The boutique hotel and restaurant aiming to claim back the East Sussex town from the blue rinse brigade
At first, Rye might not sound like the place for a boutique hotel with a fashionable restaurant. The East Sussex town may be associated, in the minds of most people, with hordes of blue-rinsers on coach trips, ravening for cream teas and National Trust house tours. But Rye, like many of Britain's more picturesque towns, is experiencing a renaissance, as the fashion for weekend breaks among city careerists moves from foreign to domestic travel.
It was with this demographic in mind that Alex Clarke, a former hotel consultant with PKF, and his wife Katie, a former prop buyer and set dresser for period film and TV productions, set out to find a hotel in Rye that they could transform into what they advertise as "a hotel for the raffish, languid and marvellous". Clarke describes The George in Rye as "the perfect location for what we wanted to do".
No small part of this transformation has been made in the kitchen, where Rod Grossman has been installed as Head Chef.
Grossman spent five years working at Moro, owned by Sam Clark, Alex Clarke's sister, and the mark of Moro is certainly on the food offering, albeit more wide-rangingly Mediterranean than Spanish/Moroccan. Here in East Sussex, the produce that's available has also led to the inclusion of some classic ingredients from the local area: Rye Bay Scallops served with Cauliflower Purée and Crispy Capers, and Romney Marsh Lamb.
Grossman had been back in his native Brazil for seven months when he got the call from Clarke, and as he wasn't getting anywhere looking for a good restaurant position, being told he had "too much experience", he decided to come back to England.
"What Alex [Clarke] didn't mention was that he had a function for 50 people booked and the Hotel wasn't finished, so it was being held in the library in the Town Hall, which has a very small kitchen, and there was only one other chef in place who usually only did breakfasts. It was quite a challenge," he says.
But the challenge being faced by the Clarkes was more daunting still: transforming a building that had been neglected for 20 years into a boutique hotel with cutting-edge design and a kitchen fit for Grossman's intentions. They were off to a good start though, with Katie Clarke's expertise in period detail coming into its own. "What's interesting about this is that we've retained the history of the building and introduced contemporary fabrics and bespoke furniture to create a stylish and relatively informal space," says Clarke.
The building itself consists of a coaching inn from 1575 with additions over the following centuries, including a Georgian ballroom, a bar room built of beams taken from ships, a smaller banqueting room or conference room that was once Rye's Masonic lodge, now called the Benson room, and a myriad of bedrooms, all decorated to suit their unique space.
It's in the dining room, however, that their vision is most clearly realised. Breakfast includes local milk, homemade jam and – here comes the Moro influence – homemade yoghurt and sourdough bread. Even the sausages are from a local farm.
Lunch again has seen Grossman take the traditional British lunch and reconnect it with local suppliers. "There were already three of four good suppliers that we've kept," explains Grossman, "but I've pushed the idea of local and seasonal: why get lamb from Scotland if it's available here? And it's only three miles to the sea, and Sussex and Kent produce the best fruit and veg in England. It's all sourced locally now".
With the simplicity on the plate that's been carried over from Moro, and the taste with which everything at The George has been designed, Rye has a new treasure to tempt the modern holidaymaker.
Gorge at the George
On the Menu? Poached Sweet and Sour Leeks with Dill and Lemon Dressing; Chargrilled Leg of Romney Marsh Lamb with Cauliflower Dauphinoise; Petit Sale with Dijon Mustard Puy Lentils; Pan Fried Calf's Liver with Crispy Bacon, Crushed Potato and Curly Kale; Homemade Seville Orange Ice Cream; Chocolate and Apricot Tart.
Size? 30 in the dining room, 45 in the Bar, 35 in the Benson Room, 100 in the Ballroom.
Where? 98 High Street, Rye, East Sussex TN31 7JT. 01797 222114