People know Seckford Hall for many reasons; its historic building, a romantic overnight stay, a spa weekend, its renowned afternoon tea, or its recently awarded 2AA Rosette Restaurant, 1530.

In the past, through a period of different owners and profit-led management companies, it's fair to say this magnificent building was neglected in many areas. So, it's with massive thanks that we need to applaud Michael Chittenden and Tammy Madge, who acquired the hotel in 2019 and had the foresight to bring in renowned operator, Peter Osborne, to work on their shared vision of re-energising the business and making it into a venue that puts the customer at the heart of it.

Great British Life: Seckford Hall has plenty of historic charm as well as modern comfortsSeckford Hall has plenty of historic charm as well as modern comforts (Image: Seckford Hall Hotel)

Peter took the reins in December 2022 and over the past 15 months, through investment in the staff, restaurant and kitchen, bedrooms and spa, has taken a big step towards an ambition for Seckford Hall to achieve the acclaimed AA 4 red stars.

He's a leader who understands the importance of the customer journey. Maybe it's his army background and working in hospitality in East Anglia since 2009, but Peter also knows that, to achieve customer satisfaction, you need to build an environment where people want to work and where they thrive through good leadership and freedom to explore ideas. You can stay in the most beautiful building in the world, but if the customer experience is awful you will not go back.

Great British Life: Seckford Hall spa gardenSeckford Hall spa garden (Image: Seckford Hall Hotel)

We arrived at Seckford in the early evening on a Monday, when a lot of hotels are quiet, and were pleasantly surprised to see a busy car park. The parking fairy looked after us, though, with a space just outside the front door.

The thing that hits you as you arrive in is the history surrounding Seckford. Built in the 15th century, as the home of Queen Elizabeth I’s lawyer, Thomas Seckford. Several owners followed and Enid Blyton found inspiration here on a visit in 1915. It’s a beautiful building, thankfully rescued from a demolition company in 1940 by Sir Ralph Harwood, and eventually bought by the Bunn family in 1950 (until 2012) when it became a hotel and wedding venue.

As you open the large wooden door, you walk into a world steeped in history, with subtle nods to a new era and promise of a fun, personal experience. Peter Osborne was on hand to meet and greet – he generally finds time to do this – and gave us a lightning tour of the facilities, before introducing us to a chilled Sauvignon (it’s a great wine list) in the bar for a quick chat on the Seckford ethos and plans.

Great British Life: The bath in The Loft luxury suite. The bath in The Loft luxury suite. (Image: Bushfire Photography)

The hotel's wedding and party area is renowned; what will surprise guests are the refurbished bedrooms – a few still to be completed – a new spa garden featuring two outdoor hot tubs and one outdoor sauna, firepit, sun loungers and shaded pergola made entirely from reclaimed and recycled wood. There's also the renovated terrace overlooking the lake to look forward to this summer and there are also plans to refurbish the bar. All work in progress, but there's no sense of that being 'mid-project' in the journey to four red stars.

We stayed in a luxury suite, The Loft, on the top floor and it was extremely comfortable. It’s a tricky space to work with, but they've taken the three rooms, retained their heritage, and made it so relaxing and easy to settle into. There's a bath in the room, a large powerful shower in the bathroom, the most comfortable bed we've slept in for a while and a fridge filled with locally made drinks.

Great British Life: Tomato and mozzeralla aranchini. Tomato and mozzeralla aranchini. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

The food

Time for a pre-dinner cocktail to peruse the menu – my favourite time of day. The restaurant was refreshingly busy for a Monday with couples, business people, young families and friends catching up. Some hotels rely on travelling business people during the week, which can affect the atmosphere, but 1530 had a wonderful buzz about it.

The food menu is a great showcase for the new team that Peter Osborne has just incorporated into the Seckford vision. Head chef is Jake Lawrence, formerly at The Crown and Castle in Orford and The Lion at Boreham. He arrived with his trusted team and they've put their stamp on the menu. It’s a relaxed version of fine dining, deserving its 2AA Rosette with an interesting mix of ingredients, local suppliers and clever twists. A great example is the Hake Kiev, with watercress, crispy potato, black garlic and caviar – something I would never cook at home.

I do a menu with 'Nibbles' – smaller starter plates – and starters to choose from. If your eating companion is willing to share, it means you can try a variety of dishes. We settled on two nibbles – tomato and mozzeralla aranchini, BBQ pulled pork croquettes – and a starter of ham hock pressing, piccalilli and crostini.

After years, Mrs B and I have finally worked out how best to share fairly – we always ask for extra plates. This time we didn't need to; they pre-empted us, which shows great understanding of their customers. Aranchini and croquettes can be hit and miss, sometimes with too much rice or potato and lacking flavour of the other ingredients, but these did not disappoint. The BBQ pulled pork shone through, with a BBQ sauce on the side to strengthen but not overpower.

The tomato and mozzarella worked their magic amongst the very well cooked aranchini. The big question, did we need the ham hock dish? Yes we did – a highlight starter. All ingredients worked and the piccalilli brought them together so well.

Great British Life: A trio of Blythburgh pork - fillet, belly and cheek, with carrot puree, carrot crisps. A trio of Blythburgh pork - fillet, belly and cheek, with carrot puree, carrot crisps. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

The main course was a tough choice; a good mix of fish, meats, a Seckford super salad and a vegetarian tagliatelle. I love pork, especially local Blythburgh, so for me it had to be the trio of Blythburgh pork – fillet, belly and cheek, with carrot puree, carrot crisps. Mrs B was just as intrigued with the mix of roasted salmon supreme, cavolo nero, crab aranchini, and chorizo. Two very different dishes, with one thing in common; they were deeply satisfying.

Perfectly slightly pink, well-seasoned and tender pork fillet, belly with a great crisp – for me, key to this cut – and a bold, slightly charred cheek that just soaked up the sauce and carrot sides. Mrs B’s salmon was like all good fish, fresh and chunky but light in texture and full of flavour. Chorizo works so well with salmon and a crab aranchini was a lovely addition. The cavolo nero was expertly cooked – visibly wilted but still crunchy – and a perfect side for fish.

After a trio of first courses and two main courses, could we fit in a pudding each, do we share one, or do we just say thank you and good night? We chose one each, because the descriptions sounded so delicious, and we also had room for them, the sign of well balanced portions throughout the meal.

Great British Life: Roasted salmon supreme, cavolo nero, crab aranchini, and chorizo. Roasted salmon supreme, cavolo nero, crab aranchini, and chorizo. (Image: Charlotte Bond)

Mrs B chose the toffee apple choux bun, caramelised apples, cinnamon Chantilly, cider caviar and apple sorbet; I chose the burnt vanilla and rhubarb delice, lemon curd, basil marshmallow, and Prosecco sorbet. Just reading that, it sounds as if we ordered the entire pudding menu.

In fact, each plate held small bursts of each creation, the flavours mingling but not hustling each other, all belonging together. The toffee apple choux bun and apple sorbet were firm favourites with Mrs B; for me it had to be the burnt vanilla and rhubarb delice, and the basil marshmallow, with the Prosecco sorbet acting as the perfect palate cleanser.

We left the restaurant smiling, for many reasons; we were contently full of delicious food, while the service had been so friendly with a good mix of young charm and experienced leadership, never crossing the line and becoming over friendly.

The proof of the amazingly comfortable bed was that we slept so well, enjoying that perk of a hotel break – a lie-in. Breakfast is served until 10am, so there's no rush. I highly recommend the 18 metre swimming pool in the refurbished spa; it’s a perfect temperature, you can swim lengths and they handle the use well, so it's not full of too many people.

The other advantage of a swim is that you don't feel guilty ordering a full breakfast. There is a buffet of freshly baked pastries, fruits, yoghurts and cereals, followed by a hot breakfast menu. I chose the smashed avocado, soft poached eggs (such yummy runny yolks) on locally baked Harvey and Co toasted sough dough. Mrs B had eggs benedict, which you can always judge on the hollandaise sauce. She wasn't disappointed.

From the moment we arrived to when we reluctantly left, we felt well looked after by Peter’s team; from amazing Jess, head of guest experience, a title which sums up the ethos of looking after customers, to host of the bar Matt, to the entire team that runs the restaurant. It really was all about us and reminds me of a quote from a very famous New York restaurateur, Will Guidara, co-owner of the Make It Nice hospitality group, ‘People will never forget how you make them feel’.

Paddy Bishopp was a guest of Seckford Hall Hotel and Spa

READ MORE: Behind the scenes at Seckford Hall Hotel and Spa