Muddy reviews: The Star Inn, Alfriston
A triple treat of sleepy rural peace, local culture creds and stylish Tudor charm, The Star Inn in Alfriston, East Sussex opened to acclaim. Only thing is, does it pass the Muddy test?
You’ve heard of The Star Inn, right? Such has been the hype surrounding this first joint hotel project of Olga and daughter Alex ‘The Hotel Inspector’ Polizzi in the Sussex countryside that journalists have been tumbling over themselves to review it since it launched last year.
A 15th century inn with 30 rooms in the quaint, quiet village of Alfriston, just a few miles from the coast, this is the perfect spot for exploring the increasingly sought-after county with Eastbourne 10km to the east, Brighton 20km to the west, and meandering rivers that take you down to pretty, pebbly local beaches. For the more intrepid, the South Downs Way skirts the village and takes you past the Seven Sisters cliffs to Beachy Head one way, or alternatively up to the South Downs national park (footwear warning: I’d give yourself some time on this walk and double socks, it’s 100 miles long).
The Star aches with Tudor charm, bowing its heavily beamed upper storey onto the high street and urging passers-by to stop in for a drink, meal, or overnighter in one of the elegant bedrooms. It’s a hugely sympathetic renovation and expansion, with plenty of charming quirks such as the ‘secret’ door that leads from the small library room into the surprisingly large restaurant and its extraordinary painted wooden floorboards (stencilled by local artist Amanda Lawrence to an Elizabethan design).
I think Polizzi has delivered something particularly lovely with the restaurant, creating variety and interiors interest with the rough hessian chairs (perfectly comfy, don’t worry), stunning 16th century 3m sideboard as a centrepiece, and then a mix of sofa banquette wall seating, tables for two and — in the centre of the room — semi-circular ‘Waltzer’ statement seating and bigger tables.
The pub too oozes charm, with its huge fireplaces, nooks and crannies and painstakingly stripped-back wooden beams. There are moments of lightness too, thanks to a ‘cut out’ sheep that stands between the two pub sections.
SCOFF & QUAFF
It’s a reflection of how tough it is to find staff in hospitality at the moment that during my stay Alex Polizzi herself was part of the waiting staff for drinks in the afternoon, dinner in the restaurant, and then the next morning for my breakfast in the pretty outdoor courtyard. Good to see that The Hotel Inspector isn’t beyond pulling an 18 hour day when it matters.
The restaurant was really buzzy the night we ate, and I reckon I can pretty much guarantee that it will continue to be so night after night and the hotel is chokker, so you’ll need to book ahead.
Head chef is Tim Kensett, formerly of The River Café, and the menu comes with the expected promise of local produce and unfussy dishes. Gotta tell you, dinner was dreamy. I’m going to disagree with Marina O’Loughlin of The Sunday Times — to me there was plenty on the menu to excite, and both my friend and I had fantastic meals (although I agree on price — £42 for a main course is steep). My sweet, textured wild sea bass, balanced with capers, black olives, lemon and braised black cabbage was damn near perfect.
Meanwhile my plus one Lizzie raved about the impressive 32 day aged Sussex sirloin, which came smothered in tarragon butter with a side of chips.
Breakfast in the morning was taken in the pretty courtyard that extends out from the restaurant (lovely for eating out on warm nights), with its exposed stone walls and foliage.
There was one false start with my fresh coffee, clearly made by someone who had never been near a cafetière before, but it was easily rectified and my perfectly presented eggs Benedict (eggs runny but not wobbly, hollandaise suitably smooth and rich) set us up perfectly to explore the area.
There are 30 bedrooms at The Star Inn, nine of which are in a new block behind the car park (espaliers protecting you from the Porsches over the hedge). These rooms have small patios, interconnecting rooms, are ideal for families, as well as being designated dog-friendly. However, I always prefer to stay in the main bit of a hotel where possible – just feels a bit more in the action to me – so I was happy in my Junior Suite with its big marble bathroom, light, airy room and the Polizzi trademark of pattern and heritage with a gentle twist below (sorry, it doesn’t come with the red bag, that’s mine!).
The best overnighter in the house is probably The Heritage Junior Suite in the oldest part of the building thanks to original features and centuries-old quirks but it’s double bed only so one for lovers or old friends who don’t mind cribbing up for the night — grab it if you can.
OUT AND ABOUT
Grab a straw hat in good weather or wellies if it’s inclement from the dedicated rack, and head straight out the front door. Here you can amble peacefully around Alfriston — there’s the requisite antique shop, art gallery, book store (Much Ado: make sure you stop in; they gift-wrap the books!) and tea shops. I’m a sucker for a 14th century village church and the ‘Cathedral of the Downs‘, due to its size, is worth the visit if you’re also into that kind of thing! Next door you can also visit the Old Clergy House, which was the first ever National Trust property.
You can walk and walk from here, to the lovely local beaches, to the Seven Sisters cliffs, and either direction on the South Downs Way.
We ambled down the River Cuckmere to Cuckmere Haven beach, spied a cliff walk, but were seduced by the sea and sat with a little picnic as the tide tickled the pebbles near our feet.
If you want to head out in the car, Charleston (the farmhouse owned by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant of the Bloomsbury Group) is a 10-minute drive. For kids there’s Drusillas Zoo a mile down the road, and a little further north is Knockhatch Adventure Park. Eastbourne, Lewes, and Brighton are all in easy driving distance.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: What’s not to love? Romantics will feel at home with the intimate vibe here and stylish spaces. It ticks the boxes for families with children’s menus at the bar, board games in the bijou library and interconnecting rooms. Pooch lovers will like the easily available dog beds and bowls. Want the whole thing? It’s possible to take over the hotel for weddings or private parties and Alfriston deals its hand beautifully with nearby options whatever the weather. If you like what you experience, you can continue the fun at the two other hotels in the Polizzi Collection – Tresanton in South Cornwall and Endsleigh in Devon.
NOT FOR: Modernists might find the bedroom design a little too heritage-heavy for their tastes. Those watching their budgets will find the restaurant prices steep compared to the reasonable room cost of £190+ for bed and breakfast.
The Star Inn, Alfriston, East Sussex, BN26 5TA; +44 (0)1323 870495; thepolizzicollection.com/the-star
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