B&B And Beyond: The Reading Rooms, Margate
This elegant address signals an artist-friendly reinvention of the traditional seaside resort, says Rhiannon Batten
Sunday 03 June 2012
The Reading Rooms' name harks back to one of the most popular pursuits in 18th-century Margate, when visitors would slake their thirst for literature in rooms and libraries throughout the town (including one on the Georgian square on which the Reading Rooms now sits).
When this boutique B&B opened in 2009, it was still an anomaly in a seaside town more associated with the bucket-and-spade trippers in the Chas & Dave song, "Margate". But regeneration of the town, driven by the opening of the Turner Contemporary gallery last spring (where a solo exhibition of work by Margate's own Tracey Emin opened last weekend) has seen a sea change in the type of tourists venturing here. When the affluent, art-savvy crowd hit town, via the High Speed One line from London, this is where they stay.
Each of the three rooms takes up almost an entire floor of the house. They feature a soothingly pale colour scheme, big windows and fabulous superking beds. The bathrooms alone are worth seeing: each has a vast walk-in shower, a free-standing bath and all the mirrors and shelf space you could wish for. Modern amenities includes Ren bathroom toiletries, Duravit sinks and satellite TV. These touches are in sharp contrast to historic traces such as distressed walls, painted wardrobes, antique chandeliers and salvaged radiators. My room – number three, on the top floor – had skyline sea views through three windows and a giant mirror on one wall.
Louise Oldfield and Liam Nabb moved to Margate from the North, via east London and Florence. They have backgrounds in graphic design and the music industry. Their cosmopolitan outlook is demonstrated in the building's painstakingly curated décor and their enthusiasm for more off-beat attractions such as the derelict lido over the ruins of an ancient baths (see Louise's blog at bit.ly/MargArc).
Tick what you fancy from a long list, specify a time for delivery, and leave the menu outside your room before going to bed. Choices range from a full English to porridge, a ciabatta bacon sandwich or even a slice of toast spread with cream cheese, drizzled with honey and dusted with cinnamon. Drinks include freshly squeezed juices and jugs of gourmet hot chocolate. The next morning Liam and Louise will deliver your order. You can eat while still in your pyjamas, from a little table in your room.
Along with its unlikely mix of boy racers, mobility scooting retirees and art lovers, you'll find plenty of reasons to enjoy one of England's oldest seaside resorts. The regenerated old town has delis, cafés, vintage stores and galleries. They enjoy a year-round trade thanks to the Turner Contemporary (01843 233000; turnercontemporary.org; free admission). For shopping, try Blackbird for contemporary craft (01843 229533; blackbird-england.com) or Fontaine for decorative arts and antiques (01843 220974; fontainedecorative.com).
Visit the Shell Grotto (01843 220008; shellgrotto.co.uk; entry £3), a spooky subterranean passageway of uncertain origin covered in 4.6 million shells. And don't miss the beaches: Botany Bay, an hour's walk east, or Minnis Bay, to the west, are more spectacular than the town-centre beach.
Though you can still find classic chippies, Margate now offers much more. For lunch, The Greedy Cow (3 Market Place; 01843 447557) sells picnic-perfect local cheeses, pickles, crisps and juices, as well as platters and salads. BeBeached (07961 402612; bebeached.co.uk), on the Harbour Arm, is good for a sundowner. Locals rave about the inspired modern Indian cooking at The Ambrette (01843 231504; theambrette.co.uk), though my meal there was disappointing. Alternatives include the tiny, sawdust-scattered Lifeboat pub (07837 024259; thelifeboat-margate.com), which does Ramsgate-landed dressed lobster and crab, local pies and real ales and ciders.
Until someone opens the great fish restaurant Margate is currently lacking, book in for dinner (Fridays and Saturdays only) at the Turner Contemporary Gallery's Café (01843 220253), or take a taxi (around £7) to nearby Ramsgate for upmarket (and sustainable) fish'n'chips at Eddie Gilbert's (01843 852123; eddiegilberts. com) or inspired, seasonal, modern British cooking at Age & Sons (01843 851515; ageandsons.co.uk).
The Reading Rooms, 31 Hawley Square, Margate, Kent CT9 1PH (01843 225166; thereadingrooms margate.co.uk). Double rooms start at £150, B&B.
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