The Grand Hotel Eastbourne is that rare creature, an enduring, heavily subscribed Grande dame resort which remains the shining star of that even greater rarity, a still vibrant and sparkling British seaside town.
While some south coast neighbours have gone seedy, Eastbourne, its sweeping prom lined with white wedding-cake architecture, a magnificent golden-domed pier, live theatre and ever-active bandstand, remains the genteel jewel of the Sussex coast.
Not that the Grand, which opened its doors in 1875, has modernised that much; its ground floor seems on entry to be little changed from the way it must have looked on opening, with its cathedral-like lobby and Palm Court lounge beyond. This was the Palm Court from which Sunday concerts were broadcast by the BBC between 1925 and 1939, thanks to its impeccable acoustics, and live musical performance remains an important part of the hotel’s offering.
Rooms are a little unreconstructed too; comfortable enough, with all mod cons, but a tad sparser than the ornate, imposing exterior of the hotel would suggest. The walls of our spacious sea-view suite, complete with a compact second bedroom which may have once been intended for a lady’s maid, seemed a tad bare, which is a shame given Eastbourne’s reputation as a cultural destination; the excellent Towner gallery is less than 10 minutes’ stroll from the hotel.
While giant screens were missing, there were flat-screen TVs in both the master bedroom and living room, a make-up mirror and Molton Brown toiletries in the large, twin-basin bathroom and a Nespresso machine along with tea-making facilities and biscuits in the living room. The food and beverage offering is as strong a suit as music at the Grand; its Mirabelle restaurant has evolved into a dining destination in its own right.
This intimate alternative to the cavernous Garden Restaurant is a beautifully-lit room, upholstered in blue velvet and brocade. It feels inviting and romantic, ideal for a special dinner, and the food of head chef Michael Sutherland does not disappoint. This former Sussex Young Chef of the Year, who arrived to helm the Mirabelle kitchen in 2020, has garnered two AA rosettes for his often locally-sourced food presented with panache.
It would be hard to imagine a more luxurious starter than warm butter-poached lobster(£19, though most starters are closer to the £10 mark)served on a bed of carrot puree which perfectly complemented the sweet shellfish; my companion chose a cold, nicely dressed ballotine of game.
She opted for a roast lemon sole (£35) to follow which was huge – as the maître d’ said: “I’ve seen Dover sole which are smaller” – and topped with a luscious samphire and brown shrimp dressing. I had a very classic duck confit which was served without bells and whistles but couldn’t be faulted. Desserts(all £10.50)were delicate and complex confections clearly the work of a specialist pastry chef, and wines from an interesting selection( the Baron Philippe de Rothschild Chardonnay and cab sauv are particularly good value at £7.85 for a 175 ml glass) were paired for us impeccably by the amiable and welcoming maître d’.
Having missed the opportunity of an aperitif in order to sample a chamber music performance by the excellent London Mozart Players, regular visitors to the Grand, we visited the bar for a digestif instead. Quite unlike other parts of the hotel this room has a distinct mid-century vibe and oozes more buzz than one might expect, given the age demographic of its clientele. The barman had no problem producing a perfectly made brandy Alexander, a drink invented decades before he was born; this is a place of properly-trained mixologists wielding cocktail shakers. Only what you’d expect when paying London prices for a cocktail. Other amenities include a health club, gym and pool.
The Garden Restaurant cannot be described as intimate but is a fine place for breakfast, flooded with light and offering expansive sea views. The normal offerings, including a fine Full English and a buffet spilling over with smoked salmon as well as fruit and cereal, now have a new addition – smashed avocado on artisanal toast with poached eggs. Perhaps the Grand is modernising after all, despite revelling in its reputation as a proudly unreconstructed historic monument.
Tell me more about the Grand Hotel Eastbourne
The Grand Hotel, King Edwards Parade, Eastbourne. East Sussex BN21 4EQ
T: 01323 412345
Rooms from £240 double including breakfast
Special London Mozart Players weekend February 4-6, 2022
£343 double per night for dinner, B&B including wine and Performances