Morston Hall, Norfolk
16 July 2018
Morston Hall is one of the only two Michelin Star restaurants in Norfolk, and as such is a natural target for the venue of a celebration meal. This was the month when a suitable birthday came along, and we were duly booked in.
The building itself was originally a 17th-century farmhouse, but now suits its current use effortlessly well.
There is only one sitting for dinner - it starts at 8pm, and everyone gets the same menu (although dietary restrictions are catered for). It’s a vaguely surreal set-up as everyone gathers together for one shared experience, but you quickly get used to it.
It is a six course tasting menu which is changed daily, depending on the availability of local seasonal ingredients. There’s something refreshingly no-nonsense about that, although if you have a phobia about any particular foodstuff, you’re probably going to spend the day pondering apprehensively whether you’re going to confronted with it. I have no such phobia, so all was good.
You’re encouraged to arrive in good time before, so you can find a place in either the expansive conservatory, or the more intimate sitting room, and have a drink and canapés before the main act gets going. The canapés kicked off with a tiny Cod Brandade Tart with Chorizo - a delicious fishy morsel with the crispiest filo pastry base. That was then followed by a Cured Mackerel Taco, the taco held together with a tiny dolls-house size clothes peg - and a Galton Blackiston regular, a quail’s egg Scotch Egg with a Bois Boudrain Sauce.
Once those have all been dispatched, one by one the groups of diners are approached by attentive staff who offer to escort them to their tables. We had opted for the wine flight to get the best experience with the meal, so our table was impressively loaded with a line of wine glasses, as well as the extensive array of cutlery for each of the courses.
The first course was a Norfolk Peer Potato Velouté with Parmesan, and there was chicken in there as well. Blackiston has been a champion of the Norfolk Peer potatoes in recent years, which are produced at the nearby Heygate Farms, suggesting that they have the flavour of the potatoes his parents would grow in their garden 50 years ago. A potato velouté is certainly not something you will often find on a menu - but it was smooth and beautifully flavoured - a perfect celebration of superior local produce. Note to self: seek out the Norfolk Peer potatoes.
Then there were scallops, perfectly cooked with a slightly surprising strawberry and verjus sauce, served alongside wafer-thin slices of cauliflower. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did, and it reminded me a little of the savoury strawberry dish I’d experienced at Benedicts restaurant in Norwich. Benedicts’ Richard Bainbridge is, of course, a protege of Blackiston having been head chef at Morston Hall for some years.
Barbecued beetroot with smoked mackerel came next - an easy win as I’ve always been a sucker for well-cooked fresh beetroot, as different an experience as you can get from the vinegar-laded pre-cooked version.
The fish course was spectacular. Turbot, with courgette and mallow and razor clams. I’ve been wanting to eat Turbot for years but had never come across it. Here it was surely presented in its best possible incarnation - cooked to absolute perfection and as delicious as anything I’ve ever eaten that came out of the sea. Seriously, I now understand why it is the favourite fish of many a chef.
The only red meat course was one of Anjou pigeon. It was probably the most flavoursome and nicely cooked pigeon I’d ever had. Eventually you run out of superlatives. It’s just something that’s worth reminding yourself occasionally when you’re ready to celebrate and reflect - fabulous ingredients respectfully and perfectly cooked just move you to another level of appreciation.
The desserts didn’t disappoint either, you’ll have gathered. Sharrington strawberries with buttermilk, and caramelised white chocolate with apricot. And then finally, a choice of two hand-made chocolates, with the most delicate chocolate shells and little bombs of sweet goodness contained within.
Morston Hall doesn’t make any kind of fuss or statement about sustainability. Blackiston’s most recent book ‘Hook Line and Sinker’ has a recipe using blue fin tuna, so it’s not necessarily top of his mind (although his fish and chip restaurant in Cromer does more explicitly state its commitment). Nevertheless, if you emphasise top quality locally-sourced ingredients you arrive at a default position that tends towards more sustainable combinations. In that sense, there was nothing to cast a shadow over the delight for the senses that was dinner at Morston Hall.