The 10-minute walk from Southend Central railway station to Seven, the town’s newest – and first boutique – hotel takes in its prosaic High Street but, on a crisp, sunny afternoon, also delivers lovely views of the Thames estuary. Nearby is the funicular cliff lift and on the esplanade below are fairground rides, though the scene is dominated by Southend’s pier – the longest in the world – which takes my gaze out across the water.
Seven opened last week, though the hotel restaurant is into its second month, and the place could not feel fresher. Indeed, the hotel is another aspect of the town’s regeneration, which is being built around art and culture and includes the creative hub Metal and the Focal Point Gallery.
The hotel building used to be a care home but after redevelopment is now a 37-room hotel, featuring five top-floor Estuary suites with sea views maximised by french windows and a balcony – and with a rooftop bar to come. The other rooms are classified as Chic, Cosy, Calm or Comfy.
The design and decor of our room is a constant reminder of where we are. Sea-foam greens and beach tones are top of the paint charts and mix with iridescent brass and bronze in details such as lamps, bathroom fittings and the beautiful fretwork by interiors firm Tibbatts-Abel. The palette exudes quality without tipping into the gaudy.
Downstairs, the bar is not the biggest and is busy – though not in a frantic way – and I’m sure the owners will be glad for warmer months when they can open its terrace. The drinks list has the usual promise of mixologist’s magic and more than 30 types of gin. It could not be more on-message than if it had WhatsApp’d itself with a string of emojis and hashtag #hichicboom!
A pre-dinner stroll along the seafront reveals two sides of the town. On Eastern Esplanade are amusement arcades, a sea life centre and lads revving souped-up cars, while the calmer pleasures of Cliff Gardens and entertainment at the Cliffs Pavilion dominate around Western Esplanade as it edges towards Westcliff-on-Sea. Seven sits between them, leaving guests to decide which decibel level they’d be happiest in.
The hotel’s shining star, though, is its restaurant, Aurum, overseen by Simon Webb – a head chef with experience at London’s Langham Hotel and leader of England’s team at the 2018 Culinary World Cup. Not only does the decor pick up on the colours and accents of the hotel, with the bronze shards of a central light grabbing the attention, it also emphasises local food from both land and sea.
My wife’s Essex burrata starter (mozzarella-like cheese, with beetroot, rye, honey and rocket) is a sweet, light treat, while my London-cure smoked salmon with fennel and dill is a tangy delight. The mains are just as finessed: pork belly can be greasy but this one (served with spiced lentils, cabbage and burnt apple) is succulent, with just the right hit of perfectly crisp crackling. I ask my wife what she thinks of her Creedy Carver chicken with leeks, kale and bread sauce – but she’s too busy devouring it to answer.
I’ve always loved the British seaside and its contradictions: brash colours, eccentric spectacle, fading grandeur and the stoicism required to sunbathe in the cold. And I’ll understand the criticism if it comes Seven’s way for its focus on luxury in a town that has a “traditional” seaside reputation. It is, in my opinion, pricey for Southend but it does help reveal a prettier picture of what a trip to coastal Essex can deliver. And who knows, with the increasingly popular Southend airport only a 15-minute drive away, Seven could become a pre- or post-getaway treat for those using its 30-plus European routes for a short break. It certainly focuses attention on how good things are here right now.
• Accommodation was provided by Seven hotel (doubles from £96, room only, cooked breakfast £8, continental breakfast buffet £10). Aurum restaurant set menu £19 for two courses, £24 for three, excluding wine
Ask a local
• Arts and exhibitions
Twenty One, on the seafront, offers great food and an exciting events programme. Sign up to a workshop at The Old Waterworks, and there’s great photography, at the Francesca Maffeo Gallery.
Independent shops are scattered through Southend, Westcliff and Leigh-on-Sea. Head down Hamlet Court Road for secondhand furniture, florists and knick-knacks. For local gifts, I recommend a visit to Castle Collection and Clink.
• Food and drink
For a fantastic vegan menu and live music most nights, head to The Railway Hotel, home to Southend’s creative community. For Italian food in a cosy setting, try Pasta Pia or go to Henry Burgers for cocktails and Instagram-worthy burgers. One of my favourite lunch spots is Barlow and Fields – lovely atmosphere and fuss-free menus. If it’s local beers you’re after, then it’s time for The Crooked Billet or The Mayflower.