St Bride’s Spa Hotel

St Bride's exterior, evening

St Bride’s exterior, evening

St Bride’s Spa Hotel, Saundersfoot

Reviewed by Em Marshall-Luck

St Bride’s Hotel is situated atop a cliff above the Pembrokeshire town of Saundersfoot, near Tenby, looking out over the beach, harbour and town, to the surrounding rolling hills. The hotel itself is an eighteenth century building with modern accretions in a colour scheme of white, cream, grey and pine. Our reception was very friendly and professional, and we were shown up to our room – a reasonably spacious room with separate little seating area, a large and high bed, the obligatory large flat-screen TV with a fridge underneath and room for a little camp bed for Tristan as well. The bathroom was clean and smart and sported a large and most excellent shower and bath; whilst unusually decent wardrobe space was provided in the hallway between the bedroom and bathroom. One of the selling features of the room was the balcony which looked out to the beach, one of just a couple on a large terraced area otherwise only taken up by a few seagulls, so that the atmosphere was one of reasonable seclusion. Two chairs and a little table enabled one to sit out and admire the view.

The other element of the room that particularly impressed me was the fact that a carton of fresh milk was provided in the fridge – not something I’ve ever come across before and an extremely welcome touch. A rather good selection of teas, coffees and Belgian waffles was provided – again, a touch above the usual; furthermore, there was a plate of apples, strawberries and fudges that also provided that extra feeling of being welcomed. We were pleased to note as well that as many items in our room as possible had been produced by local craftsmen – from the furniture to the woven rug that lay across the bottom of the bed. The colour scheme of the room – as with the rest of the hotel – was neutral – beiges, creams and whites, with also rather pale-coloured abstract paintings. The only downside of the room was that at night we found it unbearably hot (despite it being a typically cold and wet English June) and had to open the balcony door wide to allow enough of a breeze in to facilitate sleep – whilst this was extremely pleasant in and of itself, with the refreshing breeze and faint susurrations of the sea on shore, it nevertheless meant that light came pouring in the room, waking us up at an hour when we would sooner have remained in Morpheus’s arms!

The hotel offers a fitness room and various spa treatments; it also boasts what it calls a hydropool (gosh, fancy that – finding a pool full of water!) and a thermal suite. The former is a small infinity pool that looks out over the beach – although the infinity part of it only really works when the tide is in, which it wasn’t when I visited (but this didn’t deter me from resting my elbows on the edge and enjoying gazing out over the sands to the sea beyond). It’s not really long enough to swim in – one has to turn around every few strokes, especially if one pushes off at the end – but it does have a decent Jacuzzi along the far side, looking out over the view, with bars on which people can sit to take pleasure in this; and a fierce, arcing jet of water under which one can stand to have one’s neck, shoulders and head massaged – most enjoyable, beneficial and therapeutic.

Hydro pool

Hydro pool

The thermal suite is what I would simply have termed a “sauna” in its broadest of ramifications: it houses a sauna, an ice fountain, tropical shower with three settings and two steam rooms: one a salt steam room and the other “herbal”, with lemongrass to assist breathing. I spent a reasonable amount of time in and out of these, the pool and the relaxation room that houses the complimentary teas, herbals teas and water, and emerged mentally invigorated and physically relaxed, feeling slightly sleepy in a healthy and happy way. This is most certainly worth a visit. I then dragged my husband and young Tristan out for a walk down to town (just a few minutes away), and along the beach, which stretches for some way, full of little coves and caves and supporting an abundance of interesting fauna and geological features.

Back at the hotel, dinner is served in an airy and spacious contemporary room, the Cliff Restaurant, with floor-to-ceiling windows the length of the room also looking out over the beach, with a terrace for those willing to brave the evening chills. The same colour theme extends here as well, with a just-off-white ceiling and walls, and dark grey window frames. The floor is a light-coloured oak and matches the tables and chair-legs. Chair seats and backs and banquettes are covered in a greeny-grey leather and the table separators are clad in beige wainscoting. The paintings are modern beach scenes; the driftwood ornamentation in jars and long willow twigs are more attractive than the pictures. Candles flicker in glass vases whilst shells fill others. The ambience is generally relaxed whilst being light and airy and definitely contemporary coastal. We were immediately seated by a very friendly waiter, and breadsticks and olives were brought (a little disappointing; a nice selection of amuse bouche would have been more welcome – however, this pleased the bread-stick-loving Tristan), along with menus, the children’s menu and wine list; and drinks were offered. Two menus are available in the evening – the à la carte, and the day menu, which comprises sandwiches and lighter meals.

The wine list was particularly good with a very wide range of reds, whites, rosés and sparkling wines, as well as wines available by the half bottle and by the glass (and also, I noted later on, a good selection of dessert wines as well). They were broken down by grape variety – very sensibly – and descriptions were offered. We chose an Old Vine Zinfandel – Delicato 2013 that appeared slightly thin and sharp to begin with but opened up after it was allowed to breathe. The appearance was just slightly thin and translucent – a darkish ruby red – and the nose, whilst slightly reticent, was pleasingly dark, of black bramble fruits. On the palate the wine is rich and dark, with plums, blackcurrants and damsons as well as plenty of tobacco, spice and woody brambles.

Once we had ordered, bread appeared – a basket of a decent quantity of warm, fresh bread, both white and brown. The bread wasn’t possibly the finest I had ever tasted, with quite a tough crust and a slightly unexciting interior – but it sufficed. Things looked up for the starters and the main course. My husband started with a fillet of sea bass with samphire and was presented with a surprisingly substantial fillet (thick, as well as large). The fish was well-cooked, fresh and salty, and was well complemented by its beurre blanc sauce, whilst the samphire was extremely plump and fresh – clearly only very recently harvested: impressive. I had opted for goats’ cheese and this arrived as four small parcels of whipped goats cheese on little croutons, with roasted tomatoes and pickled walnuts. Whilst the goats’ cheese was very good, the stars of the show here were the tomatoes which were bursting with intense flavour.

For his main, Mr Marshall-Luck chose the salmon fillet, which, although well-presented and well thought-out, lacked a little in flavour. The accompanying prawn and tomato concoction was good, but – slightly incongruously – served cold; the overall impression was just slightly disorientating and off-centre – a pity. I had far more success with my pork tenderloin which was really excellent. Again, it was a very generous-sized portion, and the meat itself was tender, whilst the pancetta wrapped around the outside lent a smokiness to the meat within as well as adding extra dimensions of flavour, texture and saltiness. The meat was served with a chorizo stew that was very full-flavoured and hot in terms of piquancy.

Desserts were tempting but I felt like something more savoury so requested goats’ cheese – it came nicely presented on a board with apples, biscuits, grapes and other items, although the goats’ cheese was a hard cheese, being a slight disappointment to this soft goats’ cheese fiend. The iced apple parfait with calvados-soaked raisins was delicately flavoured and worked very well – light and refreshing, whilst the calvados added a little kick to the dish.

The service was good throughout – we were served by the restaurant supervisor, Christophe, who properly addressed me as “ma-am” and my husband as “Sir” rather than “guys” throughout the meal (possibly because he wasn’t English), and by another girl, Marine, both of whom were as professional as they were friendly. Tristan was well-catered for, with plates being offered for him rather than our having to ask for once. In fact, nothing seemed too much trouble for them and one very much had the feeling that an extra mile would be gone willingly and happily with a genuine smile of pleasure at being able to help – a clear sign that staff had been well-chosen and well-trained. Courses came fairly slowly – but then I had indicated when they enquired (on Tristan’s behalf) that we were in no hurry and were more than happy to take our time.

The only major drawback to what the hotel would no doubt call “the dining experience” was the music – although thankfully this was of an unusually low volume, but some of the trashy popular songs nevertheless impinged themselves on one’s consciousness – the Eagles were amongst the least offensive bands featured!

Breakfast was served back in the dining room – a good buffet spread was on offer, with fresh fruit juices (including freshly squeezed orange), pastries, cereals, fruits and a variety of breads with a toasting machine. The cooked breakfast menu was impressive, with a variety of options above and beyond the traditional Full English. Mr Marshall-Luck went for the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, I chose the smoked haddock and poached egg, and Tristan greatly enjoyed a scotch pancake with strawberries and clotted cream. Again, the service here was exceptional from one waiter in particular (Michael), who, amongst other things, immediately changed a table which had been laid out for lunch over to a breakfast lay-out for us when he discovered that Tristan would prefer the banquette-style seating that it offered.

So breakfast was a good conclusion to, overall, a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing stay; and whilst one of a more traditional outlook might raise an eyebrow at the buying-in of the hotel to trendy speak and its adherence to contemporary fashions, it cannot be doubted that a stay at the hotel offers good accommodation, exemplary service, excellent food and a good chance to unwind in its small but lovely spa area. If you find yourself in the Saundersfoot area, you know where you can stay…

Em Marshall-Luck is QR’s food and wine critic

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