Restaurant review - The Grand Hotel, Tynemouth Long Sands
PUBLISHED: 17:51 15 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:00 20 February 2013
The Grand Hotel has dominated the southern headland of Tynemouth Long Sands for almost 140 years, an imposing tribute to Victorian opulence. Andrew Smith joined the lunchtime diners and took in the sea air
Its difficult to know how to begin this review of lunch in the Grand Hotel, Tynemouth. I could start by saying that reaching the elegant and beautifully maintained Grand provided a welcome relief after a depressing journey along the seafront from Whitley Bay where once-proud and prosperous hotels including the Esplanade and High Point stand boarded up and very close to dereliction.
I could also remark on the extremely rare sight of a genuinely busy Tynemouth beach, the Long Sands, where dozens of walkers, families, swimmers and surfers created a scene reminiscent of a sepia postcard from a century ago on an unusually barmy North East summers day. I lived on this coastline for 40 years cant ever remember seeing a beach so busy.
But perhaps the best introduction is to talk about the Grand Hotel itself and to say how refreshing and encouraging it is to find a traditional seaside hotel that looks anything but tired and is constantly striving to update and improve on its already winning formula.
Of course, it has a terrific advantage bestowed upon it by good breeding. For this elegant pile was built in 1872 by the Duke of Northumberland as a summer residence for the Duchess. Its potted history doesnt explain why Her Grace might not have taken to the place but in 1877 the house was converted into an hotel. Mind you, in the five years she occupied her summer residence, the Duchess, Lady Edith Campbell, gave birth to four of her 13 children, so maybe she didnt have the time to enjoy it.
As a hotel, the Grand experienced the heyday of British seaside popularity and, save for some dark years during the First World War when it was virtually wrecked by billeted British Army officers, it has played host to some notable celebrities, among them Dame Vera Lynn, Laurel and Hardy, Mike and Bernie Winters, Stanley Baker and Margaret Rutherford, who used the grand as a base when appearing at theatres and music halls across the North East.
Today, the fine public rooms, sweeping staircase and traditional architecture mixed sympathetically with contemporary upgrading create a venue that enjoys an average 79 per cent occupancy throughout the year with a sustainable mix of business and leisure-time clients.
And most of them choose to dine in the hotels Michelin-recommended Victoria Restaurant, where excellent lunch and dinner menus created by head chef Dominic Bradshaw and his team offer both high quality and good value.
Both the restaurant and drawing room - where daytime snacks, afternoon tea and an evening bar-style menu complement the restaurants more formal fare - boast huge bay windows commanding views to die for along the entire length of the Long Sands bay.
My Saturday lunch began with pan fried chicken livers - tasty, succulent and not in the least rubbery, as liver can be - followed by pan fried sea bass landed locally at North Shields, with sauted new potatoes, pea puree and dill cream. For dessert I had steamed jam roly poly with custard - traditional, sweet and just like I remember my mum making it. Thats some compliment.
My wife and younger daughter, whose visits home from London have to include a proper dinner, started with potted garlic tiger prawns and leek and potato soup respectively, followed by pan fried chicken breast with fondant potato and parsnip puree, and haddock goujons served with French fries, dressed watercress and tartare sauce. For desserts they had toasted brioche topped with roasted banana and rich toffee sauce and served with ice cream, and dark chocolate brownie served with redcurrants and hazelnut praline ice cream.
All received glowing praise and the portions were plentiful without being over-facing.
We were served attentively by restaurant manager Alex Milburn, who has worked at the Grand for two and a half years and lives just up the road at Cullercoats.
Hotel General Manager Chris Marsh took time out from supervising the general service and welcoming of guests, and overseeing a wedding reception in the hotels function room, to explain that enhancements are on-going.
We will shortly be introducing the serving of canaps in the lounge prior to dining, he said, and dinner will include a sorbet course. The hotel is privately owned and there is a commitment among all involved to offer the highest levels of service for all our guests. We are particularly keen to develop our evening dining experience with a four-course menu that is constantly reviewed to include the best seasonal local produce possible.
I leave the Grand Hotel reassured that this landmark building and fine venue will prosper but still sad at the demise of my old haunts, the High Point and the Esplanade.