Waxing Lyrical at Poets House
Combining swanky interiors with a sophisticated dining ambience, Edition’s Phoebe Harper heads to Ely for a table for two at Poets House
On a wintry Tuesday evening shrouded in thick fog, walking through Ely’s historic cathedral precinct feels as though we’ve stepped into a bygone century, rather like taking a stroll through Godric’s Hollow from Harry Potter.
Approaching the elegant townhouse exterior of Poets House and passing under its gateway, we wouldn’t look out of place pulling up in a horse and carriage. But as soon as we enter through the automated glass doors into the hotel’s reception, we are hit with a welcome wall of central heating and brought crashing with a bump into the modern day.
Immediately, we are confronted with immaculate monochromatic interiors, a sparkling, checkerboard tiled floor and lavish touches of chrome furnishings that chime with the gleam of wine glasses sat waiting on polished, grey tabletops.
With gilt mirrors and studded suede seats, it is a degree of glitz that would inevitably have offended the puritan inclinations of Ely’s most famous resident Oliver Cromwell, whose timber-framed house stands glaring across at us from the other side of the road.
Although Poets House is reputed as a boutique bolthole in the historic heart of Ely, we’re here to try its culinary offerings served from the on-site restaurant and neighbouring Sonnet Bar and Lounge, a sophisticated space that feels quite cosmopolitan, not least because of its extensive cocktail menu.
In keeping with its significant setting, the hotel complex occupies a trio of Grade II listed Edwardian townhouses and takes its name from a former resident – Sybil Marshall. Poets House is something of a misnomer, since Marshall was a former author and educationist, but of course that wouldn’t have the same ring to it.
ON THE MENU
The restaurant itself is intimate, with just 40 covers that gradually fill over the course of the evening. The room’s interiors represent a rainbow of greys, so that when our drinks arrive – two novelty cocktails from the Halloween drinks menu complete with floating eyeballs and strawberry puree for fake blood – they seem entirely out of place; vibrant bursts of colour as lurid as the illuminated steeples of the cathedral.
Nevertheless, these kaleidoscopic concoctions go down a treat while poring over a library’s worth of drinks menus – a book each for beverages, wine list and food, before an overly apologetic waiter rushes over to inform us he’s neglected to provide us with the drinks specials.
Throughout the meal, the service is unrelentingly attentive, with exquisitely well-mannered staff on hand to ensure our cups never run dry, nor that any of our three courses has passed without the opportunity for feedback.
This is entirely unnecessary, as I savour a starter of smoked salmon served upon a slice of sourdough with lashings of whipped feta, ribbons of cucumber, radishes, red onion and capers. It’s the culinary highlight of the meal.
A main course follows of chicken supreme wrapped in bacon served with a bush-worth of rosemary, spinach and new potatoes.
Though tasty, the salted potatoes combined with both artichokes and olives does have me frequently reaching for the table water. I eye my partner’s seabass served with fennel, lumpfish caviar salad, duchess potatoes and buttered samphire with envy.
Again, our plates are cleared and glasses refilled faster than you can say dessert menu. Full to the gills, we share a chocolate orange torte, which, although lacking in citrus, is picture-perfect and more than compensates with ample cocoa.
Although the aesthetic style of Poets House may not be to everyone’s taste, you cannot deny the level of service, appreciation for good food and comfort of your surroundings, as ambient lounge music plays in the background.
While the restaurant and bar merit a stand-alone visit, with promises of rolltop copper baths at the foot of sumptuous double beds calling from the 21 rooms, my recommendation would be to book a night.