Review: 'A special place' - Our stay in a luxury 16th century Suffolk hall
- Credit: Mark Heath
Our reviewer Mark Heath and his wife Liz spent the night at the recently re-opened and refurbished Worlington Hall in Suffolk. Here's what they made of the food, the accommodation and their stay...
Life doesn't get much better. Sat on a tranquil dock next to the River Lark, a glass of chilled New Zealand sauvignon blanc in hand, the melodious chirping of birds providing a soothing soundtrack to the scene.
It felt like we were miles away from anyone, with fields as far as the eye could see beyond the gently flowing river. Welcome, friends, to Worlington Hall.
First things first. The Hall, which dates back to 1570, is located in a quiet little village between Mildenhall and Newmarket.
Having sat empty and closed for a number of years, ambitious duo Michael Platten and Louis Waters bought the property and quickly set about transforming it into a must-visit Suffolk destination.
They recruited highly thought of head chef Jordan Bayes - formerly of the excellent Tuddenham Mill - last year, and together the team are starting to make waves in Worlington.
More on the food later - trust me, you'll want to read that - but first to our lodgings and surroundings. We stayed in 'Elizabeth', a large and lovingly-furnished room with a balcony overlooking the Hall's impressive gardens and pond.
Of particular note was our beautiful bathroom, exquisitely tiled and stylishly kitted out, plus a number of little touches which all add up to a great resident experience.
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That included perhaps the best-stocked mini bar I've ever seen - complete with complimentary bottle of prosecco - a quality kettle and, most importantly for the morning caffeine hit, your own little bottle of fresh milk, plus a selection of teas, coffee and biscuits.
Having checked in whilst supping a pint in the Hall's dog-friendly Birnam Bar, we strolled out across the gardens. It's a decent walk down to the aforementioned dock and river, with a manicured lawn, large pond and numerous leafy trees on your way.
It's reminiscent of a top tier golf course, but without those bothersome hackers taking chunks out of the grass and not a single plus-four trouser in sight.
At the end of the garden sits the dock, plus a seating area and a stretch-tent which will be used for various events going forward.
It's a beautiful, quiet place in which to sit and watch the river flow gently by, or take a wander with your dog. Genuinely idyllic.
Before we move onto the food, I must also mention the Hall's new paved terrace area which backs on to the dining room. It's really well done and again offers a scenic seating area in which to drink, dine and chat.
Right, to dining. We headed down for dinner at 7pm, and the dining room - bright, stylish and boasting a grand piano in the corner - was already buzzing with guests.
Seated next to the patio, we ordered up a glass of prosecco each and managed to divert our gaze from the gardens long enough to peruse the menu.
As a sucker for asparagus - and it being the season - I went for that as my starter, while Liz ordered the garlic prawns.
My asparagus, served with confit garlic and hazelnuts, was plentiful, perfectly cooked and delicious, with the garlic and nuts proving excellent accompaniments to the superb spears.
Across the table, Liz had already declared her prawns to be the best of their kind she'd ever had - meaty, moist and swimming in a little garlic-infused sea, with a chunk of focaccia to aid absorption and a goodly serving of samphire too.
On to mains then, and I took a risk here. Eschewing more comfortable, familiar options like sirloin steak, burger or even salmon risotto, I plumped for the soy-glazed duck and mushroom dashi, one of the more exciting offerings I've seen on a menu for a while.
Liz, true to form, opted for the most expensive selection, the £33 beef fillet. Let's start with that, because my duck deserves top billing - no pun intended.
The steak, served with triple-cooked chips, confit onion and vine tomatoes was - as one would expect for the price - spot on. A real richness of flavour to the meat, enhanced by an excellent peppercorn sauce which my better half took a real shine to. The chips, too, were tremendous.
And speaking of tremendous, let's talk about my duck dish. A bowl of mushroom-laced noodles topped with chunky slices of duck, red chillies and coriander. It was simply sensational.
Salty, soft and succulent duck, sweet mushroom chunks and a wallop of heat from the chillies - easily one of the best dishes I've eaten this year.
To finish, we both went for classics - Liz for her favourite sticky toffee pudding, served with salted caramel and vanilla ice cream, while I had the crème brulee with vanilla shortbread.
As with the rest of our meal, these were excellent. My brulee was larger than expected but well made and indulgent - the caramelised top passed the Heath crack test, I'm pleased to report - while self-confessed STP authority Liz confirmed hers was a top tier example of the genre.
She added too, that her meal had been the best three-course experience in recent memory. If you know my wife, you'll know that's praise indeed! Definitely pricey - our food alone cost just shy of £90 - but worth it for the quality of the meal, the service and the environment.
Well-fed then, we promised ourselves we'd cap the night with an espresso martini in the Hall's cocktail lounge, but ended up drawn once more to that dock at the end of the garden, which was a lovely spot to finish the evening as the sun went down.
Of course, with any overnight stay, the breakfast is also important and after a good night's sleep, we duly wandered down to partake.
I strongly believe that the breakfast is a strong indicator of the quality of any establishment and, as with the rest of our food at Worlington, we were impressed.
Both my eggs benedict and Liz's full English were superb, packed with obviously top-notch produce, cooked and presented with care and passion. A nod, too, to our excellent cappuccinos.
And so our stay was over, after one more trundle down to the dock. We never did get that espresso martini - which means we'll have to return.
There are a number of top hotels across Suffolk, places where you feel like a night away is more than that, a holiday from your day-to-day routine, something special to look forward to.
Worlington Hall is just that - a special Suffolk destination.