Kesgrave Hall reaches a decade of trading near Ipswich
PUBLISHED: 13:34 20 November 2018
As the season of parties approaches, hotel and restaurateur Milsoms is itself celebrating a milestone for one of its popular venues | Words: Ross Bentley
It’s ten years since Kesgrave Hall was officially opened and welcomed into the Milsom Hotel & Restaurants group, joining Le Talbooth, Maison Talbooth and Milsoms in Dedham, and The Pier hotel and restaurant overlooking the harbour at Harwich.
The new undertaking on the outskirts of Ipswich was a joint venture between Paul Milsom and Jonathan Hills, of the Hills Building Group, boyhood friends who had promised each other that one day they would go into business together.
Neither could have imagined they would own such a wonderful property, one that has become an intrinsic part of the region’s hospitality scene, for leisure and business users alike, and which earlier this year won Leading Independent Hotel at the Norfolk and Suffolk Tourism Awards.
Set in 38 acres of woodland and rolling lawns, the magnificent Grade II-listed Georgian mansion has at various times been a shooting lodge, a billet for RAF officers and a boarding school. Its latest incarnation came after an extensive refurbishment, which retained the original features of the building and transformed it into a contemporary brasserie restaurant with 15, then 23 stylish bedrooms.
The restaurant is at the centre of the four-star Kesgrave Hall, offering a seasonal menu with a la carte pricing. It does not take bookings and serves food throughout the day, catering for the relaxed trend of diners wanting to take their seat whenever they choose.
An outdoor seating area has been added, extending the restaurant by 100 seats, including 60 under a sail. Afternoon tea has also been introduced, an initiative that has gone from strength to strength according to the hotel’s general manager, Oliver Richards. “We are now known as the place to take afternoon tea in Suffolk,” he says.
The most substantial addition to Milsoms Kesgrave Hall in the past decade has been the Hangar, which opened in 2014 as one of Suffolk’s largest indoor party event spaces, providing a much-needed wedding, party and conference facility for the area.
It’s called the Hangar because prior to its £1.5 million makeover the building had been an old PE hall that resembled an aircraft hangar. “When I arrived in 2012 we only held three events a year there,” says Oliver. “Back then we would hire an outside AV company, who would come in to dress the walls and install the lighting.”
Those three events were law firm Birketts’ annual dinner, the Deben Farmers yearly get together and Ipswich Town Football Club’s end of season dinner, a great coup for avid ITFC fan Paul Milsom. Thanks to transformation of the space, those three original events were among 101 held in the Hangar in 2017. It’s a success story that has seen the initial vision and investment well rewarded.
“What makes the Hangar is that it is so well-thought out,” says Oliver. “After the decision to go ahead with the project had been made, the opinion of all the key professionals working at Kesgrave was sought. I, together with the executive chef and the food and beverage manager, had input into the plans to ensure it was designed to run as smoothly as possible.”
The Hangar is a truly magical space, with silk-lined walls and a star-cloth ceiling, which can serve as a grand seated dining area, before being transformed into a nightclub later in the evening. A marquee at the front adds further versatility and the whole venue has been used to host events of 60 to 70 people right up to occasions with more than 370 guests. It is completely self-contained, with its own kitchen and garden, so that apart from a few more cars in the car park, guests at the main hotel and restaurant have no clue of an event happening.
“From the outset that was important because we wanted to make sure we didn’t impact the core of the business,” says Oliver. Kesgrave Hall has a wedding licence and is popular with couples, as the grounds and hotel make a magnificent backdrop. Private parties, anniversaries and wakes are all held regularly in the Hangar and the venue has also played host to high-profile charity balls and parties.
In 2015 a fabulous party to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of VE Day saw 200 guests raise £20,000 for ABF The Soldiers Charity. The Hangar has also proved popular with the region’s business community, hosting the EADT Suffolk Food and Drink Awards, the Suffolk 100 celebratory lunch to recognise key economic influencers in the region, and the 2018 Suffolk Business Awards.
Members of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce gather at the Hangar for networking lunches and the Ipswich Suffolk Business Club regularly uses the venue for its events.
Good for business
Kesgrave Hall has further expanded its business offering with the development of Bunker 1 and Bunker 2, two self-contained outbuildings ideal for corporate interviews or brainstorming sessions, where business teams can get away from it all and focus on the questions in hand.
The Bunkers are equipped with state-of-the-art business kit from 50-inch LED screens, flip charts and hands-free conference calls facilities to one of the best wi-fi services in the region, thanks to Kesgrave Hall’s relationship with business users from nearby Adastral Park, home to giant tech companies like BT and Cisco.