Bang in the centre of Harwich's rather underrated old port district, just a few steps from the quayside, this salty old inn was taken over 10 years ago by London pub and restaurant stalwart Nick May, who made it his mission to update what is an extremely historic pub without losing any of its backstreet maritime charm. And what a success he has made of it. Not only is the pub still a proper local, to which people come to sit around the bar and chat, or to read a newspaper in the corner while nursing one of the pub's real ales, but the food is some of the best pub grub you'll find in East Anglia, plus Nick has added a handful of rooms upstairs that make a comfy place to stay whether you're to catch a ferry or just fancy a weekend away from London somewhere a bit different.
It’s a sign of Nick’s respect for the history of the Alma that each of the guest rooms are named after a previous landlord. There are 5 rooms to choose from – 3 regular doubles, 1 larger double and 1 cosy double – plus a 2-bedroom family suite upstairs. Two of the rooms have baths (with showers), the rest just power showers, and each has complimentary toiletries, fluffy towels, a flatscreen TV, Nespresso machines, tea, bottles of water and biscuits. The beds are very comfortable and have luxury cotton linen, and the rooms have all been sympathetically renovated in line with the character and design of the building: re-purposed ships’ timbers complement perfectly the beams and creaky floors, and the exposed brick walls and sea-faring charts on the walls place you firmly in maritime Essex. It's a pleasing vintage-contemporary mix, with a nod to Harwich’s maritime past in every room. Wifi isn’t the best in the rooms, but it works OK downstairs.
As for the food, the Alma deliberately doesn't describe itself as a gastropub but the fact is its food is better than most – hearty and local, with an emphasis on fresh fish and seafood. There are Mersea oysters and local lobsters (they chalk their various sizes on the board every day), fish and chips and seafood sharing platters; and they also have serve a variety of well-hung, locally sourced steaks – like the lobster, enjoyed very simply with chips and a choice of sauces. They also make their own sausages, which are delicious and can also be enjoyed as part of what is an undeniably excellent Full English the next morning. You can either eat in the communal front bar or in the equally rustic dining room at the back – or in the courtyard garden if the weather is behaving itself.
There is plenty to see in Harwich itself: lots of remnants of the town's seafaring past are scattered around the town – the captain of the Mayflower used to live across the road; Harwich's old sea fort, the Redoubt, is just around the corner and open to the public; and the Boat that Rocked', the UK's oldest lightship is docked on the quayside and also available for visits – plus regular foot ferries can deliver you to the Shotley Peninsula and Felixstowe on the Suffolk side of Harwich's impressive harbour.
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