Alex Fisher tries the best English sparkling wines in Camber Sands
It’s no secret that I like a glass of sparkling wine. So, when asked what I wanted to drink at the bar of the shabby-chic Gallivant Hotel in Rye, I ask for a glass of Prosecco. It’s certainly not my favourite sparkling wine, but it’s the one most bars offer, so for simplicity I’d made a habit of requesting it.
The barman looked disappointed. ‘We don’t serve Prosecco.’ He passed me the wine menu. ‘But you can have a glass of Chapel Down, from a vineyard just up the road.’
People aren’t usually pleased when a bar doesn’t serve what they’ve asked for, however, in this instance I was. The barman went on to explain that they only serve British sparkling wines: nine in total. And all from Sussex and Kent, the two counties either side of the hotel. You don’t get more local than that.
Most good restaurants these days talk about sourcing their produce locally. It’s fresher, it’s more environmentally friendly, it supports the community, and to be honest, whether you care about the above reasons or not, it’s now so trendy, most restaurateurs are obliged to make an attempt to comply. But for the owner of The Gallivant, Harry Cragoe, sourcing the best local produce is at the very heart of his business.
Harry bought the hotel five years ago, after selling his share in PJ Smoothies, a business he’d started with a friend in San Francisco. ‘I’d always wanted to run a restaurant and selling PJ Smoothies gave me the funds to fulfil that dream. I grew up in Gloucestershire and my childhood was all about cooking good, local food with my mum. They are some of my happiest memories.’ When he happened upon The Gallivant it was called The Blue Dolphin Motel, and sported traditional sixties décor, but, positioned directly opposite beautiful Camber Sands, Harry saw the business’s potential. ‘It took a while to redecorate, and then get the basics right, but after five years I think we are finally getting there.’
‘Now the focus is really on the food,’ Harry continues, ‘this is a restaurant with rooms, rather than a hotel. My remit is to serve amazing food, with incredible, religiously-sourced local, seasonal ingredients. We don’t serve swordfish or tuna, as you can’t catch it round here. Instead, we call up the fisherman and ask what he caught that morning, and that’s what goes on the menu. If there’s a storm and the boats don’t go out, we don’t serve fish that day. The only salmon we serve is smoked just up the road in Dungeness, and we are working closely with the lamb farmers on Romney Marsh to get the very best from their livestock. The beef is a rare breed from a few miles away, the vegetables from local farms. Sourcing locally is a real effort, but it’s worth it.’
Harry’s dedication comes from his belief that there is an urgent moral imperative to improve the way we eat. ‘We have the first generation of adults brought up on junk food, and look where it’s going. It’s bad for our health and it’s devastating to the environment. My job isn’t just to run a great hotel, it’s also about changing people’s perception of food, and we can do this by engaging with our local community.’ To this end he invited local farmers and local primary school children into the restaurant to sample the food. ‘Many of the kids parents are fishermen, but they’d never eaten fish.’ Harry also invites the hop-pickers from the local brewery in to celebrate the harvest. ‘It’s about championing what everyone contributes to the food we eat, from the grassroots up.’
Harry’s passion has raised the bar for purveyors of ‘local food’ and I am more than happy to accept my glass of Chapel Down. It is, in fact, a lot nicer than any glass of Prosecco I have had.
If you want to try The Gallivant yourself, call 01797 225 057 or visit thegallivant.co.uk
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'My remit is to serve amazing food, with incredible, religiously-sourced local, seasonal ingredients.'