THE GUARDIAN REVIEW
A pre-requisite for writing this column is openness to unlikely locations. Some of you might already be wrinkling your noses at Ipswich (instead of say, Oxford, Cambridge or York), but the clue is in the name of this four-star hotel. I call M (who is not one of those fairweather friends only available for Cornish beach trips). "I'm up for Ipswich – yeah!" she says.
A one-way system eventually spits us out on the quayside. The 70-room Salthouse Harbour Hotel was created from an old warehouse in 2003, and last year an extension costing £5m was added. A mural opposite the glass entrance is by Bristol-based graffiti artist SPQR, the lobby resonates with lime-tinted mood lighting and groovy citrus leather chesterfields.
"Reassuringly urban," murmurs M. What impresses me more than the art (signed posters by Gilbert and George, Damien Hirst) and custom-made furniture – is the view. Yacht masts, almost as far as the eye can see.
Upstairs to our swanky-sounding Sail Loft Marina Rooms. These are in the newest bit, overlooking the marina and apart from the penthouses, the most expensive. M's has a copper bath in the window. "Rather have a table," she says ungraciously, but brightens up at the discovery of proper ground coffee, cafetiere and free Wi-Fi.
Along to mine. Identical in size, but my bath is in the bathroom, a sexy glass box with a view, When I press a switch – guess what? The glass goes opaque for privacy. Austin Powers, eat your heart out.
Marks for REN products and labelled shower controls. Deductions for a shelf so narrow I can't fit the toilet bag on.
Pre-dinner drinks, lounging on lime-coloured leather in the lobby. The after-work crowd decompresses aided by a choice of more than 30 wines by the glass. Through to the Eaterie, then, in the original warehouse part, to partake.
Things we like: exposed brick and lofty windowed industrial chic wrapped around a central bar; the menu (not too long or too short); and the food. M has local cod with pea and mint risotto, I have fantastic Dedham Vale fillet steak with chips (in a china cone – nice touch). We turn down chocolate fondue ("Just think, two whole generations haven't had to struggle with a wedding gift fondue set," says M). Instead I'm sliding a spoon into cassis jelly with vanilla ice-cream.
"Is it like Ribena?" M asks. No, it's like heaven on a plate.
What we don't like is being forced to dine to what sounds like Spanish disco music. We eat fast, so we can get away from it.
Wow – love the marina nightscape through my bedroom windows. I sink into bed knowing that when I wake I can enjoy one of the best views any English town could possibly offer.
At check-out (breakfast in bed for M, in the mercifully quiet Eaterie for me) our request for tips on hot shops is met with a shake of the head, but minutes later we discover a jazz musician running an art gallery, Scandinavian interiors and an authentic Italian coffee bar. Ipswich – you're a new fixture on my list.
By Sally Shalam