Restaurant review, The Great House, Lavenham: “Ideal for ladies (and gents) who lunch”
- Credit: Archant
Charlotte Smith-Jarvis explores what this iconic restaurant is like under new ownership.
There were ripples of shock when restaurateur Regis Crepy put this award-winning guest house and restaurant on the market. It was one of the gems of the Suffolk dining scene. And, I’m not going to lie, there were jokes in the car on the way over with my friends about the sourcing of ingredients at this place under its new ownership. It was, after all, bought by Colchester Zoo owner Dominique Tropeano in January.
All jokes aside, there was no zebra or meerkat on the menu when we arrived – just good old Suffolk ingredients, cooked in a Gallic fashion.
We were lucky to get a table. We hadn’t booked you see, thinking a mid-week lunch would be quiet. We were wrong.
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Anyway, onto the food. I’m still not sure how I feel about the cauliflower soup. It looked pretty (for a soup) with its dusty black olive freckles, but lacked that deep brassica flavour you’d expect. In fact, it was a tad salty. But it grew on me, and I loved the thin slices of smoked haddock within. The star of this dish actually was the bread on the side – jam-packed with nuts and gleaming dried fruits.
Karen’s venison pate en croute was a masterclass. Cut thinly, and surrounded by a burnished, shiny pastry, only the French can pull off a coarse pate this exquisite. Studded with pistachio nuts, and offering a mature, savoury flavour, it was her favourite dish.
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But we all said the star of the day was Sarah’s artistically plated cured cubes of almost blood red sea trout fillet. The trout was fleshy, dense and meaty, but light, with a hit of spice, a tang from pickled vegetables and a breath of fresh air from a yuzu froth. Spring on a plate.
Equally as good was Sarah’s main course of smoked Gressingham duck breast, with a spoonful of grains and a white honey and white wine sauce that stayed on the right side of sweet.
I thought the Szechuan pepper sauce with Karen’s tender pork fillet was exceptional too.
As was the deeply savoury, shellfish heavy, sticky lobster sauce that came with my guinea fowl roulade. This plate was a bit retro but I liked it nonetheless. Within a spongy guinea fowl outer layer was a black tiger prawn mousse, all sharp and salty from lemon and tarragon. The only downside was the mousse was a tad watery.
To finish, again, it was Sarah who lucked out with the ultimate in decadence. A crumbly construction of chocolate cake/biscuit crumbs surrounding dark chocolate ganache and with a cocoa sorbet that cut through any richness.
The lime and basil mousse atop my sable Breton needed a squeeze more lime to make it sing. But I thought the addition of fresh herbs was inspired. And the thyme sorbet brought another layer to the dessert.
Karen’s ‘meringue and pear’ dessert was the most disappointing plate we tried. As it arrived, the meringue sphere elicited ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from all of us, but when Karen cracked in and tried the bland pieces of pear within and the one dimensional verbena cream, she looked very deflated – and directed her spoon towards our desserts! It just needed something sharp or contrasting to lift it.
An excellent wine selection. Two of us weren’t drinking but Sarah had a glass of chenin blanc, which was buttery and complex. We ordered coffee afterwards which wasn’t really the right temperature – it tasted OK though. The petit fours served with it were uninspiring. A fine pate de fruits, but the petite chocolate swirl biscuits were flat in flavour.
With the pre-snow sunshine streaming in through the window, we could almost taste spring from where we were sitting. The building is lovely inside – all exposed beams and brick, pressed linen sparkling glasses. But we couldn’t help feeling it was a teensy bit stuffy – there wasn’t a lot of noise despite it being almost full.
The manager had a big smile and was a friendly and accommodating host. But the rest of the service could perhaps be called ‘efficient’. Cutlery was replaced without asking. Plates delivered to the right people. Crumbs swept away. But there was a feeling staff were a little bit ‘cold’. A few more smiles wouldn’t go amiss.
It’s tricky to get a spot outside. We parked up by The Cock Inn, in the village, where it’s free for two hours.
There are steps up to get into the building which could prove tricky. Also, the entry to the main dining room is immediately on the right as you go in, with a narrow door that wouldn’t be easy to navigate with a wheelchair. You’d be best booking a table at one of the tables to the left of the entrance. Call in advance to see how they could help with a ramp etc.
You can’t complain at £26 for three courses of thoughtful, wonderfully-presented food. But add on a bread roll and there’s an extra charge. And you might want a couple of dishes of potatoes on the side, which are £2.50 each.
Sarah fared the best out of all of us. Her trout starter was a real triumph in terms of texture and flavour.
So very nearly perfect. A couple of dishes needed a little TLC but on the whole the food was absolutely excellent. If they can warm up the staff a little and get some laughter and chatter in the dining room, this place would be amazing. We all thought it was really good value.