Norfolk was quite a surprise, whilst certain aspects took our minds back even as far as the 1950’s, there was a pleasant buzz about so many refreshing facets of life outside the Home Counties. People have time to be polite, the roads were generally uncongested; we found some real treasures. Some were unspoilt villages, wide open spaces of countryside seemingly largely unpressured by too much development. There are several very grand houses including two very different National Trust properties; Blickling Hall for its exterior – even better than the photographs - and the modern planting in parts of the gardens. Again Felbrigg Hall’s best features are arguably the four acres of walled gardens; quite sensational.
In all, there are treasures worth travelling to North Norfolk for, including the sublime cooking of one my heroes of all time - Galton Blackiston.
The hamlet of Morston is a pleasing mix of houses ‘on the coast’, or rather on the North coastal road, despite sign posts citing ‘Quay’, the actual sea is a couple of miles beyond the quay on a small creek.
Anyway, opposite said signpost is a well presented 17th century house surrounded by a wall within which is an attractive and well-planned garden. This is the hotel/restaurant of Galton and Tracy Blackiston rightly considered to be one of the top ten of the UK’s best gourmet hotels, so I was absolutely certain that the visit was going to exceed our high expectations.
The sympathetically extended house – no less than three conservatories - is much larger than it appears. The attractive garden with various seating areas and the various other buildings that comprise the hotel sit very comfortably and attractively in their environs. A lot of thought and skills had obviously been used about everything with the hotel. Nothing was lacking, the attention to detail is worth repeating but the real art is in producing a sublimely relaxing atmosphere without exposing the military exactitude and efforts behind the scenes. A bit like gliding swans; all calm and elegant but peddling feet unseen.
Gordon Ramsey in his television programmes likes a good disaster, an easy one for him to conjure up was to have all the diners starting dinner at the same time. No problem at Morston Hall where every night they have one sitting at eight o’clock and it runs like clockwork. Morston Hall is a dining destination in its own right as is the case with Le Manoir Quat’ Saisons. The styles of the kitchens are different but they are equally accomplished. It follows that people travel from afar to eat in both and Morston Hall’s location being in a holidaying area, the single sitting for dinner works well.
The menus change to take advantage of the best ingredients available on the day. The dinner tasting menu had seven courses and covered the main bases, Galton is known for his fish dishes; the fish course with roasted monkfish on the bone reflected his expertise. The courses were all finely balanced; rather reminiscent of the wonderful experience in the two star (+ I would add) ‘Comme Chez Soi’ restaurant in Brussels.
The breakfast complemented the achievements of the dinner so two very satisfied guests have taken with them some great culinary memories. I cannot leave out a mention of the wine list, you can find the established favourites but they have explored further successfully with lesser known wines. The wine awards testify their success and their Michelin star endorses their consistency of fine dining.
We stayed in one of the stylish large garden suites in the new pavilion which is about a hundred yards from the main house across the garden. These are all individual and we even had our own small courtyard garden with views across unspoilt farmland.
As became usual, nothing had been left to chance and it is obvious that there is ‘someone’ very competent behind the attention to details. I absolutely loved the colours of the soft furnishings and my husband, Tim, was impressed with all the facilities and the choice of music! The suites complement the traditional country house hotel rooms in the main house. Their style is modern, uncluttered, but not bland and they avoid the dead hand of minimalism. I would say the suites give you the feeling of being in a cheerful place.
We all know that cooking seafood can be tricky to cook to perfection but dining at Morston Hall just endorses that it is also an art.
Galton’s new recipe book ‘Hook Line Sinker’ has just been published. You will have guessed there is a seafood theme that runs throughout, and features his favourite recipes. All of these recipes have appeared on his menus in some guise or other over the years. Worthy of note is that these recipes are good to cook at home.