A new clas­sic

Eat­ing out at Car­rier’s at Hintle­sham Hall

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

A cou­ple of years ago, Gra­ham Mac­gre­gor, in­com­ing gen­eral man­ager at Hintle­sham Hall, planted a few rows of sweet­corn and some beans in the kitchen gar­den of the ho­tel. They promptly died. So, in an ap­par­ent fit of pique mixed with a de­ter­mi­na­tion not to be beaten by veg­eta­bles, he bull­dozed the lot, dug in sev­eral tonnes of mush­room com­post and ma­nure, and started again.

“We had some in­cred­i­ble radic­chio and rocket last year, and the radishes were de­li­cious,” Gra­ham says. “I re­ally get quite ex­cited about what we can recre­ate here!” Recre­ate is the op­er­a­tive word, for this kitchen gar­den is the one that Robert Car­rier, for­mer owner of the ho­tel, orig­i­nal celebrity chef and bon viveur, sketched out and planted back in the 1970s, when Hintle­sham Hall was his. Over the years it has been, if not aban­doned, then cer­tainly not used to its full po­ten­tial.

Jan­uary is not the time to visit any gar­den. Imag­i­na­tion is re­quired to pic­ture the hedged area to the side of the ho­tel where some 40 medic­i­nal, culi­nary and sen­sory herbs will grow, where the beans will scram­ble en­er­get­i­cally, and where the her­itage toma­toes will feel the sun on their skins. A net­ted area will pro­tect berries and cur­rants, and sev­eral beds will con­tain baby car­rots and leeks, plenty of Swiss chard, dark curly cavolo nero, and rows of leafy sal­ads. A cut­ting gar­den will pro­vide sea­sonal flow­ers for the ho­tel, and there will be an au­tum­nal abun­dance of squash, ap­ples, pears and Jerusalem ar­ti­chokes. There’s even a space set aside for the lo­cal pri­mary school to grow veg­eta­bles. Head chef Alan Ford has worked closely with Gra­ham on the

plant­ing scheme. He’s qui­etly spo­ken, not one for Car­rier-es­que flam­boy­ance, but he knows what he wants, and is look­ing for­ward to liv­ing that chef dream of writ­ing a menu ac­cord­ing to what’s per­fectly ripe in the gar­den, and step­ping out of his kitchen door to pick the in­gre­di­ents.

My visit in Jan­uary falls on a pon­der­ous, rain-lashed day of leaden skies. I want warmth for lunch, but also light­ness, colour, and a jolt of taste, a win­ter livener. Alan gave it to me. A carpac­cio of veg­eta­bles – translu­cent rib­bons of car­rot, turnip, fen­nel, beet­root piled un­der a tan­gle of mi­cro leaves, ticked the colour box, and the taste was lifted with sweet-sharp cit­rus and perky, aniseedy dill. But­ter-soft, pink-cooked haunch of veni­son was the sort of meat that makes you think nicer thoughts about Jan­uary. It was the high­light on a plate that in­cluded chal­leng­ingly pink cran­berry and sage mash, and a fab­u­lously in­tense port re­duc­tion. To fin­ish? Swoon over choco­late if you must (a milk choco­late delice with caramel ice cream and salted caramel sauce from the set menu will tempt choc­a­holics). I was hap­pier with a lime, gin­ger and cream cheese fool with pineap­ple and a crumb crunch, a dessert that stayed the tart side of sweet. A short shock of an espresso meant I could work after the meal, rather than sink into a food coma by the fire.

There’s some­thing beau­ti­fully anachro­nis­tic about eat­ing here. It’s a place that doesn’t turn its back on its coun­try house ho­tel his­tory. The pan­elled walls in the two dining rooms are hung with por­traits of wist­ful women in silk and strong-jawed men in scar­let, the drapes are heavy, and the ta­bles are dressed with floor-length cloths. Floor­boards creak sat­is­fy­ingly un­der the car­pet. Waiters – they are ex­cel­lent – crumb-down dis­creetly, slide empty plates away ef­fi­ciently, swoop on a dropped nap­kin be­fore you’ve even missed it.

And yet things are chang­ing, driven by the Modi fam­ily who have grad­u­ally im­proved the property since buy­ing it in 2015 – it is they who built the spa and are now adding 20 new bed­rooms and sym­pa­thet­i­cally re­fur­bish­ing other parts of the ho­tel.

This spring, the restau­rant has qui­etly, dis­creetly, adopted a new name – Car­rier’s – as a way of po­si­tion­ing it as a stand-alone des­ti­na­tion. The set lunch menu is gen­tly be­ing pro­moted too. At £33.50 for three cour­ses and £27.50 for two it’s not the cheap­est in town, but it does in­clude three choices at each course, plus canapés, a glass of wine, min­eral water and tea or cof­fee. It’s pop­u­lar, I’m told. Else­where on the menu, there’s salad, soup, fish – or steak – and chips. “These are the dishes that get peo­ple in,” says Alan. Does this not make him sad, com­ing as he does from such a clas­si­cal back­ground? Alan’s loyal 30 years at Hintle­sham were pre­ceded by jobs in Lon­don’s grand ho­tels, prep­ping racks of lamb for 2,000 at the Grosvenor, or work­ing as one of An­ton Mosi­mann’s eight sous chefs at the Dorch­ester. He skirts the ques­tion. “These dishes sell re­ally well. Hav­ing them on the menu makes the restau­rant ac­ces­si­ble, ap­peals to a new au­di­ence and that’s im­por­tant. I’ve had to adapt. When I first came here, ho­tels were the only place you’d go to eat well. Good neigh­bour­hood restau­rants didn’t ex­ist. Now we have a lot of com­pe­ti­tion. The menu I took on in 1988 was very dif­fer­ent – there were no salted tu­iles [now on a din­ner menu starter of caramelised scal­lops and sal­sify] for ex­am­ple.”

Alan doesn’t let go of the classics, though – and, look­ing round the dining room this lunchtime, nor do to­day’s guests. An ad­ja­cent party tucks into a smoked chicken, cour­gette and tar­ragon ter­rine with cele­riac purée, and a had­dock, horse­rad­ish, leek and potato chow­der. They fol­low it with slow-cooked duck leg with savoy cab­bage and a plum sauce, and a fil­let of seabass with crushed new pota­toes and gre­mo­lata. Gone for­ever though are the days when the hall’s shoot (ev­ery Fri­day in the sea­son) would re­sult in a cel­lar hung with pheas­ant, par­tridge, wood­cock in the feather. “I used to pluck and prep them all after ser­vice. You can’t do that these days – they all ar­rive prepped.” There’s no longer a shoot on the es­tate ei­ther, he adds, qui­etly.

But on­ward! With a new name to the restau­rant, and a menu that will con­tinue to ap­peal to a wider au­di­ence, and no doubt cel­e­brate kitchen gar­den pro­duce in due course, this is no time to dwell on the past. A tasty fu­ture beck­ons.

A se­lec­tion of dishes at Car­rier’s, Hintle­sham Hall

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