REVIEW: The Brudenell Hotel in Aldeburgh
PUBLISHED: 15:46 06 August 2019 | UPDATED: 15:46 06 August 2019
Fish, cooked and served just the way you like it, with a stunning seaview is the simple, seductive offer from The Brudenell in Aldeburgh
Bream? Lemon sole? Hake? Would you like that poached, pan-fried or grilled? With salad, chips or new potatoes? With a prawn and caper butter, a beurre blanc, a sauce vierge or even just a wedge or two of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil?
Your choice of fish cooked to your personal preference is a speciality at the Brudenell Hotel's Seafood & Grill restaurant. The fantastic seaview is a bracing, briny bonus, but even that can be enjoyed from either the warmth of the restaurant or the sun-trap terrace.
Darran Hazelton, head chef at the Brudenell Hotel in Aldeburgh, is as accommodating a chef as you'll meet. Recently arrived on a sideways move from the Brudenell's sister hotel, the Crown at Woodbridge, he has wasted no time in working with executive chef, Justin Kett, to strengthen the restaurant's seafood identity "shaking it up, rebooting it" as he puts it.
The tables and chairs in this bright, easy-going restaurant with its vast, view-capturing windows are barely a pebble's skim from the North Sea waves, while those on the terrace are even closer. Although not every fishy ingredient can be harvested from these waters, Darran gets what he can locally, and roams beyond to find the seasonal, the crowd-pleasing, the delicious.
It would seem mad for the hotel not to dive into a seafood experience. Oysters - from Pinney's of Orford - quiver in their shining shells, are plump appetite sharpeners, whether with a classic shallot vinaigrette (you can't beat it, I decide), palate-awakening Fishers gin, cucumber and watermelon, or the sesame punch of an Asian dressing.
Varieties of smoked fish - salmon, shell-on prawns to dip in aioli, a scoop of mackerel pâté, again all from Pinney's - make up a platter that I note to come back for soon.
Elsewhere, Cromer crab is dressed for dinner as crisp arancini with a sweet chilli sauce, there are razor clams, poached and served with cockles, almonds and marsh-picked samphire, and bass sitting up close to its shellfish buddy, palourde clams.
Lemon sole, cooked whole and on the bone, is memorably on-point, the pearl-white flesh letting go of the bone at just the slightest nudge of the knife. It's a generous portion with the crushed potatoes, greens and rich prawn and caper butter; I'd have been happy with less.
A fishmongers' section of the menu - my sole is from here - is where Darran will offer his catch of the day. "It's about whatever's in season and at its best - skrei cod went down a storm not long ago. Our customers can have it cooked however they wish and with whatever garnish and sauce they want."
There will always be ever-popular bass and salmon on the list, bass with its clams, the salmon cider-cured and served with crab and a shellfish butter sauce.
"Fish shouldn't be difficult to cook, but it's got to be perfect every time," Darran says. "There's no room to hide." He works in a straightforward way, according to what he calls "the principle of LCA: love-care-attention" taught him by a previous head chef.
"It's still a learning curve," says The Hotel Folk executive head chef Justin Kett who has worked with Darran to create the fresh menu, "so we'll listen to our guests and look at our systems to keep what works and change what doesn't."
It's unlikely he'll change the razor clams, or the roast halibut main, which is served at my spring visit with the season's vivacity (wild garlic, fresh peas, broad beans, a zesty gremolata and pearl barley), as both dishes are popular.
Salt and pepper squid with an Asian slaw and sweet chilli sauce is likely to be a fixture too, and chances are that local lobster will find ready summer custom. Centralised buying has enabled the group to negotiate terms with suppliers, savings that help keep prices keen, says Justin.
Don't want fish? This is a menu that wants to please, so there's a Bru burger (in a brioche bun, of course), a Dingley Dell pork chop with a sage and bacon crumb, a ribeye with everything you'd expect, and plant-based dishes such as roast aubergine with chickpea, baba ganoush and tomato, or a colourful Greek salad, that customers can combine with meat or fish should they wish.
Desserts? What's not to like about a triple chocolate brownie with Baileys ice cream, or a raspberry and vanilla crème brûlée, or the perfectly biscuity pastry of a fig tart on sharp rhubarb, with a jammy compote, sweet cream scattered with pistachio, and the sultry smokiness from caramelised sliced figs. To top off your experience at The Brudenell the view comes for free.
"We put people - guests and our Folk - at the centre of everything we do," says The Hotel Folk chief executive, David Scott. "The name itself conveys that."
The Hotel Folk is the collection of six Suffolk hotels and venues formerly known as TA Hotel Collection, and David has been the driving force behind the overhaul of the group's identity that was announced in February this year and is now fully rolled out.
"We have been very critical of ourselves," says David who joined the company in August 2018 bringing a wealth of marketing expertise from his career in the hospitality industry. "Guests expect a level of service, but was the service we were offering consistent? How could we improve it? How could we deliver 'blow-your-socks-off' hospitality every single time?"
He is referring to the group's catch-phrase, a journey which will take time to fully realise, he says, but one they're taking steps towards.
The Hotel Folk invested £500,000 in the rebrand, including improved IT systems and new websites for all properties, plus upgrades to interiors where necessary and an overhaul of the food and drink offer.
"Here at the Brudenell, we want to offer the best seafood in Aldeburgh, and we want to be at the heart of the community, hence a menu with something for everyone," says Justin Kett.
As group executive chef, he ensures that every property has a distinct identity - the Swan at Lavenham as a French-inspired fine dining restaurant and the Crown at Woodbridge a place for contemporary menus and flavours, while Sea Spice at Aldeburgh's White Lion Hotel offers modern Indian cuisine, for example.
"We are making memories for guests," he continues. "Lots of people come for a special occasion - the way you interact with guests, what you feed them, and the fine details like how we lay a table or take an order are so important.
"We want to be experts, and I want to nurture chefs so that each one's expertise can be shared across the group. My chefs work for the group, not for an individual property," adds Justin. It's an ethos echoed in other departments, the overarching ambition being to encourage the best individuals to stay at The Hotel Folk by offering stimulating and varied hospitality career paths.
Training has been ramped up with the creation of FolkLore, an in-house online training programme with relevant modules for each department that every member of staff follows.
In the kitchen, for example, video is used to explain menus, dish components, the origin of ingredients and seasonality, suitable wine pairings, so that front of house teams can more effectively engage with customers. "It's about giving staff confidence," says David. "The more confidence they have, the more relaxed they'll be and the better they will do their job."
He adds. "For every dish they sell they get Folk Points. The more they sell, the more goes into the pot for a team outing. It's always about the team, the idea being that the more you work together, the more everyone gains."
It's not an overnight solution, of course. "I'd love to be able to say it's all stable now, but realistically I hope that within six months we will have effective leadership in all our properties."
At the time of our conversation, a new general manager was about to start at the Swan at Lavenham, ditto the Crown & Castle following the retirement of long-standing manager, Tim Sunderland, and at the White Lion in Aldeburgh where a fresh menu was being launched as the Suffolk Magazine went to press.
From the Brudenell menu
Crab arancini - £3.50
Octopus carpaccio, lemon dressing, micro salad - £7.50
Seabass, red pepper relish, chorizo crisps, runner beans, red pepper chorizo dressing - £21
Spatchcock chicken, lemon, garlic, thyme, sweet potato wedges, herbed sour cream - £15
Strawberry tart, vanilla crème pâtissière, strawberry ice cream - £8
Fresh berry salad, honey, soya yoghurt, toasted seeds - £6
A bottle of house wine costs - £20