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Review of Camber Sands restaurant The Gallivant

PUBLISHED: 16:43 13 May 2014 | UPDATED: 16:43 13 May 2014

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The Gallivant, awarded two AA rosettes, has a wonderful location at Camber Sands. But it's the food that will capture your heart

In summer, The Gallivant occupies a truly enviable position. On a blustery spring evening, that consideration is not quite as valid. Cursing the time of year, we rolled into the car park of The Gallivant at Camber, completely blind to the surrounding marshes and golden sands but not, as soon as we opened the car door, immune to the stiff sea breeze.

The Gallivant is a former motel, and that heritage is still apparent from the way the low-slung complex wraps around the car park. Rather than trade on the kitsch vibe, the proprietors have adopted a sophisticated beachcomber’s style when fitting out the restaurant. When we visited, the latest refurbishment was still so recent that some areas were somewhat dishabille (for which the manager apologised profusely). But the dining room is lovely, with stripped wood tables, dove grey wall-panelling and a sweeping bar. Large glass doors open onto terraces in summer, when I imagine the relaxed, romantic atmosphere gives way to convivial beach-side dining in large parties.

The supper menu offers a range of choices, catering for appetites from the most bird-like to the most lusty. ‘Titbits’ include oysters (three for £6.50) and a half pint of prawns (£4.50). Then there are two choices of sharing boards, representing land and sea. The former is a hearty smorgasbord of pork rillette, venison, cheese and chorizo. The latter reveals the bounty that can be found just down the shore, with ‘Rye frito misto’, crab claws and more.

But on a cold evening, who could resist a bowl of velvety thick fish soup, its smooth, comforting flavour punctured by a kick of chilli? I love food that necessitates some sort of self-assembly, and stirring in the saffron-yellow garlic rouille – a sort of mayonnaise, with chilli and garlic – then sprinkling over the gruyere and croutons was satisfyingly ritualistic. The whole thing was a delight; the briney broth both delicious and deliciously warming.

My companion fared similarly well with devilled crab, another wonderfully wicked concoction. Baked, spicy crab was smothered with melted cheese and just waiting to be scooped up by sourdough soldiers. Not, perhaps, something you could eat a lot, but what was there was perfect.

What followed was an epochal event. For me, at least. The Tart Arnold Bennett that was my main course was one of the most delicious things ever to have touched a plate, I’m convinced. The butteriest, most crumbly pastry provided a bed for smoked haddock and a scattering of tiny quails’ eggs, all heavily blanketed with sumptuous Hollandaise. It was all I could do to keep my composure.

In a change from the programme, my companion was offered gurnard instead of the advertised catch of the day, because the chef wasn’t happy with the plaice. Actually, he was delighted with the less conventional fish and its robes of butter sauce, hollandaise and tender wedges of seasonal vegetables.

I liked the fact that the menu showed a wine recommendation for each dish, and indeed the Little Beauty Gewurtztraminer from Marlborough, New Zealand matched my main course nicely. Desserts made for sharing were another great touch – ordering one little sweet for the table often makes me feel parsimonious, but I seldom need a whole one. The blackberry and apple crumble, made with local fruit and exquisite real custard, was a fine conclusion to a wonderful meal.

The Gallivant, recipient of two AA rosettes, may have lucked out when it comes to the view. But the team is doing a fine job of ensuring that the only time you think of nature is when it’s on your plate.


The Beach Bistro at The Gallivant Hotel, New Lydd Road, Camber, East Sussex TN31 7RB; www.thebeachbistro.com; 01797 225057

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