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PUBLISHED: 17:09 11 December 2013 | UPDATED: 17:39 11 December 2013

Food feature on Seckford Hall.
Cod , Clam and chorizo risotto.

Food feature on Seckford Hall. Cod , Clam and chorizo risotto.

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The Food Chain descends on Seckford Hall for its office Christmas party and has a cracking good time

Food feature on Seckford Hall.
L-R Lee Lawes, Liam Oakenfull, Richard Castle, Pawel Boguslawski, Richard Brown.Food feature on Seckford Hall. L-R Lee Lawes, Liam Oakenfull, Richard Castle, Pawel Boguslawski, Richard Brown.

The Food Chain gang spills out of the main door and off into the night, some still wearing their shiny party hats. It’s been a splendid evening, our Christmas party, and although incident-free, certainly more entertaining than the old jules & sharpie days of a turkey-for-two lunch then back to work.

When Jules and I used to work together from a business unit in Leiston, our office Christmas parties always presented a dilemma. A quiet table for two in a Leiston café perhaps? A festive sandwich at our desks? Or shall we push the boat out and have ‘turkey and all the trimmings’ in the pub down the road? We knew how to have a good time that’s for sure. And best of all there was no likelihood of an indiscretion by the water cooler or an embarrassing karaoke moment.

But now this is a bit more like it – the Food Chain writers plus ones, as well as the magazine’s editor, together for once for a special Christmas dinner at Seckford Hall just near Woodbridge.

Seckford Hall is a typical 16th century Tudor manor house – brick built, bristling with crenellated eaves and flamboyant chimneys. The windows are typically generous and plentiful, the main door heavy oak, framed by fancy stone carvings and reached by a wide drive edged with topiaried bushes. A grade 2* listed building, it was taken over in August 2012 by a couple who love Suffolk and, cleverly, appointed Mark Suddes to be operations director. Under his guidance the place has been transformed. In a little over a year he has supervised the refurbishment and redecoration of the 32 bedrooms, restaurant (named the 1530 after the date of the building) and various event rooms, while simultaneously recruiting and training the staff. Barely into his thirties, Mark comes from Durham originally, but has worked all over the country as well as a stint in Paris. He has a palpable enthusiasm and a pride in Seckford Hall that is delightful and justified.

So we all meet in the cocktail bar, which has heavy wood panelling, a huge fireplace and some of the most ornate carved beams I’ve seen outside of a palace. They are the counterpoint for a sleek bar and some ultra modern furnishings. But the combination works and, after a brief guided tour, it’s clear that the interior designer knows her stuff – it’s not easy to combine Tudor with twenty-first century.

The head barman and sommelier, Lee Lawes, has prepared a special Christmas cocktail for us. Martini glasses, edged with icing sugar and with a jaunty sprig of holly, contain a whoah-crikey mix of fruity liqueurs, Pimm’s, spices, fresh fruit juice and ginger. Served warm, it’s rather like a Christmas pudding that’s been liquidised so the bits don’t get stuck in your teeth. And while we’re having the second one, (not the drivers obviously) some canapés appear and disappear almost as quickly.

We are ten noisy and exuberant food fanatics on a night out and James Wade is the young man given the job of looking after us. He takes on the task bravely and after the two cocktails he manoeuvres us all into a private room where suddenly it’s Christmas. The table and decorations are all silver and black, including extremely smart party hats (on straight away) and an elegant Christmas tree. But hang on, can it really be snowing? A magical drift of white flakes is floating past the window and although it’s not real, of course, it makes the scene near perfect and we’re all enchanted.

Our first course is a classic and it’s a delight. Generous slices of Pinney’s smoked salmon come with a creamy celeriac remoulade and freshly baked bread. Even as we eat, the conversation bubbles around and there are lots of noises of appreciation and approval. Most of the talk is about food of course and we all agree that good ingredients are essential to great cooking and how lucky we are to have it all in abundance in Suffolk. Just a bit smug, but true nonetheless.

Sommelier Lee has chosen the wines we drink and there’s a fresh Sancerre with the salmon, which the white wine drinkers say is just right. I notice several bottles Pinot Noir deep-breathing on a side table ready for our next course.

Ashley Durrant, the joint head chef, arrives with the turkey on a huge silver platter and, to cheers and a round of applause, carves with speed and skill. We question him about the food and he tells us exactly where each component of our meal has come from. He’s knowledgable and clearly committed to the local food suppliers. And oh the sheer joy of having a properly cooked Christmas dinner of roast turkey, five different vegetables, stuffing, pigs-in-blankets, cranberry sauce and rich gravy when a) you haven’t had to shop for it b) you haven’t had to cook it and c) you don’t have to do the washing up – just some of the things that can make Christmas day a test of nerve, timing and stamina.

For the meat-free (but not fish-free) among us there is grey mullet, all silvery scales glinting in the Christmas lights. Now, this could be considered something of a risk on the chef’s part since grey mullet has a fairly robust flavour that’s not to everyone’s taste. Our veggie types love it, however, especially as it’s well suited to the red wine. It’s perfectly de-boned and cooked, served on a bed of julienne courgettes with turned boiled potatoes.

Of the kitchen brigade of nine there are two head chefs (a very clever idea) and two patisserie chefs, so it’s not really a surprise that the trio of puddings is a scene-stealer. A miniature Christmas pudding, dark rich and fruity, sits next to a tangerine chocolate brownie and mince pie ice cream in a brandy snap cup. Well, all my Christmases have truly come at once, and my three beauties are gone in a trice. James whizzes round the table pouring muscat as we pull the crackers (yup, I got two ends) and enjoy the side-splitting jokes.

We’re asked to go to a different bar for coffee and petits fours and by this time we’re all in jolly holly mood and possibly over-excited. The petits fours are amazing concoctions of chocolatey richness and we get so settled in, chit-chatting and sharing stories that it’s home time before we know it.

The Food Chain gang spills out of the main door and off into the night, some still wearing their shiny party hats. It’s been a splendid evening, our Christmas party, and although incident-free, certainly more entertaining than the old jules & sharpie days of a turkey-for-two lunch then back to work.

Seckford Hall

Hotel & Restaurant

Wodbridge

Suffolk IP13 6NU

01394 385 678

reception@seckfordhall.co.uk

www.seckford.co.uk

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