Sunday, 30 September 2012

Foodie breaks: Orford

Time is flying by and, amazingly, it's now almost October. Anyway, early last month, in August, Nathan and I had a memorable micro-break on the Suffolk coast. It was the middle weekend of the Olympics and we – very fortunately indeed – had evening tickets for Sunday 5th. Nathan had celebrated his 50th a few weeks earlier and we wanted to squeeze in a little treat à deux. This weekend was our only free slot, so we decided to go away for Friday night and have a relaxing day out on Saturday, before returning in the evening. We didn't want to risk staying away a second night when we needed to be in Stratford in good time on the Sunday afternoon. The men's 100m final was at the forefront of our minds.

We settled on The Crown and Castle in Orford run by Ruth Watson (she of The Hotel Inspector and Country House Rescue), so I felt we'd be in good hands and it's only a couple of hours or so from London. Their restaurant, The Trinity, also sounded a safe bet, offering locally sourced food in a relaxed environment.

After a scenic, sun-dappled drive we checked into our Best House Double with far reaching views of the Orford Ness (see above), had a quick cup of tea and freshened up before heading down for dinner. As a good proportion of diners stay overnight, the well stocked bar offers a tempting selection of sherries and cocktails, as well as a decent selection wines by the glass. The main wine list is clearly annotated wine list (which includes 40 wines under £25 flagged up in blue type; red indicates the owners' personal favourites). We were recommended the Lugana Ca' dei Frati 2010 from The Italian Mob section which was deliciously creamy, yet fresh – particularly good with my dressed crab starter and main course, Orford-landed skate, sautéed grapes, almonds and black butter. It also worked well with my husband's Suffolk-landed cod, saffron'd cauliflower, barberries and pinenuts. Beautiful food – and the caramel-like black butter, here served in a little jug, with the super-fresh, meaty skate was a stunning reminder of why this dish is such a classic.

After a comfortable night's sleep and hearty breakfast we strolled out around Orford, firstly heading down to the quay via Pinney's and then back up to the village centre to the Pump Street Bakery and Butley Orford Oysterage. We stocked up on some smoked delicacies and bread, but the oysters will have to wait for another visit when we'll take a big cold box as there's so much local fish available, too. I'll need to clear some space in the freezer first.

I've always been a fan of Suffolk – big skies and watery landscape – and, after this short visit, Orford is high on my list for a longer family stay, as I love idea of it as a self-catering base with all those goodies on the doorstep. We left Orford and drove southwest towards Woodbridge, stopping off at Madelene Bonvini-Hamel and Ross Pike's The British Larder for some late lunch.

I was keen to try one of their signature dishes – Dingley Dell Pork Tasting: cheek croquette, smoked ham scotch egg, sausage roll, ham hock terrine, black pudding cake, rillettes, pea soup and home-made piccalilli. With a glass of Beaujolais-Villages, it made a show-stopping (and probably heart-stopping) lunch. This picture doesn't do it justice, but it gives a good idea. A big platter of porky heaven.

We carried on to Woodbridge for a blustery stroll and a cup of tea at The Waterfront Café by the magnificent Tide Mill overlooking the River Deben.

Woodbridge also boasts a treasure trove for foodies, the Woodbridge Kitchen Company: an impressively comprehensive cookware shop, beating John Lewis hands down. Yet another reason to start planning another visit.

Dinner, bed and breakfast (excluding drinks) at The Crown and Castle costs from £199 for two people sharing.