It was one of those days, where you dream of getting away, but where to? I was asked recently to review the design of The Salthouse Harbour Hotel in Ipswich and so the two thoughts ran together in my mind and after throwing a few things together in a bag, I jumped in the car and off I drove.
First things first, The Salthouse is very close to the station, and being only 1 hour away by train from Stratford, is actually being used as a Hotel for a lot of Olympic guests, something I would never have thought of. So you can either get there by train or by car as you wish. Situated on the Marina, there is plenty to do and look at once you arrive. For example if you brought your bike, there are local "Sky Rides" where the city is opened up to cyclists. There are lots of public paths etc. to explore as well. Ipswich has a maritime history and as such The Victor Thames Barge trip is a must.
On arriving at the Salthouse Harbour Hotel, you enter reception by the glass sliding doors, with lighting sunken into the floor around the edge. The column surrounding the lift shaft is clad with coloured glass tiles that completely camouflage what it is. The reception desk is lit by oversized pattern 23 Theatre lights hanging from the ceiling, and there is a large brass scorpion on a pewter style table. Overall the impression is one of "you have arrived and won't want to leave". Oversized everything adorns the reception and reception lobby seating area, but because of its sheer size they fit in well and are not obtrusive and overdone. My favourite feature was a suit of armour, clad in strings of pearls, how terribly eclectic (apparently at Christmas he gets a Christmas jumper). The helpful and enthusiastic lady on reception gave us all that we needed and made sure we had a turn down service and free newspaper in the morning.
The lift took us to our room on the 5th floor overlooking the harbour, I was worried about noise, but the double glazing assured me I need not have been concerned. Double doors open up onto a small balcony, perfect for sitting and taking the last rays of the sun as it sets over the harbour. The feature wallpaper is black trees on a deep azure blue background with a texture of crocodile skin. The bed is huge, almost American King Size, and very comfortable. Soft aged suede armchairs and pouf compliment the decor nicely and allow you to sit and go ahhhh. Lutron style themed lighting is standard and is all set up, so no more fiddling with different light combos to get the right mood. The dressing table is a solid piece of aged wood set on a pair of very industrial grey steels, it sounds horrible but works really well and fully integrated into the room. The coup de grace, is a large (very deep) brass roll top bath, next to the best, allowing you to sit in luxury bubbles, while reading a book overlooking the harbour! The water pressure is perfect for filling an item of this size and the bath fills in about 3-4 minutes. The bathroom is en-suite with a large two person walk-in shower with a large pressure head. White tiled with a grey tiled floor, giving an impression of luxury while at the same time being comfortable and not at all "hotel like".
We dined later in the restaurant where we were looked after by the maitre d' Ben. He advised us on our wines for the meal and was extremely knowledgeable for someone of on 22 years of age. All the staff are young, but they are well-trained and exceptionally good at service. I had wood-pigeon to start followed by lamb. Mr partner had the chocolate souflee as dessert which I tried when he wasn't looking. He was a bit disappointed though when he went to return the favour only to discover that my pannacotta had already been eaten, it was that worthy. As someone who is used to eating at top restaurants, the food here was easily up with the best with a service to match.
The decor of the dining room is a mix between the old functional use of the building as a sail loft, i.e. the steel supporting pillard painted a gold colour, and exposed brick work and the decoration pieces used to turn it into a restaurant. By painting the window reveals black, they have not detracted from the view outside that is visible through the tall lightly framed "warehouse style" windows. I especially liked the Black Random Light Moooi Lampshades, with dimmed lights, the Snaking S of high backed 4-6 seat cubicles running through the middle of the restaurant, affording complete privacy and the mix of oak topped and slightly industrial looking other dining tables. The restaurant is full most nights and has about 100 sittings at any one time. The large paintings hanging on the exposed brickwork byt up and coming famous artists adds a converation piece. The locals come here regularly to eat which tells you about the quality of the food. The bar area, is discrete with a large selection of all the favourites, again using the dark and gold theme.
All through the hotel are little design touches that just show how much detail has gone into making this hotel a destination, not just a stop off point. For example, in the lobby area are some old-fashioned ice skating blades set in an open drawer, the hallway on the 5th floor has a lamp shade grey wall with a stylised clock tower painted in red at the end. The room numbers are painted neatly on the walls, not a perspex sign. The doors to the rooms close with a solid but very quiet clunk, (we never heard another door to a room close the whole time we were there, nor did the lift disturb us despite being right nect to it). The carpet is one of my partners favourites and as a mix of cream and black, clean and expensive looking. In the bar area little details abound, like the painted papier-mache stags heads, the various vases of different sizes placed on the bar shelves.
So many "boutique" style hotels are the "same old, same old", but Salthouse Harbour is unquestionably not one of them, it is intrinsically unique and most definitely a destination hotel. Would I stay there again, yes absolutely.
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