Hotel review: The Gallivant, Camber, East Sussex

I am reliably informed that this small hotel used to be called The Place.

Hotel review: The Gallivant, Camber, East Sussex The Place at Camber Sands has a nice ring but, now in new hands, it has a fresh identity as The Gallivant.

Hélène, my London-dwelling French friend, has started gallivanting early. "They were offering free samples," she says, waving at the champagne bar at St Pancras station.

"How many did you try?"

"About six," she replies with a Gallic shrug, and hauls her luggage on to the train. We are whisked southwards, into rainy skies. By the time we reach the motel-style building across the road from Camber's wonderful dunes, needles of rain are lashing.

"Those won't recover from the winter freeze-up," says Hélène, surveying a sorry brown mass of palm trees as we dash for the door.

From reception – adjacent to the encouragingly seasidey Beach Bistro in which we'll be eating later – we are shown past the guest sitting room to our twin room (there are 18 in total).

"Lovely to see pins parasols from our window – you get those in Provence," says Hélène, peering across the car park to a row of umbrella pines. A distressed wooden unit bears a large Samsung telly, a wicker tray with kettle (marks for teapot and big teacups, but no cafetiere) and Ty Nant water. There are tide tables, brand new paperbacks and vintage hardbacks. Each (very comfy) bed has a wall light.

And – hello, I've seen this before, at Shoreditch Rooms in London – no wardrobe, but a row of Shaker-style pegs with shaving mirror, bathrobes and a stripy beach bag containing a picnic rug. Our only complaints are that we'd rather have bathroom shelves than a blue rubber duck, and a blind at the bedroom window.

In general, the hotel appears child-friendly (room info is comprehensive in terms of things to do if it rains, if it shines, etc). They discourage children under 10 in the bistro after 8pm, which seems reasonable, especially as in summer there will also be barbecues on a covered terrace, where all ages will be welcome any time.

"This place doesn't look much from outside – but inside it has lovely light and a casual beach-house vibe," says Hélène over the papers in the guest sitting room before we drift to the bistro for dinner at a candlelit table. There is a bar at the rear with draught ale, the menu comes with a cocktail selection, we call the background music "airport xylophone", and Hélène says the Lighthouse Bakery bread, which arrives with salt and a butter pat, looks "biblical".

The menu is enticing yet unfussy. Rye Bay scallops with soured onions and a dark green pool of watercress puree get "10 out of 10", and so does a perfectly juicy grilled lemon sole. There are mussels, and clam stew, but I order roast Sussex black-leg chicken, which comes with celeriac chips and parsley butter – it's really good.

Breakfast consists of a full menu of cooked stuff, but also the most attractive hotel buffet I have yet to see, arranged around driftwood on a wooden trestle at the heart of the restaurant. Little Kilner jars of this and that, labelled on tiny chalked slates, dishes of dark red berry and apple compote, heavy glass jars of cereals.

"Well, you can say it's delicious," instructs Hélène, polishing off smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. To which I'll add, bravo – roll on summer.

Powered by article was written by Sally Shalam, for The Guardian on Saturday 9th April 2011 00.04 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010