It’s always the same. You go all the way to somewhere, anywhere... and who do you meet but somebody from Sheffield.
We’d driven four-and-a-half hours to the East Sussex coast, to The Gallivant hotel in Camber near Rye.
And in a place 250 miles and a world away from Sheffield – of drifting sand dunes, vast blue skies, a perfect golden beach that meets the horizon – we happened upon Ben Fisher from Netherthorpe, a sous chef in the hotel’s excellent Beach Bistro restaurant.
Ben, whose parents now live in Ellesmere, Burngreave, trained at Sheffield College. He cut the mustard first at The Blue Room in Woodseats and Rowleys at Baslow before heading to London to work for Michelin-starred Tom Aikens.
Two years later the Napa Valley beckoned, and a stint at the renowned French Laundry, before Ben headed back to Blighty and The Gallivant five months ago.
“It’s beautiful here,” said Ben, 28, who can’t be missing California too much with the stunning beauty of Camber Sands across the road from his kitchen.
“I’ve got a baby girl now called Summer, who’s seven months old, and this is a lovely place for her to grow up. She’s loving life by the beach.”
As would anyone who visits this laid-back retreat.
The Gallivant used to be a motel and, though it’s been seriously spruced up, pulling the car into a parking space after a long drive down still has the nostalgic feel of a retro road-stop.
The single-storey building huddles low among tall swishy grasses, beneath that bright almost blinding light you only get by the sea.
The decor is eclectic New England – all whitewashed floors, shabby-chic blues, whole rooms rigged together out of driftwood, rope and effortless chic.
Our room was furnished simply with crisp white cotton bedding, thick linen curtains, a vintage telephone and a Shaker pegboard instead of a wardrobe. The en suite was panelled in painted tongue-and-groove.
Out on the terrace fellow guests in shorts and shades were sipping pre-dinner glasses of chilled flint dry Chapel Down white wine.
We headed across the road for a late afternoon walk through the sand dunes, wading slowly ankle-high through deep shifting sand to reach the magnificent beach just over the hill.
Children flew scarlet kites against a bright blue sky as we lay back beneath wispy cloud, letting handfuls of soft sand trickle through our fingers.
Back in the hotel restaurant we tucked into pigeon breast with rhubarb, fish soup with gruyere, and seared Rye bay scallops – all before a mouthwatering main of roast salt marsh lamb, served large enough for two on a huge wooden board glistening with rosemary meat juices.
The side dish was whole little gem lettuce hearts cut lengthways in two, brushed lightly with olive oil, and seared on a hot griddle – unbelievably delicious. A heavenly meal was rounded off by chef Trevor Hambley’s own pear tarte tatin, served hot with melting cold ice cream.
STAY: A night at The Gallivant in Camber, near Rye, East Sussex, costs from £115. Weekend rates include full breakfast – the banana bread is delicious – and exceptional three-course dinner in The Beach Bistro: www.thebeachbistro.com
BOOK: www.thegallivanthotel.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 01797 225057.
VISIT: Five minutes’ drive away is the picturesque town of Rye, packed tightly with cobbled streets and antique shops.
DON’T MISS: The eerie and haunting bizarre landscape that is Dungeness, 15 minutes along the coast. Fishermen’s houses and artists’ retreats sit in the beatifully ugly hazy shadow of Dungeness Nuclear Power Station.