Over 150 years ago, an ivory fronted boarding house known as ‘The Brookside’ was born; built to serve the needs of refuge seeking artists and dreamers alike. In 1891 a weary traveller – otherwise known as Thomas Hardy – called upon the boarding house for shelter. Little did he know that this lodge would provide him with the inspiration behind the setting for parts of his famed novel ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’. Since then, several important figures frequented the boarding house; even Peter Tuck – one of the founding fathers of our faithful town Bournemouth – lived here. In 1928 the boarding house became known as ‘The White Hermitage’, before dropping the ‘white’ in the late 80’s. The Hermitage has changed hands a few times over the years, but no one spurs the same vitality as the current owner, Mr. Oram, whom kindly invited us to his hotel having undergone an incredible (still developing) renovation.
We arrived at the hotel on an archetypal drizzly eve. The entrance – aglow with twinkling lights – was a warm and inviting beacon of hope in such dire weather. We clambered into the revolving doors and shuffled it along, only to reveal a kind face (night manager ‘Christopher’) waiting for us at the reception desk. As if blessed with psychic abilities, Christopher knew exactly who we were and within a flash whisked us to our accommodation for the evening.
The passage to our room seemed to take us on a journey through time, which in reality was a mere two flights of stairs. The ground floor follows a more traditional scheme, with crimson carpets, gilded oil paintings and antiquated chandeliers, but staircase by staircase the décor becomes more contemporaneous, until finally you reach the newly renovated top floor; a shell of dove grey panelling and exposed brickwork, complete with globe looped-filament wall lights and copper flourishes. The penthouse level hosts four superior suites, including ours for the evening, room ‘703’. Christopher, who’d kindly shown us all the way to our front door, pushed it open to reveal our suite. With modern wood floors, fresh neutral walls and more of that gorgeous grey panelling, they have created a beautiful space. An all-new glossy kitchenette (complete with Nerf appliances) and statement seating takes pride and place in the living-cum-dining area, where voguish bold colours and muted greys come together in a contemporary contrast. The bathroom is equally sublime, covered wall to floor in a marbled tile and illuminating LED lights.
We stood aghast, trying to take it all in, the same question whirling around both our heads; do we plunder the Nespresso machine, or dive straight in with the complementary fizz? With little time to spare we sunk both and headed out for our reservations at their sister-restaurant.
Just around the corner from the hotel is grand cafe ‘Neo’. Famed for its brasserie style food and art deco setting Neo has put haute cuisine back on the Bournemouth map. As we prized open the glass door, we were greeted by the restaurant host and shown to a window table overlooking the sea, on the panoramic all-glass second floor. As we took our seats and cozied up, we were surprised with a visit by general manager ‘Phil Bendall’, who took the time to explain the current Autumnal menu: “We change our menus every three to four weeks, to be able to utilise seasonal produce. We serve brasserie style food in an atmosphere where people feel they can get dressed up and get excited about going out for a nice meal”.
Our next visitor of the evening was our attentive waiter ‘Diego’, who quickly brought along two delicious cocktails to rouse our taste buds – p.s. you absolutely must try the ‘Pear and Cinnamon Martini’. With suitable libations now in hand we began our menu perusal and after careful deliberation, slipped our orders to the kitchen.
To start, I had opted for the ‘Chicken Liver & Foie Gras Parfait’, served with a golden raisin relish and homemade rosemary brioche. I took my knife and generously smothered part of the slab onto the crispy slices of bread, catching a whiff of fragrant herbs in the process. I topped the ensemble with a wave of relish and took my first bite. The combination of silky parfait, against the crunch of the bread and the acidity of the pickle was to die for. My reviewing co-pilot (Adam) had the signature ‘Twice Baked Soufflé’, with Wookey Hole cheddar (local produce points) and chive cream – another delicious sampling; light, fluffy and packed full of decadent cheese flavour.
For main, I chose the ‘Partridge’. The sharp blackberry jus – with textural whole berries still intact – lifted the earthy flavours of the bird, whilst the squash puree added a welcomed sweet creaminess. A bed of rainbow carrots gave it a gorgeous look and a finishing bite. Adam had opted for the ‘100-day Aged Beef Brisket’. The slow-cooked meat, served on a pillow of fluffy mash, was a beautiful hearty dish – perfect for this time of year.
For the pièce de résistance we each tried something that had only recently made it to the menu – a mixture of excitement and nervousness stirred. Adam had chosen the ‘Salted Peanut Caramel Parfait’, a clever deconstruction that bared an incredible likeness to a Snickers bar. A sweet caramel with crunchy nuts, along with a rich chocolate sauce, made for delightful accompaniments to the silky sweet-versus-savory nut parfait. For me, it had to be the ‘Bitter Chocolate Crème Brulee’. The intense hit of concentrated chocolate, against the delicate silkiness of the crème was extraordinary and exciting. The scoop of raspberry sorbet was gorgeous too, cutting through the rich chocolate with its sharp, sweet flavour.
We were officially stuffed! Just when we thought we couldn’t go on, Phil offered up some kryptonite, in the form of two ‘Espresso Martinis’, which we considered a nice alternative to the after dinner coffee we probably should have chosen, but the sore heads were well worth it.
We rolled back to the hotel and decided to take a tipple in the lounge bar where we met host with the most ‘Michael’. Who put on a fabulous spread of G&T’s and a showing of ‘Blackadder’ on the telly in the background – when you stay here, be sure to ask for him. Climbing the stairs was bitter sweet. Sure, we had a gorgeous room to stay in, but soon the Cinderella story would be all over, and not least because I’d lost a shoe on the way back from the bar.
Breakfast was a phenomenal spread of an all-English fry-up, along with divine pastries, fresh fruit, and juices – the works. We checked out leaving behind our key and some dignity, but taking with us fond memories of a wonderful trip away. For a fantastic Bournemouth stay, you must visit The Hermitage. Their hospitality is second to none, the new rooms are gorgeous and the staff are a delight!
By Charlotte Williams
t. 01202 557363
a. Exeter Rd, Bournemouth BH2 5AH