Mini breaks I think are my favourite kind of break. Sure I love the sun, sea and sand
but that inevitably means planes, currency exchange and unfamiliarity. A UK mini break however offers the perfect opportunity for escapism, adventure and not too much forward planning. Throwing a bag or two into the boot (no need to worry about luggage allowance on this trip) there is something deeply heartening about plenty of greenery, winding country roads and nights that really are pitch black; the sounds of city life just a distant memory. Turning up in Lavenham, Suffolk was simply that. The quaintest of villages with 300 crooked timber framed Tudor Houses, a host of boutiques and antique shops, art galleries, pubs and restaurants. This is the sort of place where you are definitely in and tucked up by eleven. The National Trust, Guildhall, Little Hall Museum and ‘Wool Church’ of St Peter & Paul are also worth a visit, as is the beautiful surrounding Suffolk countryside; so make sure to pack some good walking shoes (and if heading there in the winter months, wellies). By the time we arrived it was early evening but without the buzz of the big city it felt like the dead of night. Perfect!
The Great House looked just like it did in the pictures, as we drove up to where it proudly holds court on the corner of the square, lit up. The Great House is combination of 14th and 15th Century architecture that was built by the Causton family during the prosperous wool trade before the Georgian facade was added in the 18th century.
Many period aspects remain, namely the wooden flooring and beam work that really adds to the character of the building.
We entered into The Great House through the main doors, which double up as the entrance to the famed restaurant, before climbing the wooden staircase to our gorgeous suite.
Current owners Regis and Martine Crepy took over The Great House in 1985 and have just celebrated 30 years at the helm; transforming it into the a French restaurant and guest house it is today. And what a place it is!
The Great House has just five individually decorated suites, making your stay feel both utterly intimate while easily escapable. Shunning the traditional hotel stay means you don’t have to navigate long corridors to find yourself in a shoe box room. Instead you’re treated to the feeling of staying in a friend’s country retreat before entering a spacious suite; a haven of tranquility. Each room hosts a comfy seating area, luxury bathroom and large comfy bed.
As soon as the door to our room was open I had to contain my inaudible squeal at the sheer perfection of it. With sumptious carpets and my first four poster bed, the room was simply gorgeous and I felt rather sad I couldn’t stay longer simply sitting in the complimentary slippers and dressing gown to just soak it all in. It is definitely the sort of room you don’t want to leave. Unless of course it is to take up a restaurant reservation downstairs – which is actually a must do.
Of course The Great House rooms come with all the amenities you need and those you may also like – just those little final, all important touches! From the regular hot beverage selection to a fully stocked mini bar and Nespresso machine, not forgetting the complimentary decanter of sherry and bowl of fruit to toast your arrival.
Each room takes on its own personality but are restfully and tastefully decorated in taupes, cream and grey; the large mirrors and in room books and magazines are a great touch and makes the large room feel cosy and homely straight away.
I have stayed in some beautiful places in my time but The Great House is definitely at the top of my list.
As you can imagine the hotel and surrounding area is incredibly quiet and peaceful and guests are asked to be in by 11pm – which is easy to do as you really wont want to be anywhere else in the evenings but relaxing in your gorgeous room. Although the house was full during our stay we didn’t even hear the other guests, so if you really do need a hideaway break this is the perfect place to come.
Now I think you can always mark a hotel by the breakfast offering the next morning – it is the most important meal of the day after all. Whether you are inclined to stick with a traditional full English or work your way round the continental offering of croissants, fresh fruit, French cheese and cured meat, as well as home made preserves, there will definitely be something to tickle your tastebuds.
I would stay in The Great House again in a heartbeat but I think think next time I’d check in for a few days to really unwind.
Even though it was a Monday night, when we headed downstairs for our dinner reservations at 7.30pm the restaurant was buzzing with diners.
The award winning restaurant, that has Regis Crepy at the helm, is certainly famed; and every guidebook or magazine we had read about Suffolk had proclaimed The Great House as the place to visit for din- ner, so our expectations were high and our interest peaked.
Starched white table clothes and candle lighting set the mood for this French inspired restaurant. We had of course perused the menu several time before even arriving in Lavenham and our tastebuds were working overtime.
The waiting staff were incredibly attentive and, like assassins arriving and clearing tables in the blink of an eye.
We began our evening with champagne (as all good evenings should) and home made rosemary bread, which was delicious, fresh and in plentiful supply (dangerous really). After gazing over the menu for some time – mainly discussing if there was anything we wouldn’t like to eat because it all sounded delicious; (as well as trying to casually see what other diners had gone for); We settled on a ‘garden pea soup with red beetroot and mozzarella balls’ and the ‘Mackerel – a mackerel fillet, jerez vinegar, crunchy and puree Romanesco broccoli and a lemon sauce’. Both starters were delicious, fresh and flavours perfectly balanced. The pea soup with its spherical beetroot balls that shot a burst of purple into the soup when broken added an interesting texture. The tenderness of the mackerel and crunchy broccoli with the tartness of the lemon sauce was equally beautiful.
For the main my dining partner opted for the ‘Sea Trout – Roasted sea trout, black quinoa, saffron and chervil crisps, a sea trout and chive mousse in a lettuce leave, Jerusalem artichoke sauce’, which was presented beautfiully and tasted even better, with a perfect balance of flavours and textures.
I opted for ‘Courgettes – Saffron and olive oil beurre monte, Quinoa and hedgehog mushrooms gateau, marinated courgette spaghetti’. I think part of me wanted to learn the true potential of a courgette and I was not disappointed. The quinoa with mushrooms was delicious but the marinated ‘courgetti’ left me desperate to learn how to make my own courgettes taste this good. We also had a side of gooey and creamy dauphinoise potatoes and a side of cauliflower which was perfectly el dente, as one might expect.
Now of course dessert had been a discussion since before we sat down; after all it is customary to share this part of the meal. The debate was roaring and we found it hard to choose between the cheese platter with its array of French cheeses and the other sensationally sounding options.
In the end we let the cheese platter slide and opted for ‘Apple – Salted butter caramel mousse, speculoos biscuit, cider gel, Granny Smith gel, cinnamon ice cream’ and ‘Pineapple – Roast pineapple, sponged rum biscuit, coconut espuma, banana crisp, passion fruit caviar, pina colada sorbet’. And, if like me, you’re currently salivating at the thought of these, they were as good as they sounded. The salted butter caramel mousse was out of this world and the dif- ferent elements of the ‘Pineapple’ dessert was a real treat, taking you from sharp to sweet and juicy in one mouthful.
The portion sizes were perfect; everything was, just enough without feeling overwhelming but certainly leaving you wanting more. We opted to end the meal with herbal teas that arrived with a little stand of petit fours which were by now totally unnecessary but absolutely divine – after all who doesn’t like mini dessert after dessert and it is worth getting a post-dinner drink to indulge in them alone.
I had high expectations of The Great House restaurant and Regis Crepy (he has his own cookbook too) with his 30 years at the helm of the kitchen and a host of awards from some of the UK’s top critics. I wanted to be dazzled and I think we both certainly were.
From the gorgeous presentation to the tastebud tickling flavours and excellent staff, our dining experience, like our stay was second to none. From looking round the restaurant at the jovial customers, some of whom had travelled quite far for their dinner, it was clear they all felt the same.
If you take a stay at the The Great House then this really is part of the experience. However if you happen to be in Suffolk make the trip to Lavenham and visit Regis, Martine and their team, you wont regret it.
The Great House, Market Place, Lavenham, Suffolk CO10 9QZ
tel: 01787 247 431