Sussex. Sure there are a couple of decent restaurants – and lots of small independents – but my overriding perception is that the food scene is rather dated and hasn’t really developed in the same way as neighbours Brighton and Worthing.
Hence I was intrigued to receive an invite to review The Port restaurant, part of a boutique hotel of the same name, located on Eastbourne seafront. A cursory glance at Tripadvisor showed a lot of positive feedback and the website certainly looked the part. So my colleague Nat and I decided to pop along on a sunny Friday afternoon to check out the offering.
The venue exterior is painted black which really makes it stand out against the white stuccoed townhouses, although I have to admit we did walk past it once as the signage is very discreet. A well-maintained tiered outdoor terrace leads up to the front door and the main bar and restaurant area. The whole aesthetic had a very made.com feel to it with soft furnishings, pastel walls and modern lighting. All very comfy, contemporary and inoffensive on the eye.
The lunch menu is a reduced version of the evening menu and – as ever – I was really pleased to see lots of locally sourced produce with fish from Seaford, Beals charcuterie and local cheeses. I can hands-down say that the drinks menu has the most impressive selection of Sussex made gins I’ve ever seen.
There are plenty of vegan and gluten-free options; Chef has clearly thought the menu through so everyone is seamlessly accommodated without portraying a sense of holier-than-thou dining which is always a risk when dietaries and allergens are pushed to the fore.
We started with a shared spinach and courgette pakora with accompanying coconut yoghurt raita. It sounded delicious but sadly this dish was off the mark with soggy batter and a lack of seasoning. I’m guessing it had been pre-cooked then heated in the microwave.
Thankfully the mains picked up the game significantly. Nat enjoyed the Nicoise salad with grilled Sussex halloumi – a perfect light summery option. To keep with the seaside dining setting, I choose the fish and chips and I have to say these were quite possibly the best fish and chips I’ve ever eaten – I think the fish may have jumped out of the sea that very morning. The chunky flakes of white flesh were wrapped in a perfect crisp batter with not an ounce of greasiness that so often spoils this dish in takeaways and restaurants.
The chips were also spot on: crisp on the outside and delightfully fluffy on the inside, not too thick and not too thin. It was fish and chip nirvana for a very well-priced £18.
On the recommendation of our server, we went for the Sussex Sundae for dessert. Unmistakably retro in appearance, the quality of the Downsview ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream sang. Kids and adults alike would love this pudding.
Did we enjoy The Port restaurant? Yes, absolutely. WIth the exception of the starter the food was excellent and packed with Sussex produce. The staff are really friendly and nothing is too much trouble, which in this day and age is refreshing. It will certainly be my first choice for food on my next visit to Eastbourne – for the fish and chips alone.
Before we left, we had a quick nosey at some of the accommodation. The first floor seaview feature room is absolutely stunning. Having spent many years reviewing hospitality, this could easily be on the shortlist for the best bedroom in Sussex. The bathroom alone was larger than my living room. Certainly if you’re looking to book a night or two in Eastbourne then The Port should be your first port of call.
Nick Mosley [this review first appeared in The Argus on 2 September 2022]
The Port restaurant & hotel, 11-12 Royal Parade, Eastbourne BN22 7AR
01323 438526 • www.porthotel.co.uk