There's an orange swan gliding towards me through the darkness of the millpond. No, hang on: it's pink. I mean, green. Now it's gone purple. And it's being chased by a disco duck...
By day, a psychedelic floorshow involving waterfowl does not seem the most likely turn of events at Tuddenham Mill. There's been a mill on the site since the 11th century and its current incarnation as a stylish restaurant with rooms attached still looks thoroughly in keeping with the green and pleasant surroundings. An old brick chimney rises from the main building; the dinky reception boasts plenty of wood, glass and muted earth tones; plain white swans and perfectly normal-looking ducks potter solemnly about the pond. "This," it says on the mill's website, "is rustic chic." And very nice it is too.
It's at night that things get a little weird. The mill's now stationary water-wheel is displayed in a glassed-in alcove in the middle of the downstairs bar. In the evening it's lit by an array of coloured lights which also shine across the millpond, bathing the birdlife in a slowly changing kaleidoscope of neons. Happily, the swans seem pretty relaxed about the whole thing, a state of mind that fits in neatly with the ethos of Tuddenham Mill in general.
Being pretty relaxed doesn't mean the service is ever less than gracious and efficient, but does mean that soon after arriving you begin pondering a pre-prandial glass of Sauvignon Blanc beneath the ancient wooden beams of the bar. Next stop, the first-floor restaurant, which couldn't be more rustic chic if it tried. Here, uneven floors and brick walls are allied to a menu that does its darnedest to impress.
In fact, during the course of my evening meal I found myself juggling no fewer than three menus, with seasonal salad and daily specials vying for my attention with the restaurant's regular offerings. That's "regular" as in "The Mill's steak haché centred with Suffolk blue cheese, with onion bread, shallot rings, English mustard foam and a cherry tomato relish" (£9), followed by, in my case, "Slow-cooked and roasted duck leg, orange and stem-ginger candied marmalade, seared duck breast with an oriental duck, vegetable and noodle miso soup" (£20). The former turned out to be a tiny cheese-burger which melted in the mouth; the latter could have been over-complicated, but turned out to be a well-balanced ensemble of delicate flavours.
Chef Gordon McNeill is keen to emphasise that his cooking is all about fun. "Your parents were lying when they said stop playing with your food," he says, when I meet him the next day.
Tuddenham Mill, High Street, Tuddenham, Newmarket, Suffolk (01638 713 552; tuddenhammill.co.uk).
Time from nearest station: Ten miles from both Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket.
The bedrooms are where chic finally kicks rustic into the long grass. When the Mill opened for business in March 2007 there were only three rooms in the main building; a year ago the owners added 12 more, arranged in two purpose-built blocks called "Mill Stream" and "Water Meadow".
Our first-floor Water Meadow room was huge, its L-shaped black sofa and smart grey rug tastefully offset by the cool white walls. Tiny spotlights were strung about from a central ceiling node – as if a drunken chandelier had mated with a spider – and one of these was suspended over a vast resin bath which occupied pride of place in the centre of the room.
A complicated Velux window transformed into a tiny balcony equipped with telescope, and there was also a hi-tech gas fire set into the wall. There's a fairly busy country road running past the Mill, but we couldn't hear a thing from our room – and the bed, dressed in scented white linens, was supremely comfortable.
Freebies: Half bottles of red and white wine, tea and coffee, fruit, bottled water, "Made at the Mill" cookies and sweets were all included, as was an array of Jo Malone toiletries. The complimentary sloe gin at your bedside table may do you lasting damage.
Keeping in touch: Wall-mounted flat-screen TV, DVDs available at reception, iPod-ready Bose alarm clock, free Wi-Fi.
The bottom line
Doubles start at £195, including breakfast. A winter special offer gets you two nights for the price of one during the week if you eat in the restaurant on at least one night.
I'm not paying that: For a different slice of Suffolk, head to the coast. The more-rustic-than-chic Ship Inn at Dunwich (01728 648 219; shipatdunwich.co.uk) is a sister property of Tuddenham Mill and offers doubles from £85, including breakfast.Reuse content