The Magnificent Seven: The Seven Hotel, Southend-on-Sea
Southend in February isn’t always top of the list for a night away from home. The wind-whipped pier stretching out into the grey estuary is only for the sturdy minded. But a new boutique seafront hotel has the potential to inject new life into the local hotel and dining scene.
Neighbouring the genteel Victorian villas along Clifton Terrace, looking down over Adventure Island theme park to the beach below, the Seven Hotel is well-placed for commuters from Essex or London. Barely three minutes from Southend Central station and not much further along the line from Southend Airport making it a boon to business and leisure travellers.
Plugging the gap between the B&Bs and small hotels, Seven Hotel is injecting an element of urban cool into the area with a fine dining restaurant and ever-popular gin bar where guests can check in by the fire. The look is the work of design firm Adam Tibbats, who deserve top marks for a drawing on the coastal location without what can be cheesy or overused references such as seashells, tongue and groove and driftwood. For example, the 70-cover restaurant Aurum succeeds in being both glamorous and coastal with an oversized golden light fitting jutting down into the room with banquet booths on one side framed by wooden slats representing windbreaks. Wallpaper lining hallways has horizontal lines shaped in such a way to bring drifting sand to mind.
The coastal theme extends to the menu and dinner here was one of the most memorable I’ve had in a long time with Essex suppliers featuring heavily. The menu is refreshingly simple with four or five dishes each for snacks, starters, mains and puddings. Choosing from such a pared-back selection is ultimately easier for indecisive people like me but it’s also a real pleasure. Starting on ‘snacks’ of rustic hunks of malty sourdough dipped in creamy cod roe or smothered in whey or smoked butter and Essex malt wafer was truly local and coastal with Leigh-on-Sea cockles on a wafer made from oats and malt vinegar with lovely beach purslane.
These gave way to a gorgeous bowl cupping a large scallop in an amber-coloured pumpkin and chanterelle liquid (pictured, right). My partner and I shared our dishes for every course - that’s how good the food is. So I had to portion off some of my delicate piece of mackerel on a spoon of steamed crab with wild garlic and fennel. Then came a plate of slices of tender lamb with artichoke, turnip tops and ramson capers (wild garlic) and a deliciously crispy pan-fried piece of Lowestoft wild sea bass. Everything I ate made me want to eat it all over again.
Head chef Simon Webb, whose CV includes working with the Roux family, taught me something new: I don’t necessarily need side dishes of potatoes or other vegetables to be full up. We ate each dish in its entirety but without extra bulk and went to bed sated but not FTB, as my granny used to say, or full to bursting.
There are 37 rooms, which aren’t the biggest, aside from the five suites on the fourth floor gifted with terraces, but although different in shape and size, all are appealing, well-designed spaces blending dark sea green walls with gold and bronze fixtures and fittings and large bay windows. Practical, thoughtful touches such as an iron and board hanging in the wardrobe go a long way and top marks for stocking New York toiletry brand C.O. Bigelow Apothecary, which you don’t see that often in UK hotel bathrooms.
I’ve never looked forward to a breakfast so much. And it didn’t disappoint. The lobster omelette was a pinky-hued ray of sunshine served in a cute copper pan and while avocado on toast is nothing new, this was smokey with harissa on that hulk of sourdough. Perfection. It’s rare not to moan about so-called First World Problems especially when you’ve had the 'a 100-Day Cough' and January seems to have taken hold of February and now March, but we left with a contentment that can only come from a happy stomach. Changing trains at Shenfield on my way home I left my bag on the train but I didn’t stress; seems coastal cuisine does wonders for my moods.
* Double rooms from £150 room only (suites from £220 room only), based on two sharing, sevenhotel.co.uk