Brought to you by


Restaurant review: The Dolphin, Thorpeness, Suffolk

Wild mushroom puff pastry tart with feta at the Dolphin in Thorpeness.  Photo: Charlotte Bond
Wild mushroom puff pastry tart with feta at the Dolphin in Thorpeness. Photo: Charlotte Bond

As we steer through these troubled times of restaurant closures, shorter opening hours and constant change, it's magical to see places like The Dolphin Inn at Thorpeness open every day, serving up a very good menu, with spot-on customer service.

For more than 15 years since it reopened after a devastating fire, it has been a key asset to Thorpeness; a place you always know you can relax, eat well and be looked after. People friendly, dog friendly, family friendly, it has something for everyone.

The Dolphin is an important part of Thorpeness' history, itself a fascinating story. The village-resort was created by the Scottish playwright Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie during the Edwardian period. Ogilvie wanted a private place where friends and family could spend their holidays during the summer.

Great British Life: The Dolphin in Thorpeness Photo: CHARLOTTE BONDThe Dolphin in Thorpeness Photo: CHARLOTTE BOND

Before the Ogilvie era, from the early 1800s the Dolphin was known as The Crown, and in 1913 was converted into a 29-bedroom hotel, which might look out of place in the charming place Thorpeness is today. In 1995 a fire destroyed the hotel. Thankfully, the TA Hotel Collection (now The Hotel Folk Group), which owns Thorpeness Golf Club and Country Club, took it over and rebuilt it in 1997 as The Dolphin Inn, with three bedrooms and a fantastic garden.

The smartest move, in my opinion, as a regular visitor, was putting David James in charge, who, along with his daughter Kerry, used his hospitality background and natural gentle charm to put his stamp on it and make it the fantastic experience it is today.

David accidentally fell into hospitality in South Africa after an interesting early life that started in Zimbabwe in a farming family, then took him to South Africa, where he was conscripted into the army. He then farmed and worked in the gold mines, among other occupations. When a friend who owned a contract catering company asked him to help run a two-day event for 500 people, he dutifully threw himself into the task and hasn't looked back.

That moment of helping a friend led to a whirlwind life in hospitality that started in catering school and took him to renowned Sun City, where he cooked for the likes of Michael Jackson, U2's Bono, Tina Turner and – a highlight – Nelson Mandela’s inauguration.

David eventually settled in the UK and took a job with TA Hotel Collection as head chef at Thorpeness Golf Club under the watchful eye of director Tim Rowan-Robinson, who soon saw his potential and put him in charge of all food and beverage operations at the golf club, then refurbishment of the country club. When The Dolphin was rebuilt, Tim knew there was only one man for the job; in 2007 the tenancy was given to David (thank you, Tim).

David and Kelly have spent the last 15 years building the Dolphin's reputation. As he will tell you, it's achieved through team work and loyal staff (the sign of a good owner). An example is head chef Jamie Stone, who started as a kitchen porter two years after David took over and is still there today, running a team of six chefs and managing to achieve consistency across the menu.

Great British Life: David James and daughter Kerry, at the Dolphin Inn, Thorpeness. Photo: Charlotte BondDavid James and daughter Kerry, at the Dolphin Inn, Thorpeness. Photo: Charlotte Bond

I've visited The Dolphin many times and, like a lot of people, mainly in summer. Thorpeness, with its beach, famous mere and old world charm, is a fantastic location for a holiday or day-trip. In summer the garden comes alive; one of David's proudest moments was the addition of the conservatory with its garden kitchen. On a busy day the team serves up to 500 people, 300 of those at lunchtime, but you would never know. They have a very efficient operation.

We decided to visit just out of season, when it is less hectic but, I'm pleased to say, still very busy. When you visit you will understand why. Thorpeness is surrounded by many lovely walks, including the well trodden circular walk from Aldeburgh. I've done this walk many times, finishing with a thirst quenching Adnams, or a hot chocolate with the children on a cold winter's day. This time we chose to visit in the evening for the full three-course experience, and we are so glad we did.

The menu is changed four times a year to keep it seasonal and local where possible. We arrived early evening so we could spend some time chatting with David and were welcomed with a smile, shown the specials board (tip: take a photo to remember it) and shown to our table with the food and drinks menu. At 6pm, other tables were already buzzing. It turned out that Thursday evening is also vegan night, with a choice of vegan dishes on the specials board. We chose Cauliflower Bites from the ‘Nibbles’ section, which set the tone for the evening. Tender, with the cauliflower flavour bursting out, they went well with the coriander salad and spring onions.

Great British Life: Cajun prawns at the Dolphin Inn Thorpeness. Photo: Charlotte BondCajun prawns at the Dolphin Inn Thorpeness. Photo: Charlotte Bond

Our starters arrived in good time. Having just returned from a mini break in Portugal, I still had prawns on my mind so I chose Cajun and lime buttered king prawns on sourdough. I wasn't disappointed. They were better than any I ate at the beach restaurants of the Algarve, perfectly cooked with the cajun and lime flavour shining through.

Mrs B chose a wild mushroom puff pastry tart with feta, truffle oil and pine nuts, which was fresh, well balanced, the mushroom flavour perfect with the pastry. We both enjoyed a glass of white wine and The Picpoul de Pinet was a great choice.

Great British Life: Wild mushroom puff pastry tart with feta at the Dolphin in Thorpeness. Photo: Charlotte BondWild mushroom puff pastry tart with feta at the Dolphin in Thorpeness. Photo: Charlotte Bond

The pressure was on; would the main course be of the same quality? I chose charred cider-marinated pork chop, roasted carrot puree, apple and potato rosti with mustard pork jus and broccoli. At first it looked like two massive chops, but, on inspection, one was a very generous apple and potato rosti. I thought it might be a struggle to eat it all, but I devoured it. The crackling on the chop and the cider marinade were a great match and the rosti was very well cooked.

Great British Life: Charred cider-marinated pork chop, roasted carrot puree, apple and potato rosti at the Dolphin in Thorpeness. Photo: Charlotte BondCharred cider-marinated pork chop, roasted carrot puree, apple and potato rosti at the Dolphin in Thorpeness. Photo: Charlotte Bond

Mrs B decided to try the vegan option – not an every day occurrence – but she was glad she did. Roast beetroot, pickled onion, butternut and feta tart with a tossed salad, new potatoes and a basil pesto. Amazed by the quality of the vegan feta, she would order it again in a heart beat. We chose a glass of red wine for the main course; I drank the house wine, while Sarah tried the Malbec, the the highlight and one I would recommend.

Great British Life: Roast beetroot, pickled onion, butternut and feta tart at the Dolphin in Thorpeness. Photo: Charlotte BondRoast beetroot, pickled onion, butternut and feta tart at the Dolphin in Thorpeness. Photo: Charlotte Bond

Normally, I'm not a pudding person, but it would have been wrong not to sample them and it was no sacrifice. Vanilla bean panna cotta with a pistachio crumb and rhubarb was not only beautifully presented but had the perfect texture and wasn't overly sweet. Mrs B delved into lemon and honey cheesecake with blueberry and lavender jam, and tried to work out why the arty splash of blueberry sauce tasted so much better than blueberries themselves. The whole combination of the dish worked very well.

We left that evening with a smile on our faces. We had eaten well without feeling overwhelmed, and had enjoyed a fantastic foodie experience in a pub restaurant with an atmosphere that is so welcoming. It was also a pleasure to spend time talking to David, the owner of the business. His friendly manner, interesting background and focus on a great customer experience is a reason in itself to go there.

From the summer menu

Nibbles: Maple glazed chorizo and cashews

Deli Plate: Chilli kiln smoked salmon, oak smoked salmon, smoked mackerel, shell-on prawns, smoked trout mousse, lemon mayo

Starter: Cajun cured mackerel fillet, red basil crème fraiche, rye bread

Main: Salter and King beef burger, Monterey Jack cheddar, bacon, smoked BBQ mayo, salad and chips

Vegeterian: Jamie’s Buddha bowl – spiced sweet potato wedges, couscous, summer garden veg, toasted seeds, miso and tahini dressing (Ve)

Local suppliers

Salad – all grown in Thorpeness

Meat – Salter and King, Aldeburgh

Bread – Harvey and Co, Rendlesham

Walk it off

A 6.5 mile (10.5km) circular walk takes you to some of the best coastal scenery in the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Starting at Fort Green car park in Aldeburgh (which has public toilets), it heads to Thorpeness, taking you past The House in the Clouds, a Martello tower, and Maggi Hambling's fabulous Scallop sculpture. The walk is mostly level on public footpaths and permissive routes, and an old railway line. In places it may be muddy in places in wet weather. suffolkcoastandheaths.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Aldeburgh-Thorpeness-Walk.pdf



BROUGHT TO YOU BY…

Suffolk Read more

Latest articles

More from Suffolk

BROUGHT TO YOU BY…

Suffolk Read more