Monday, April 16, 2012
With links to Winston Churchill and wartime tales to tell, the Sea Marge in Overstrand offers a fascinating past to go with its classic food. LINDA BARRINGTON-SMITH paid a visit.
There was really only one choice when it came to deciding where to dine on my husband’s birthday — the Sea Marge in Overstrand, a great favourite of ours. And as Mother’s Day was just around the corner, we also took my mother along with us for a double celebration.
We kept our destination a secret from Mum, who hadn’t been there before, and as we turned into Overstrand High Street and the stunning cliff top Edwardian hotel came into view, it was obvious from her reactions that she (as well as us) was going to enjoy the experience of dining there.
The Sea Marge Hotel, which has been awarded two AA rosettes for culinary excellence, has a fascinating history. Built in 1908 as a country retreat for Sir Edgar Speyer, a London banker born in New York of German parentage, it was from Sea Marge that Sir Winston Churchill, who had a property in the village, phoned the Admiralty to mobilise the fleet when the First World War broke out.
The house was abandoned after Speyer, a friend of the Kaiser, became the subject of many unfounded rumours during the war — such as signalling to U-boats from the garden! — which eventually caused him to leave Britain for good in 1916.
After his death Sea Marge, which sits in five acres of terraced gardens, was sold and first opened as a hotel in 1935, then became a local authority care home 20 years later before being bought and restored by Marc and Liz Mackenzie, who reopened it in 1996 as the luxurious Grade II listed three-star hotel it remains to this day.
The hub of Sea Marge has got to be the Clement Scott bar with its vaulted timber roof, wood panelling, mullioned bay windows, massive stone fireplace and minstrels’ gallery.
The bar is one of three restaurants in the hotel and dining with sea views can also be enjoyed in Frazer’s Restaurant or the Winston Room.
We ate in the bar, where a fire was blazing away and, being a cold rainy day took advantage of it by sitting at one of the adjacent tables.
Made welcome by the friendly staff, menus were soon brought and we settled down to the tricky task of deciding what to eat. There was a varied choice of food, from bar classics, open Ciabatta sandwiches through to a la carte.
Knowing in advance that none of us would be able to manage three courses, we all went for a mains and dessert from the bar menu. Mum really enjoyed her dressed Cromer crab salad (£8.50), which she said was absolutely delicious, while my husband and I between us savoured beer battered cod with mushy peas, hand-cut chips and tartar sauce (£10.50) and potato gnocchi with Norfolk Binham blue cheese, wild mushrooms and spinach (£9.25). There was an added bonus as both of us had picked a main course marked with a chef’s hat on the menu, meaning we only had to pay £12 for the two meals (£6 each)!
Proportions were generous and all the meals were beautifully presented, extremely tasty and more-ish.
Other dishes that caught our eye included Morston mussels with French fries, seafood plate consisting of crab and prawn cocktail, smoked salmon, mackerel pate, pickled cockles, smoked prawns and brown bread, and the gateau of sweet potato and Provencal vegetables with dressed leaves.
For dessert, although tempted by the likes of passion fruit parfait and mango panna cotta and dark chocolate truffle torte, we could all only just about manage two scoops of ice-cream (£3.50 for two scoops, £5.25 for three).
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and it was an inspired choice for our double celebration. So, what did Mum think of Sea Marge. “It’s lovely, it really is.”
We couldn’t agree more.
SEA MARGE HOTEL
t Opening times: Bar daily 12-9.30pm, restaurant daily 12-2.30pm, 6.30-9.30pm
t Prices: Al a carte menu starters from £5.50, mains from £11.95, desserts from £3.50; bar menu starters from £4.50, mains from £9.50 (two for £12 if marked with chefs net), desserts from £3.50
t Vegetarian options: Good selection
t Wheelchair access: Disabled parking at the front, access to bar (ramps) and restaurant