Having a grand old time, Wish you were here
by Nick Harman - Saturday November 5, 2011 5:00 pm
I don’t know who’s been sleeping in my bed; it could have been Ernest Shackleton, possibly Hailie Salassie or even Winston Churchill. It wasn’t Liam Gallagher anyway because I know for a fact he was in the suite next door along with George Michael, although not at the same time of course.
A lot of famous and titled people have stayed at The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne, it’s a massive pile of memories and quite possibly the most original and unique hotel in the UK, if you leave out the Savoy. Built in 1875 this landmark construction still faces sternly out to sea at the better end of Eastbourne, a Union Jack fluttering in the sea breeze as it has done for all those years. Entering the foyer is to step back in time; a wide corridor (wide to allow Victorian ladies in ample dresses to pass without collisions) leads to The Great Hall where from 1925 until the Second World War the BBC Palm Court Orchestra would broadcast to the world every Sunday. The acoustics were so good the BBC tried to recreate the Great Hall in a studio but failed.
The Grand, or White Palace as it’s often known, was built to cater for a very different Britain, one where the upper classes took holidays at the British seaside and came with hordes of children and staff and it had to be large to cope. Corridors sprout in all directions and staircases appear in odd corners; we descended one late at night and suddenly found ourselves in a cosy snooker room complete with two full-sized tables.
The hotel deftly walks a tightrope between old and new. Yes our enormous suite had internet access and two flat screen TVs – one in the bedroom and one in the sitting room – but the leather bound stationery folders and 20’s furniture all had the gentle scuff marks of genuine age. It felt as if Bertie Wooster could appear out of the bathroom any second, doing up his cufflinks and asking Jeeves if Aunt Agatha had called. It was wonderful.
Our Suite was on the first floor, and made up of a hallway, a bathroom, a sitting room and a bedroom with both the latter having doors onto a patio terrace the size of my London garden with views across the palm trees to the sea. The same view in fact that Debussy had when he completed La Mer here. Beachy Head along the road has always sheltered Eastbourne and it shows in the fauna and average good temperatures in both summer and winter.
Thanks to its elegant ballrooms The Grand now finds itself in demand for conferences and other business functions, swallowing them in its vastness so that other guests might never guess they were going on. But while these things help pay the rent it is still as a romantic, timeless part of old England, one that hosts dinners, weddings and grand parties that The Grand stands out. The old tennis court is now a fine swimming pool and there is a modern spa and gym tucked away, the main lounge has a band most weeks but an orchestra still plays in The Great Hall for afternoon tea on Sundays.
The giant dining room, The Garden, does breakfast and dinner in the old style with waiters blurring into the distance, while the night we stayed The Grand’s fine dining restaurant The Mirabelle held a retro dinner to celebrate being in the first edition of The Michelin Guide and still being there 100 years later. They served us dishes such as Consommé Double Grimaldi, Egg Royale with Tomato puree and julienne of Celery partnered with Madeira, and Paupiettes of Dover Sole with truffled White Fish Farce poached in Champagne and Crevettes. This was pretty much exactly what would have been served in 1911 and an interesting experience. The Sole was excellent but I can’t see consommé coming back onto modern menus anytime soon. Such events apart, the Mirabelle normally sticks to the Modern European food that has won it two AA rosettes and four RAC dining awards under Head Chef, Gerald Roser.
If ever there was a hotel that deserves to be placed in aspic and preserved for ever, it’s The Grand. I could spend all summer there, as perhaps my ancestors once did, doing nothing but sitting on my patio, ambling to the beach and having tea with the orchestra. It’s very grand indeed.
The Grand Hotel. King Edwards Parade, Eastbourne, East Sussex. BN21 4EQ.