It’s all change at the newly named George Hotel & Beach Club in Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, where one-time Michelin-starred chef Robert Thompson has returned to create a more accessible and relaxed food offer. Fiona Sims reports
From the street, it looks like nothing much has changed at the George hotel in Yarmouth. But view the hotel from the Lymington to Yarmouth ferry and changes are clearly afoot.
The lawn has been transformed into an Italian-style formal garden, with mature olive trees, box hedges, urns and ferns. The garden bar has had a makeover, and construction is under way for an outside kitchen, which will sport a new grill and pizza oven. This is an outside dining area that means business.
Earlier this year, The Caterer reported that the George, one of the Isle of Wight’s most prestigious hotels, built in the 17th century, was to be taken over in an unusual try-before-you-buy lease deal. Cue entrepreneur Howard Spooner, a friend of royalty, who struck said deal with the George’s owner, former Camelot chief executive Dame Dianne Thompson, who has owned the 17-bedroom hotel for five years.
Spooner, who currently owns London entertainment venue the Clapham Grand, plus some gastropubs in Wiltshire, has big plans for the place (assuming the sale goes through).
Some he can put in place now, such as those interior tweaks and the garden makeover. He has also tweaked the name – welcome to the George Hotel & Beach Club. But most importantly, he has lured back one of the island’s top chefs, Robert Thompson, as executive chef.
Thompson, who was awarded a Michelin star back in 2007 when he was head chef of Winteringham Fields in Lincolnshire, began working at the George under Dame Dianne (no relation) a few years back, but after parting ways acrimoniously, Thompson opened his own place. Now he will divide his time between his acclaimed Newport restaurant, Thompson’s, and the George Hotel & Beach Club.
He has appointed a new brigade, including head chef Tom Axford, who used to run a gastropub in Brading on the island, pastry chef Jacob Green and junior sous chef Jack Terry. Front of house is run by new general manager Kate Hart.
The new menu launched in early April and features “Tasty Morsels”, such as crispy pork skin served with wild garlic pesto (£4), and cuttlefish crackers with taramasalata (£4.50). A “Smaller Plates” section has dishes including local asparagus, soy egg, sesame and ginger mayonnaise (£10/£18) and smoked haddock carpaccio, peas, mint and leafy lemon (£11/£20).
“From the Land” offers exotic mushroom and truffle polenta wrap, baby Gem lettuce and sautéed mushrooms (£15); “From the Farm” features a tandoori-spiced lamb burger, sesame challah bun, avocado, tomato, feta, red onion and mint (£13); while “Freshwater and Sea” has local crab linguine (£14/£25); and a selection of different steak cuts and local lobster are available in the “Cooked on the Grill” selection.
“This is what I had originally planned to do here,” explains Thompson. “I want the George to be accessible to a wide range of people, from locals who want somewhere great to eat and linger, to tourists popping in for a plate of something, to yachties wanting lobster and chips, or those grabbing a smaller plate before catching the ferry. Simple food, using top-notch ingredients, not messed around with.”
The fine dining restaurant of old is no longer (soon to be a snooker room); it’s now all about the brasserie, with 100 seats inside and a further 150 outside. The kitchen is now open from noon until 9.30pm every day, with breakfasts a new feature and homemade waffles and thick American-style pancakes on the menu.
Many dishes come in both starter and main course sizes, though portions are still countryside-generous to keep the locals happy, says Thompson. “People don’t want the traditional three-course meal any more, and many more are watching what they eat, whether because of dietary issues or just being healthy, so we want the menu to be as flexible as possible.”
Average spend is between £20 and £45 and there are daily specials, too. “This is the chefs’ playground,” he adds, with a grin.
“The George has got a massive role to play in attracting people to Yarmouth and West Wight – and indeed, to the island. We want it to be a Mecca, with people shooting across the water on a rib to eat here,” declares Thompson.
From the menu
• Crab salad, pink grapefruit, fennel, crème fraîche £14/£25
• Warm salad of local asparagus, pulses, seeds, harissa, herb dressing £10/£18
• St Austell Bay mussels, kaffir lime, ginger, chilli, coconut, coriander £9/£16
• Buttermilk-fried chicken wrap, charred lettuce Caesar-style, pancetta, smoked anchovy £13
• Shepherd’s pie: slow-cooked shoulder and neck of lamb, Gallybagger cheese mash £14
• Fish pie, roast Gem lettuce, brown shrimp, lemon butter £19.50
• Goddards Fuggle-Dee-Dum, milk chocolate, hazelnut, mascarpone trifle £9
• Dark chocolate and salted caramel mousse, banana, peanuts £10
The George Hotel & Beach Club, Quay Street,
Yarmouth, Isle of Wight PO41 0PE