If you wanted a crash course in anticipating the needs of the world’s most demanding guests, then a spell working on Roman Abramovich’s super-yacht would probably do the trick. Before entering the hospitality industry, Lewis Green worked on the floating palace Pelorus, piloting the Russian billionaire and his friends around the western Mediterranean.
Thankfully, there is nothing remotely ostentatious or “oligarch-y” about North House, Green’s latest venture with his business partner Luke Staples, on the Isle of Wight. In fact, stepping over the threshold of this townhouse hotel – which opened on a quiet backstreet of Cowes just over a year ago – feels like walking into the home of a friend – albeit one with exceptionally good taste and a penchant for Farrow & Ball paint.
There’s a tantalising glimpse of a fire crackling in the grate of the bar as we walk along the hall to the reception desk, which sits opposite an open kitchen. It’s an unusual set-up, but one that instantly puts you at the heart of the hotel, with all of its heat and activity. The welcome is warm and informal, and we’re quickly led past an attractive walled garden and up a staircase in an adjoining building to our room – a generous, light-filled space with cream walls, white bed linen, sea-grass carpet and French windows overlooking the harbour where ferries glide across the Solent.
The large bathroom is painted in a deep shade of teal, with double washstand, roll-top bath, walk-in monsoon shower and Cowshed products. I’m sharing with my mum and eight-year-old daughter (an extra fold-away bed has been set up for her) and my roommates waste no time in making themselves at home: bouncing on the bed while eating the homemade biscuits left for us (my daughter) and marvelling at the contents of the well-stocked mini-bar (my mum). Too bad, then, that I have to move the car – there’s no parking at the hotel and I’ve had to leave it on a yellow line. (There’s a long-stay car park a five-minute walk away and if you leave your keys with the staff, they’ll top up the meter for you in the morning).
We’ve booked a table for dinner in the hotel’s Oyster Store restaurant, which is in an attractive orangery overlooking the garden. In this yachting town it would be tempting to go “full nautical” with the interiors but there’s only the merest nod to the maritime: a striped cushion here, a strategically placed oar there. The atmosphere is relaxed and I’m pleased to see other families dining. We’re swiftly presented with a children’s menu and told the kitchen will adapt meals from the main menu, too. Seafood features prominently: I opt for prawn cocktail, then sea bass, while my mum has scallops then whole grilled sea bream (starters from £7, mains from £11, fish of the day £18, sides £3.50). The fish is fresh, portions generous, and presentation unfussy. My daughter declares that her burger is the best she’s ever had. After a quick game of Scrabble in front of the fire in the library, we head back to our room to be greeted by the lights of Portsmouth twinkling across the Solent.
I had harboured notions of taking a dip in the small – heated – outdoor pool the next morning but a combination of cold, grey skies and a breakfast of scrambled eggs followed by warm pastries, quickly puts paid to that idea. Instead, we wander down to Cowes high street, which has all the trappings you’d expect of a well-heeled sailing resort – chandleries, chi-chi giftshops, galleries selling watercolours of yachts – and a few pleasant surprises, too, including Rosalie’s, a store specialising in produce and household items from the Isle of Wight and France.
Before checking out of the hotel, Lewis offers me a quick peek at the other guestrooms. There are 14, in three sizes: “cosy”, “comfy” and “spacious”. Even the “cosy rooms” are a decent size and, for those who can travel at short notice during the week, there’s a “late rate” of £95.
North House has been flying under the radar since it opened, but with its recent inclusion in the Mr & Mrs Smith and Sawday’s hotel guides, it’s only a matter of time before word gets out.
• Accommodation was provided by North House Cowes (“cosy” rooms £145 B&B). Ferry crossing with Wightlink (car plus up to seven passengers from £52 return)
Ask a local
Nichola Roe, owner of Wine Therapy fine wine shop
It’s lovely to walk along the parade, past the Royal Yacht Squadron and all the way to Gurnard. It takes about 20 minutes and there are beautiful views of the Solent the whole way. Have a drink in the Watersedge beach cafe in Gurnard before strolling back.
I like The Grill: it’s basically seafood and meat cooked over a charcoal grill but done very simply and very well in beautiful surroundings.
Kirby of Cowes is a beautiful shop that sells all sorts of maritime-themed objects, from vintage globes to nautical maps, replica ships, lanterns and propellers.