A bit of France in Suffolk

In the heart of rural Suffolk lies Lavenham — England’s best preserved medieval town. In the heart of Lavenham is an unexpected little corner of France.

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Over thirty years ago, the 14th century ‘Great House’ on Lavenham’s Market Place was bought by Régis and Martine Crépy. They converted it into a fabulous 5-room boutique hotel with a gourmet French restaurant.

DonQui is staying at The Great House for a couple of days while he explores Lavenham. It is as quintessentially French as the rest Lavenham is medieval English. The owners, staff, chef, and ambiance are all French. It seems to DonQui as if he has crossed the channel as soon as he steps over the threshold. For the francophile DonQui this is all very good news, especially the prospect of a French style dinner in owner-chef Régis Crépy’s award winning restaurant. He is not disappointed.

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He and Duchess opt for the 3 course set menu which at £36 is great value for top end cuisine from a renown chef who is often on the premises.

Spying the fantastic looking cheese board on the way in he decides to add a cheese course before desert which he and duchess will share. With 19 AOC cheeses it is reminiscent of the cheese board he sampled recently at Domaine de Barive.

 

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The food more than lives up to expectations. It is modern French cuisine using mostly local ingredients although the cheese is imported from France and the scallops come from the Isle of Man. The dishes are perfectly cooked, very well balanced, and not overly fussy. There are also a very good selection of wines by the glass. DonQui generally prefers this with a multi course meal as it allows him to sample different wines with different dishes.

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Highlights include the queen scallops with an avocado-lemon mousse and seaweed butter, which DonQui has as his starter. The accompanying mousse gives just the right amount of citrus taste to set off the delicate small scallops.

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Duchess pronounces her main of skate wing with capers and tomatoes as ‘astounding.’ Skate is not a fish DonQui has been particularly keen on in the past. When he has a taste of this one he is most impressed. The fish takes the taste of the capers and tomatoes beautifully and DonQui decides he will try cooking skate wing himself at some time in the future.

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The meat dishes are just as good as the fish. DonQui’s only mild criticism is that the additional portions of vegetables and potato do not match the standard of the main dishes. They were also quite unnecessary.

IMG_0529The cheese selection is a delight, all perfectly ripe and served at room temperature. DonQui likes having cheese before a sweet to finish off his wine. Unfortunately in many English restaurants a cheese course is brought straight from the fridge and is therefore often tasteless.

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The deserts are just as good as the previous courses.

The hotel rooms are spacious and comfortable. The modern furnishings and conveniences tastefully fitting in to their ancient surroundings. One of the rooms has a Jacobean four poster bed which DonQui and Duchess decide to try out on a future visit.

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Breakfast is a typical French-style buffet. The smell of the croissants and bread being baked on-site are a perfect alarm clock for DonQui.

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Cooked options from poached eggs on toast to a ‘full English’ are also available.

DonQui thoroughly enjoyed his stay at The Great House. It is not inexpensive but given the very high quality it is value for money. He will definitely come again. Lavenham itself is also well worth a visit and DonQui will no doubt have more to say about the place before too long.

Rumour has it that Régis Crépy is looking to sell up in order to open a new restaurant in London with his son. If you want to experience this wonderful French oasis in the heart of Suffolk you may wish to go sooner rather than later.

Pre-Theatre Feast

On a recent visit to London Don Qui decided to try out a restaurant he has not been to before. Looking for a place that offered an early supper so he could go to a play, he settled on Blanchette on the Regent Street side of Soho.

It was a very good choice. Offering ‘French style sharing plates’ Blanchette was perfect for a relatively light meal with lots of interesting and tasty morsels on offer.

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Blanchette is a relatively small establishment and at 5pm the place was already heaving, helped by the warm spring day. Several diners sat at the bar by the wide open window or outside, enjoying both the food and the far too infrequent English sun.

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Between him and Duchess, DonQui sampled crispy frogs legs, goat’s cheese, chicken breast in a morel sauce with asparagus and peas, crispy squid, and probably the best pommes frites he has ever tasted along with béarnaise sauce for dipping. This was all washed down with an excellent Beaujolais and finished off with a near perfect creme brûlée and a calvados.

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The crispy frogs legs and crispy squid were both battered and fried with herby batter being the dominant taste. It was probably a mistake to order both but when DonQui explained that this was why he had not eaten all the squid the kindly waitress offered to take it off the final bill.

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Service was friendly and knowledgeable and the place had a relaxed vibe. As DonQui likes to take his time over a meal he felt that the dishes perhaps came a bit too quickly in succession for his taste. If one was in a bit of a hurry to make it to the theatre on time then this would not necessarily be a bad thing.