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)

Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering