The Times April 2001- Miranda Edwards
When Delia Smith recommended using cranberries for a festive recipe some Christmases ago, stores across the country sold out faster than shop assistants could pack shelves. When the adoring masses discover that the grand dame of the kitchen has a favourite hotel and restaurant where the hosts provide her with inspiration, they will no doubt beat the door down faster than you can say sun-dried tomato. The Michelin-starred Morston Hall Hotel in north Norfolk is one of Delia’s favourite haunts and she has even been known to reserve the whole place for family gatherings.
Part of the hotel’s irresistible charm is that guests somehow feel they have just stumbled upon it. It is set back on the curve of a road which winds its way down narrow lanes, past charmingly higgledy-piggledy cottages and quaint shops around north Norfolk’s coastline.
The building dates back to Jacobean times and with roaring log fires, exposed beams, stone floors and landscaped gardens, it is easy to pretend that you are the romantic heroine in a period drama. But hopefully one with a hearty appetite, as the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant attracts gourmets from far and wide.
The restaurant is run by Galton Blackiston – who owns the hotel with his wife Tracy – and the menu is imaginative and prepared with locally grown produce. Dinner guests can enjoy a six-course meal – and if that sounds as if it is only for the most hardy gastronome, fear not, as each dish is portioned to ensure room for the heavenly desserts. Puddings are one of the hotel’s specialities and it is a compliment to the chef that Delia Smith has actually poached one of Mr Blackiston’s original recipes for chocolate fondant for her book. The Blackistons once had this displayed in pride of place on the coffee table, but now hide the book away, fed up with the constant explanations to guests that it was Delia who copied them and not the other way round.
The rooms are all suites and are huge, many with a double aspect offering beautiful views over the grounds. There are two lounges and a conservatory overlooking the terrace where guests can retire for aperitifs.
Although Morston Hall is perfect for smaller conferences, the Blackistons have also teamed up with a local boat maker to offer guests a memorable day. Instead of confining conference delegates to the lounge, they offer the option of a sea trip on a specially converted barge. The fresh air will invigorate even the most jaded business person – and for team-bonding, a swim alongside the coastline’s resident seals could not fail to inspire.