Glamour in Guildford
The recently opened Harbour Hotel Spa in Guildford town centre offers much for its guests…
Review by Rupert Watkins
Close enough to London to be both an interesting day out and a home for demanding commuters, Guildford has recently become the owner of the latest Harbour Hotel Spa. Opened earlier this year after taking over the old Radisson hotel building, Harbour have added their own distinct touches to make it a welcoming bolthole for the business and leisure traveller alike.
Arriving to check in, it is immediately clear a lot of thought has gone into the renovation. The two storey high lobby is colourfully decorated with bold furniture and a large eye-catching chandelier. Courteous staff direct me and my guest to our room – a large business class room with all the amenities one would expect from a good four star hotel. Once inside, we find Harbour have done a good job in maximising the potential of a very basic room shape. Comfortable minimalist furniture dots the room, snazzy art enlivens the walls and the very large bed is comfortably firm, promising an excellent night’s sleep. The bathroom is large with both a bath and very decent walk in shower. Those looking for more quirky or individual rooms may want to look at Harbour’s other establishments on the South Coast and down in the South West, as this particular hotel will cater as much for business as leisure clients, which is reflected in the decor. Nonetheless, this is a pleasant and comfortable place to spend the night.
Moving downstairs, we were both keen to head to the newly built Spa and relax away the cares of the working week. We opt for a back and shoulder massage, carried out in small, quiet and comfortable treatment rooms. The treatment was precise and very competent; offered a selection of ESPA massage oils, I quickly drifted away into a semi-comatose state as my masseuse identified the (many – who knew journalism was that stressful) knots of tension down my left hand side. Joining my guest again, we sank into the cool pool for a gentle paddle in an attempt to revive ourselves.
Those looking to do early morning lengths in the pool be aware, this is definitely a plunge pool rather than a fitness one. But with both a sauna and steam room, this is certainly a well-equipped spa. Given Harbour has not been open long, there are one or two rough and unfinished edges to its décor, but the overall quality of the treatments and the fact the chain are currently planning to expand the spa, introducing a heated outdoor infinity pool later this year, certainly make this worth a visit.
Feeling rejuvenated, my guest and I were ready to tackle dinner – stopping only for a little snifter before we sat down. Heading to the aptly named Long Bar, it was clear that – despite being open for only three weeks according to the maitre d’ – this was already a hugely popular spot. Slick and stylish with a 120 foot marble topped bar as its centrepiece. Low banquettes round the sides of the bar and high tables and stools give drinkers somewhere to cluster. With solid selections of gin – including some rarities such as Silent Pool and Conker – vodka and rum (approximately 20 of each spirit), there is plenty to attract the curious (or hardened) drinker. The Long Bar sells its gin in the Spanish fashion, a large goblet, and my Gin Mare with rosemary and basil was refreshing and delicious. My guest and I also treated ourselves to a bottle of Rene Brisset Brut NV champers, which was dry with hints of peaches and set us up marvellously for our dinner.
The hotel’s Jetty restaurant has likewise only been fully operating for around a month. It is open and naturally light with comfortable semi-circular banquettes round the edges. The room has colourful, modern photography on the walls. Not feeling quite in the mood for a starter, we opted for some small bites whilst examining the impressive menu. Tempura prawns and soft shelled crab were laid before us, perfectly sized; fresh and zingy, they wetted our appetite for the main course.
My guest opted for the Jetty Fruits de Mer – a selection of fresh crab, mussels, prawns, squid, scallops and oysters. The cockles and mussels especially were very well marinated and the dish was wolfed down to squeals of delight. Bursting with freshness and taste, the entire platter was felt to be one of the best she had eaten – holidays abroad included. I am not an oyster and squid fan, although the sheer delight of my guest over her dish did lend me to food envy… However, my Hake and Ham, the fish wrapped in prosciutto, served with with crushed potatoes and peas, was also good. The fresh hake fell apart beautifully, a knife only needed to slice open the prosciutto. The potatoes and peas were not drowned in the sauce or oversalted, resulting in a light and flavoursome dish.
Accompanying the meal were a couple of glasses of 2015 Oliver Tricon Chablis. Crisp, dry and with an elegant finish this proved excellent drinking. Feeling stuffed, I just about found room for the Summer Pudding Eton Mess. With raspberries, clotted cream ice cream and red berry sauce, the dessert was actually quite small – thus perfect as a decadent but not coronary inducing end to a delicious meal. Given the quality and service in this eatery – it has certainly hit the ground running – the Jetty looks like it also fulfils a niche in the town centre for a specialist high grade fish restaurant. Certainly briefly chatting with the team post our meal, they have seen the bar become a local hot spot very fast and much of the Jetty’s trade is walk in.
Descending for breakfast the following morning, a very wide buffet selection is available; from continental options including yogurts, smoked salmon and cheese, through to fresh fruit and traditional cooked English. The bistro itself was packed, although this led to a few issues. There weren’t quite enough staff on duty to keep the tables tidy and clean (perhaps a lack of a junior manager, as I did sense a little disorganisation). My request for a couple of fried eggs dragged on a bit whilst my guest’s coffee was deemed very sub-standard and not in keeping with the clear effort made elsewhere.
However, along with the minor cosmetic issues affecting the spa, these problems came across to us a more teething concerns still being wrestled with rather than a shoddy lack of attention to detail. Harbour has clearly re-invigorated this hotel. A couple of local friends who we met in the Long Bar the night before tell us Guildford has lacked a hotel with Harbour’s quality and range of services, and that the town is abuzz with how the chain continue phase two of the spa enlargement – clearly many locals are eyeing it up for regular usage: a good sign. With the North Downs and Wey River on its doorstep, the Harbour hotel is also an excellent forward base to explore this scenic part of Surrey. Those heading to Guildford for weekend pleasure or weekday work should check it out, especially as it is still looking to improve on it’s already impressive start.
Enquiries: Harbour Hotel & Spa, 3 Alexandra Terrace, High Street, Guildford, Surry. GU1 3DA / 01483 792300 / www.guildford-harbour-hotel.co.uk/