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Crowning glory

We've just come back from an amazing overnight stay in a lovely little coastal village on the Ore estuary in Suffolk, just south of Aldeburgh, hotspot and magnet for lovers of Benjamin Britten, good music, great views and excellent locally sourced food.


It was just a flying visit, sadly, but we were booked in to The Crown & Castle, Orford’s main B&B/ hotel, though it also owns B&B accommodation in The King’s Head nearby, just across the village square. It’s unlikely, however, to offer the standard of evening cuisine and breakfasts that The Crown and Castle boasts.


In 1999, it was bought by Ruth and David Watson, who gradually turned the rather tired, run down inn into a modern, stylish hotel that’s warm, welcoming and extremely comfortable. We were upgraded from a Good House Double (from £145, including a 2-course a la carte evening meal) to a Best Garden Double (from £185, including a 2-course a la carte evening meal). The room was light, airy, had a king-sized double, a comfortable sitting area, TV/video player (there’s a video library in Guest’s Reception), tea and coffee-making facilities with smart designer mugs, your own Thermos of fresh milk, and good quality teas/coffee/hot chocolate products. There’s a picture window overlooking the garden and a table and chair outside for relaxing alfresco – if the weather permits. Reading the visitors' book and travel information, it seems this part of the world is blessed with what's rather tweely called "Suffolk skies" – wide expanses of blue, uninterrupted by buildings or landscape features higher than a reed bed. Surely nearby counties would argue they're their skies too... Last weekend's skies were nicknamed 'John Major Grey', but you can't have everything.


Ruth is an award-winning food writer (Sainsbury’s Magazine, BBC Good Food Guide, and three bestselling cookbooks, including The Really Helpful Cookbook), and, when her filming schedule for Five's The Hotel Inspector allows, she pops in to ensure that Head Chef Max, who has worked with her for 15 years, is keeping up the standards of a menu full of exciting tastes, textures and quality.


Evening meal: We shared a starter, a salad of lightly fried lardons, peas, rocket and asparagus, sourced locally and in season just now, so everything was succulently fresh. The taste balances were amazing and surprising. I followed with Sea Bass, crisp skin and soft flesh done to perfection, accompanied by string beans, a halved quail’s egg and the creamiest homemade mayonnaise I’ve tasted in a long while. The pièce de résistance of an amazing meal was a surprisingly sweet/tart pollenta and rhubarb cake served with a vanilla yogurt sauce. I can only say “inspired”. We had to finish in a rush, sadly (we were off to a concert in the Aldeburgh Festival), and didn’t do justice to an excellent espresso with a homemade biscuit chaser, but festival-goers can order dessert and coffee and have it served on their return.


Breakfasts are also feasts of quality. Sausages, eggs, bacon, black pudding from the local farm and marmalades and honey from nearby Friday Street haven’t far to travel, and the freshness and taste of these were topped off by freshly-squeezed orange juices. Not a Tetrapak in sight, thank God.


The area offers plenty for the collector of gay-related travel experiences. As well as Snape Maltings, home of the Aldeburgh Festival that was started by Suffolk-born composer Benjamin Britten and his life-partner, the tenor Peter Pears, in 1948, there’s Aldeburgh itself just down the road on the coast, where the two of them settled in later life. The genteel but smart seaside resort was rocked by controversy in 2003 when gay Suffolk-born artist/ sculptor Maggi Hambling was commissioned to create a tribute to Britten and the Suffolk coast. Her Scallop shell sculpture was erected, then moved after an initial outcry to its present position on the beach. The debate still rages, apparently – some say it’s in the wrong place again, some say it’s too big or that it’s an eyesore in a pristine locale. Personally, we couldn’t see what all the fuss was about – a steady stream of visitors came to ooh and aah (and complain about the litter, but that is ubiquitous) while we were doing much the same, and it is a fitting tribute to Britten and the Suffolk Coast. Its inscription, “I Hear Those Voices That Will Not Be Drowned” (from Britten’s Opera Peter Grimes) could as easily relate to the many gay voices that have refused to be silenced throughout history as to all those lost at sea.
Further information: www.crownandcastle.co.uk, www.aldeburgh.co.uk

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Added by D_ick

20/08/2007 14:27:51

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Added by D_ick

20/08/2007 14:27:06