According to politicians and pundits of a certain ilk, Britain is full. Apparently, we live in the most packed corner of the most crowded island. Should this paranoia make you feel a bit claustrophobic, then I can recommend the perfect remedy: the East Sussex National resort.
East Sussex National has a diverse offering of golf, dining, accommodation, pampering and conferencing, but if you want to boil down the essence of the resort into one word, it is ‘space.’
Set within 1,100 acres of South Downs countryside, this is a venue with plenty of room to breathe. Sussex is blessed with many beautiful country- house hotels nestling in impressive acreages, but the hotels themselves tend to be cosy, wood-panelled affairs, with historic beams and warming fires. Here, the hotel is as spacious as the breezy fairways.
What makes it unique is that it has a country-house location, yet is a thoroughly modern creation - even the eccentric, traditional Wurlitzer Organ, set under the banqueting room to rise up spectacularly through the floor, is a modern incarnation. It also feels slightly American, but that was the original intention. When it was being developed in the late 1980s, it was billed as the ‘Augusta of the UK.’ A nice piece of marketing, but probably counter-productive to draw such esteemed comparisons, though we’d love to see Augusta members such as Warren Buff et, Bill Gates and Jack Welch teeing off in Sussex.
In its early years, East Sussex National struggled to live up to such comparisons, but since the turn of the Millennium, it has quietly (without any more Augusta boasts) built up its facilities and the quality of the experience and, most importantly, its reputation. Indeed, this year it was shortlisted as the Best Place to Meet at the all-important Gatwick Diamond Business Awards.
Having attended many excellent events and functions at the East Sussex, I can vouch that this nomination was well deserved.
On this occasion, my partner and I had the opportunity to explore without the distraction of a buzzing drinks reception or awards ceremony.
After the winding drive to the reception, you are greeted by the surreal appearance of a lifesize gorilla statue, for a reason that isn’t entirely apparent, but then this is a venue with a chintzy Wurlitzer, which rises up from the floor like the musical box in Camberwick Green.
Naturally, we started with a leisurely drink in the airy bar, affording the chance to wander out to one of my favourite attractions at the resort - the fantastic collection of black and white photos from The Golden Age of Hollywood. No trip is complete without attempting to name as many of the film stars as you can. Sadly, my knowledge of the silver screen icons was not as accurate as I thought it was.
The suite we booked for the night had glorious views across the Downs, was stylishly furnished and, apologies for the repetition, was suitably spacious. In fact, you could easily fit in a putting green if you wanted a bit of practice before a round.
Before dinner, a chance to try out the Horsted Spa facilities. With few people around at this time, it was a relaxing and calm experience. With a nip still in the air outside, the heated floors of the changing rooms were a welcome introduction. At 20 metres, the pool is an impressive size for a hotel, but as you may have gathered, space is hardly an issue. The sauna and steam room could do with a bit of updating, but the Jacuzzi was hot, powerful, and quite addictive.
Appetite stimulated, time for dinner - after a quick glass of fizz in the bar, of course. Dining from the excellent-value Table d’Hote Menu, I started with ham hock ballantine with sweet mustard dressing, which was wolfed down before I remembered I should be savouring the intricacies of the dish for the review. Well, I was hungry. My dining partner was also impressed with her sweet potato and coconut soup.
The main was roasted salmon on herb-crusted new potatoes, spinach and salsa verde, with my companion opting for pan-seared chicken breast, truﬄe mash, green beans, confit garlic and red wine. Both could accurately be described as pleasurable and comforting, which on a chilly, early spring evening was just what the doctor ordered. My salmon was cooked beautifully and Julia commented on the wonderful earthiness of the mash.
To finish, my Grand Marnier and meringue mousse with orange tuiles was delightfully indulgent, whilst Julia chose a dish that cannot fail to please - the selection of farmhouse cheeses. Sussex is truly blessed with exceptional cheesemakers, and any opportunity to sample these should never be turned down.
The East Sussex National has now firmly established itself on the map, with excellent facilities and warm, friendly service. The only regret was the lack of time to try any spa treatments or one of the championship golf courses. But then again, this is a great excuse to come back again. I will find a space in the diary very soon!