Morston Hall, Morston, Holt, Norfolk

 

Early success can be tough for creative types. The bargain bins are crammed with unfancied releases by brilliant songwriters and wunderkind filmmakers who never found an audience after making their dazzling debuts.

Chefs, too, can buckle under the strain of early glory, and end their careers joylessly grinding out the greatest hits that won them fame. The awards that decorate the entrance hall of Morston Hall, the north Norfolk redoubt of former boy-wonder Galton Blackiston, tell a story of meteoric success – the walls are barely visible beneath the thickets of rosettes and stars. Closer inspection reveals that most of them date from the early-Nineties, when Blackiston and his wife Tracy opened for business in this handsome flint-fronted manor house, and got their first rave review (from Emily Green, in The Independent).

This year celebrating his 20th anniversary at Morston, Blackiston still looks impossibly boyish, as his appearances on TV shows such as Great British Menu and Saturday Kitchen bear witness. But despite its owner's high media profile, Morston Hall isn't somewhere you hear foodies getting excited about. Clearly, though, it has been doing something right all these years. The Michelin star awarded in 1999, Norfolk's first, has been retained, and regulars include Delia Smith, who encouraged local lad Blackiston to return to his native Norfolk all those years ago.

The location is a draw; this stretch of coastline is so mistily picturesque, it seems to have been designed by a committee of water-colourists. The hotel, originally a 17th-century farmhouse, is buffed, smart and a bit matchy-matchy. The heart of the operation is the restaurant, arranged over three interconnecting rooms, each table swagged like a bishop and sprouting a gleaming array of silver and glass.

There's only one sitting for dinner, and no choice about what to eat; Blackiston offers a six-course tasting menu, which changes daily, and draws heavily on local produce. Guests gather in the bar at the appointed time, like characters from a country-house murder mystery. All of them, on our midweek visit, were couples, mainly middle-aged and smartly turned out. (There's no dress code, but according to the hotel information "most gentlemen prefer to wear a jacket and tie".) So far, so conventional. And then the food arrived and everything changed.

First, an appetiser of rabbit loin, with camomile-poached carrots and a slick of some kind of dark-green herb emulsion, plus a little edible flower that delivered a synaesthetic rush; suddenly we were in a meadow, nibbling on a blade of grass. Then, a thrillingly odd vegetable dish built around a slice of whole celeriac, slow-cooked in butter, thyme and sage to leave the exterior a startling black. The bitter-sweet flesh had a silvery, ascetic fineness, balanced by a cosseting lemon beurre blanc traced with black truffle, and a tangle of wild garlic. Next up, lobster claws, cured in salt and sugar then poached in butter; sweet and soft, and balanced by a mildly astringent sauce of burnt leeks.

The smokehouse, used for breakfast kippers, had been pressed into service again for the main dish, rib of Aberdeen Angus, which came with piped dots of oak-smoked mashed potato. The beef, cooked sous-vide to leave it as soft and characterless as veal, was the only miss of the meal; but there was so much else going on – an unctuous dice of creamed ox tongue, a single smoked oyster, a vivid slash of watercress purée, and some tiny, salt-baked turnips – that it didn't really matter.

Subtle, sophisticated and bang on trend, this was cooking as contemporary and exciting as any I've had recently. Blackiston's head chef, Richard Bainbridge, who joined Morston Hall at 17, has recently spent some time at Noma, and it shows. There's nothing too challenging or molecular here, although a foam did sneak in, in the form of a palate-cleansing grapefruit and champagne mousse, squirted from a siphon. And then we were back on safe ground with a vanilla panna cotta layered with rhubarb jelly.

Service, from a young and chatty team, is production-line perfect, though there's something a bit unsettling about this kind of synchronised dining; looking around at a room of couples all eating the same dish, you feel like you're in some kind of upmarket care home. And the waiting staff's well-drilled habit of approaching each table with "Sorry to interrupt you both..." did start to get a bit tired.

Blackiston himself, looking preposterously tanned and handsome, did the rounds at the end of the meal. He may no longer be the new new thing, but he's clearly still striving for excellence, and pushing in new directions. It's pleasing to be able to book-end his 20 years at Morston with another rave from The Independent. Something new to add to the display in reception, perhaps.

Morston Hall, Morston, Holt, Norfolk (01263 741041)

Fixed-price dinner; six courses for £62, before wine and service

Food ****
Ambience ***
Service ****

Tipping policy:"No service charge. All tips go to the staff"

Side orders: Eat Anglia

Wiveton Farm Café

This café, serving delicious homemade food straight from the farm, is a Delia Smith favourite.

Open 9.30am-4.30pm, Wiveton Hall, Holt (01263 740 515)

Williams Restaurant

A family-run restaurant near the beach which serves dishes such as red snapper fillet with tomato sauce, basil pesto and new potatoes (£14).

2 Brook Street, Cromer (01263 519 619)

The Pigs

This 17th-century country pub serves British cuisine – try the slow-cooked belly of Perfick Pork, smokey bacon beans, black pudding and crackling (£12.95).

Norwich Road, Edgefield (01263 587 634)

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
News
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
life
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit