The Swan at Lavenham
We Londoners are spoiled for choice when it comes to weekend breaks. A lot of people are drawn west to the Cotswolds or south to Sussex, Hampshire and the New Forest. For me, though, East Anglia takes some beating.
Its extensive coastline, big open skies and intriguing history make it a favourite place to clear my head and lungs and enjoy some tasty local food. I usually head across to the coast, but recently ventured to the picture-postcard town of Lavenham.
A pleasant couple of hours’ drive from London, Lavenham is one of the prosperous Suffolk ‘wool’ towns that were at the heart of Medieval England’s textile industry. They are distinguished by their multi-coloured half-timbered buildings and incongruously large churches and are located in gently rolling countryside.
We stayed at the medieval Swan Hotel – built in the 15th century and extended and renovated to bring it into the 21st century. Due to the higgledy-piggledy layout of the building, all 45 rooms are different, but, being tall, I appreciated our larger, newer room as it offered a bit more ceiling height. However, most (though not all!) of the beams are padded.
We'd been invited for a Frerejean Frères champagne dinner in the hotel's main Gallery restaurant, one of a series of events being introduced by the new sommelier François Belin who recently joined from the Goring Hotel.
He devised some bold matches including a main course of roast guinea fowl with confit leg meat and herb risotto with the Frerejean 2005 blanc de blancs and a not-too-sweet dessert of peach jelly, white chocolate mousse, lime and chilli gravel and raspberry sorbet with their rosé.
Dishes on the standard à la carte menu include roast duck breast with confit leg, vanilla mash and wilted greens and attractively wintery-sounding Cornish halibut with an open lasagne of oxtail and confit carrot, baby onion and spinach. You can also eat from a more informal menu including steak, burgers, pasta, fish and seafood in the hotel’s other restaurant, the more informal brasserie.
Although the wine list is comprehensive, with most bins priced under £35, it only includes two (albeit local) English wines – Giffords Hall sparkling and Lavenham Brook Pinot Noir rosé which seems a bit of a shame given the emphasis chef Justin Kett otherwise places on local ingredients such as Dingley Dell pork, Sutton Hoo chicken and oysters from Pinney’s in Orford. It would be great to see more English wines showcased in this environment.
Before leaving Lavenham we couldn’t resist a quick look at the shops which include the rather tempting Lavenham Butchers across the road from the hotel (1 High Street), and Turner’s weekly fish stall in Market Place (Fridays 11am–1pm) where we bought some local skate wings and brown shrimps which, with some black butter, made a memorable supper back at home in London that evening.
Rooms at The Swan cost from £195; dinner, bed and breakfast from £245.
Lucy Bridgers stayed at The Swan as their guest but has told me she plans to go back! FB
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