Two Hollywood veterans — husband-and-wife duo Peter Sussman and Sara Curran — behind Schitts Creek, The Favourite and The Night Manager have finally cast themselves in leading roles, restoring and opening Cowes's only boutique hotel. Agnes Stamp picks up her popcorn and checks in.
Browsing the bookshelf in the library, I spotted a first edition of Peter Benchley’s Jaws. As a self-proclaimed selachimorphaphile, I couldn’t resist picking up the book to flick through as I enjoyed a splendid pre-dinner cocktail (House Spritz) at Foresters Hall, a boutique hotel and restaurant in the seaport town of Cowes.
Benchley would go on to co-write the 1975 film adaptation with Carl Gottlieb and, with Steven Spielberg at the helm, it would go on to become one of the greatest films ever made. Imagine then, my utter joy, on turning to the title page to find a beautiful inscription musing on Hollywood (and a little cartoon of carcharodon carcharias) from Benchley to one of the new proprietors of Foresters Hall.
‘It’s only an island if you look at it from the water,’ said Chief Brody, and the same could be said of the Isle of Wight. Sailing aside, over half the landscape is recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), glorious beaches, charming Victorian seaside towns and enough truly excellent bars and restaurants to satiate the most hardened Londoner.
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Purchased in 2022 by husband and wife team Sara Curran and Peter Sussman (above), Grade II listed Foresters Hall is a short, steep climb from the bustling High Street to the top of Sun Hill, a conservation area within old town Cowes. Forging their international partnership through the global medium of film, both are well versed when it comes to being on the road, and as a result, know what works — and more importantly, what doesn’t — when it comes to hospitality.
The decor is testament to their combined careers in a creative industry. A number of pieces by American figurative artist Alex Katz adorn the walls, a Josef Karsh portrait of Ray Bradbury hangs in the private dining room (Peter produced the eponymous TV series) and there’s even an Annie Liebovitz of ‘The Boss’ in the ladies’ lavatory. Sara is also an avid collector of Scottish and Irish artists, including Kirsty Wither, Glasgow School of Art graduate James Harrigan and Cliona Doyle. Outside, past the sun-trap terrace and garden is a heated, salt water pool lined by loungers overlooked by an illusory wall mural of a diver by 3D Joe & Max, which encourages more than a double-take before reality registers.
In the entrance hall hangs the latest addition to the collection — a split canvas piece of poppies by Lisa Ridgers, purchased from Cowes Gallery on the High Street. And it’s these little local flourishes that really make Foresters Hall — where possible they have employed native expertise to embellish the interiors. Bill Giacomelli (based in Cowes) re-upholstered over 20 armchairs for the beautiful bedrooms and Vivien Bromilow (based in Bembridge) created all the new curtains and roman blinds throughout.
Local talent has also been sourced in the kitchen, in the form of restaurateur and chef, Giancarlo ‘GC’ Giancovich who has a proven track record of creating delicious pan-Asian dishes at his three seafood restaurants. His fourth venture, The Brasserie by Smoking Lobster at Foresters Hall, has a Mediterranean focus and continues to celebrate local produce. My recommended fish of the day (sea bass, served with seasonal new potatoes, sauce vierge and Isle of Wight tomato salad) was not only perfectly cooked, but had been line caught that very day, from Smoking Lobster’s own boat, Xerces. My companion’s pork belly served with poached apple, mashed Maris Piper, Calvados sauce and spring vegetables was also sublime (and had tempted a vegetarian to revisit carnivorous practices). The excellent wine list — curated by Peter and Sara — is also sourced from a local supplier, Wine Therapy on Cowes High Street.
Later that evening, I spied a local music producer and his dog at the bar. The energy of Foresters Hall — with its strong design ethos paired with laid-back luxury — is not dissimilar to that of Soho House (before they started letting everyone in). In answer to Hooper’s question, ‘Can you tell me if there’s a good restaurant or hotel on the island?’, the answer is undeniably yes.
Rooms at Foresters Hall from £295 a night — see the hotel website for more and to book.
While you’re there
- Catch the chain ferry across to ‘royal’ East Cowes and visit Osbourne House, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s love shack (sorry, summer residence). The Drawing Room, with its yellow damask satin curtains and matching furniture, is particularly handsome
- Borrow rackets from Foresters Hall and enjoy a spot of tennis on one of Northwood House’s five ‘free to play’ tennis courts
- Visit the Sir Max Aitken Museum, which houses three centuries worth of marine paintings and nautical artefacts in an 18th-century sailmaker’s loft
- Borrow bicycles from Foresters Hall and cycle along the esplanade from Cowes to the beach huts in the neighbouring village of Gurnard. The sunsets are beautiful there
- Combat any overindulgence in the bar and restaurant with an energising pilates session with Emma Wharton. We tried a pop-up class at the hotel, and were outdone by devotees twice our age (v. impressive)