Style and substance at Milsom's Kesgrave Hall, Suffolk
PUBLISHED: 11:40 25 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:42 20 February 2013
With its cool, contemporary good looks, Milsoms Kesgrave Hall offers a great venue for fine dining. But that's not all, as you might expect the food is wonderful too, as Richard Bryson discovered
There are several qualities that set a Milsoms restaurant apart from others in East Anglia. The stylish (and often mimicked by other establishments) interiors, the very good and competitively priced food and, everywhere, great attention to detail.
But theres something else . . . the fact you cant book a table.
Garth Wray, the young and savvy, general manager at Milsoms Kesgrave Hall smiles when I mention the subject. Well, we did take bookings on Boxing Day! The rest of the year we dont and it does not affect our business. It enables us to maintain our prices and keep a relaxed dining environment, theres always a nice buzz when you come to our restaurants.
Having said that, people who stay at our hotels go to the top of our dining lists so they can get a table when they want.
And if you are a non-resident wanting to make sure you get a table? Its not difficult during the week and at the weekend we find families arrive between 6-7pm, he says.
So what can you expect after arriving at this splendid former school and air force officers headquarters on the outskirts of Ipswich and are sitting comfortably and ready to order?
British style cooking using seasonal, local ingredients, says head chef Stuart Oliver. Local produce influences our dishes. We get beef from Dedham, chicken from Colne Valley, sausages from Lane Farm at Brundish and fish from Pinneys at Orford. We smoke our own salmon . . . we like to teach people in the kitchen different techniques of preparing food.
Im left to devise my own menus but sometimes the Milsom chefs (there are hotels at Dedham and Harwich too) get together to have tastings and compare what we are doing and try new dishes. Its all about getting consistency across the group.
Stuarts early training came in London (One Aldwych and Sopwell House) but he moved to Kesgrave from the Cornwallis Hotel at Brome and lives at Scole.
Originally a Londoner, Stuart says the pace of life in Suffolk took some getting used to but he likes the friendliness of the people and the peace.
He loves all kind of cooking but when pressed says that the lemon sole on the winter menu is a favourite.
Its to do with the flavours. It is quite quirky mixing tiny pieces of melon, chopped dill and ginger velout with sole fillets but it works.
I take a taste or two and can vouch for that!
You can eat three courses here for around 25, adds Stuart.
Wine is supplied by Bibendum who Stuart and Garth praise for their incredible customer service which includes staff training and tastings. Greene King ales are also available.
Looking around the restaurant and open-to-view kitchen there are examples of wit and invention.
A sign over the large serving hatch says engine room rather than kitchen and the multi-layered menu flips round for food on one side and drinks on the other.
You order using a pencil and notepad then hand to one of the waiting staff.
Its a system that works well and is a bit of fun, says Garth. I think one or two other places are doing it now.
He says in his spare time he tries out other restaurants and hotels in the area but doesnt think anywhere else has the feel and style of Milsoms.
We might be our own opposition! I think when we opened in the summer of 2008, takings at Dedham Milsoms were down by 10% as our regulars there tried the Ipswich arm of the business.
We get a good mix of couples, families and business people coming from as far afield as the coast, Essex and mid Suffolk.
Luckily we havent been hit by the recession . . . you could say we have gained from people trading down from fine-dining but still looking for good quality.
Similarly, some people are coming to us looking for something more than a pub meal.
Like Stuart he came to Suffolk via well-established London hotels and the Wentworth Club. Kesgrave Hall is his first sole responsibilty and he is
His Polish wife Gosia is head of housekeeping at the hotel and they have two children Amy, eight, and Josh, five. When he gets some spare time he likes to play golf, swim or go to the cinema.
Paul Milsom was the reason I came here. . . I knew he was a Master Inn holder and I admired what he and his family have done in East Anglia, he explains.
Here at Kesgrave we have recently added extra bedrooms and meeting rooms which have proved to be shrewd investments in difficult times. We are also going to hire out a new exhibition hall or as we call it, the hangar in what was the old gym. It will be used for new car launches and corporate events.
We mentioned attention to detail earlier and it was remarkable how clear of ice and snow the drive to Kesgrave Hall was on my early January visit. On a day of regular snowfall and sub-zero temperatures Garth had jumped on to a tractor and personally cleared the road. Theres pragmatism in his thinking too, of course. If I hadnt done it we wouldnt have had any customers, he says with a grin.
Milsoms, Kesgrave Hall, Hall Road, Kesgrave, Ipswich, Suffolk IP5 2PU. Call 01473 333741 for accomodation booking and details on Valentines packages.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.milsomhotels.com