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Hotel review: The Crown, Bildeston, Suffolk

Four-poster comfort at The Crown, Bildeston. Photo: Cherry Beesley
Four-poster comfort at The Crown, Bildeston. Photo: Cherry Beesley

Paddy Bishop sets a course for historic Bildeston for a dinner and an overnight stay at The Crown, a charming coaching inn which has been at the heart of the village for several centuries.

Nestled in the country roads of mid Suffolk, only 11 miles from Ipswich, close to bustling Hadleigh and historic Lavenham, Bildeston's historic charm calls to you as you drive into the village and along the high street to The Crown.

It's been an important part of the village since the 15th century and fits in perfectly with many of the village's properties that were built during a similar period. This is a place where the past sits comfortably with the present. There is good parking at rear of The Crown and I was impressed to see two electric car charging points, which makes sense as people do come from far and wide to enjoy the experience The Crown offers.

We were lucky enough to be enjoying an overnight stay with dinner and, having heard so many good reports, we were very much looking forward to the time away from home. In old buildings space is key. The Crown's small reception area works well – after all, you don’t want to feel like you're checking into a hotel – and with a warm welcome we were shown up to our room.

Great British Life: Comfortable and relaxed, The Bildeston Crown Photo: Charlotte BondComfortable and relaxed, The Bildeston Crown Photo: Charlotte Bond

This is when you start to appreciate the balance of history with modern interior design; a four-poster bed, damask bed coverings, fluffy cushions and ancestral portraits are entwined with plenty of space, soft colours and a wall mounted TV, plus complimentary tea and coffee.

We were delighted to meet group operations director Matthew Watts who told us the story of how the building was rescued by the local Buckle family. James Buckle bought the building and transformed it into the welcoming and comfortable destination you find today. Alongside The Crown, the family also owns the Lindsey Rose, a lovely village pub offering home-cooked, seasonal food and apparently the best Sunday roast. I'll need to go back and verify this, but online reviews suggest it’s worth the visit.

Great British Life: Rooms are spacious at The Crown, despite the age of the property. Photo: Cherry BeesleyRooms are spacious at The Crown, despite the age of the property. Photo: Cherry Beesley The Buckles have also remodelled the family home, Nedging Hall, into a 10-bedroom country house escape, with an indoor swimming pool, tennis court and stables so you can bring your horses. It can be hired for parties, weddings or simply a weekend get away with friends to explore this part of Suffolk. We were given a tour – it is a magical place to escape to.

Later, we were welcomed in the bar by Charlie Buckle, son of James and the next generation who are bringing a passion for the environment and sustainability to this hospitality business. Charlie worked in insurance in London for four years, but his love of Suffolk and horse riding meant that he was destined to come home.

In 2019, the Buckles purchased Mauldons Brewery, another historic business, set up in 1795, that needed a new custodian to secure its future. Their aim is to be not just a leading Suffolk brewer but the most environmentally friendly, centred on a love of looking after ale. It was no surprise that Mauldons is served in their pubs; and even a non-beer drinker like me enjoyed a refreshing half of their Mole Trap ale.

We were led to our dinner table by general manager George Bonwick. The business is run by a young team with wise heads and backgrounds that punch well above their weight. Matthew Watts learnt his trade at Fortnum and Mason’s, where he went from reception to running all the restaurants, before being head hunted by The Ivy Group, where he ended up overseeing 40 restaurants.

Great British Life: Pan roasted chicken breast, parmentier potatoes, pickled radishes, lambs leaf, girolles at the Bildeston Crown. Photo: Charlotte BondPan roasted chicken breast, parmentier potatoes, pickled radishes, lambs leaf, girolles at the Bildeston Crown. Photo: Charlotte Bond

George, like Charlie, is in his late 20s. His father is a Michelin starred chef and he is one of eight siblings who have all worked, at various stages, for the family's restaurants. He soon realised his love for front of house and customer experience, and this shines through in all aspects of service at The Crown.

George studied ancient history and philosophy at university, funded by his holiday job at Tom Kerridge's The Hand of Flowers. Front of house at Aubergine in Marlow followed, then five years working with his father and gathering Michelin stars, including his own Michelin Service Award, aged just 22.

As he talked us through the menu, we were glad a friend had introduced him to Suffolk just as he was seeking his own path in life. After successfully turning around the Lindsey Rose, it was time for him to work his magic alongside Matthew and Charlie, and The Crown team. George asked our permission for him to choose our food and drink and we snapped up the chance.

We began with a selection of snacks – an 'amuse bouche'. The Goats Cheese Doughnut with a beetroot sugar was sublime, and the Tempura Soft Shell Crab with a sirachi aioli was perfectly fried, the aioli balancing it well and not overpowering. This was accompanied by a North Macedonian white wine called Smederevka Belo, which was crisp, citrus and floral. I also need to mention the salted focaccia with home-made butter that had a nutty, caramel flavour. We devoured it.

Great British Life: Gin cured salmon, beetroot pickled quail egg, cucumber, caper salad, horseradish creme fraiche at the Bildeston Crown. Photo: Charlotte BondGin cured salmon, beetroot pickled quail egg, cucumber, caper salad, horseradish creme fraiche at the Bildeston Crown. Photo: Charlotte Bond

For our starter, George chose the Gin Cured Salmon with beetroot pickled quail egg and a cucumber and caper salad. Now, Mrs B is a not a caper fan normally, but these were lightly fried for a few seconds and worked so well with the salmon, where the gin cure taste shone through. As for the beetroot pickled quail egg... wow.

The sign of a good chef is to get to each course without the diner feeling full. Executive chef Freddie Fallon and head chef Vikkie Tolfrey, and their team, have mastered this. Freddie was one of the reasons I was excited about a visit to The Crown; I know him from when he worked at my local, The Duck in Campsea Ashe. We were very excited about the main course and were not disappointed.

Great British Life: Miso glazed lamb rump, Asian slaw, braised lamb roll, coriander and ginger chutney at the Bildeston Crown. Photo: Charlotte BondMiso glazed lamb rump, Asian slaw, braised lamb roll, coriander and ginger chutney at the Bildeston Crown. Photo: Charlotte Bond

Miso Glazed Lamb Rump, Asian Slaw, Braised Lamb Roll with a Coriander and Ginger Chutney was perfectly cooked, all the flavours working together. We wanted more of the coriander sauce; its freshness and power shone through, but still allowed the lamb flavour to be enjoyed.

We were presented with an English 2022 Pinot Noir from Kent called Simpsons Rabbit Hole. I must confess, I am still slightly wary of English wines, but this proved why we all need to sample and support our local wine makers. It is a lovely Pinot Noir, slightly punchy at £62, but to support these wines you need to pay a bit extra and, for m, it was worth it.

The evening kept giving as we finished with a delightful chocolate and almond layered sponge with whipped mascarpone, praline ice cream and coffee mousse, served with a 1999 Chianti pudding wine.

After a very good night's sleep in a very comfortable bed, we enjoyed a full Suffolk breakfast and made a pact that distance should not stop us exploring these gems of villages and pubs. Being able to stay the night means you can enjoy the full experience, with a glass or two, if desired. But for this meal, I would quite happily make the journey knowing how content we would be on the drive home.

Great British Life: Nedging Hall Quince Bakewell tart, creme fraiche sorbet. Photo: Charlotte BondNedging Hall Quince Bakewell tart, creme fraiche sorbet. Photo: Charlotte Bond

From the Light Lunch Menu

Sirloin minute steak, pickled cabbage, Emmental Ruben, on grilled sourdough - £16

Smoked Salmon, pea and lime ‘guacamole’, feta, tomato, toasted sourdough - £14

Grilled nectarines, mozzarella and rocket on toasted sourdough - £14

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

Selection of meats, pickles, Manchego - £16

(add fries - £5)

Local suppliers

Salad/vegetables – Nedging Hall Garden

Fabulous Fungi, Burstall

Biddle's bread, Haughley

M&M butchers, Stowupland

Hamish Johnston, fine cheese, Clopton

Walk it off

A gentle, picturesque, six-mile (2.5 hour circular stroll) starting in Bildeston, across the fields to Monks Eleigh and back via Chelsworth.



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