A Lasting Love Affair
Ok, I know it can’t seem possible but it’s true. I was a young trainee reporter (or possibly a newly qualified one) based in Swaffham back in 1990 when Les and Vanessa Scott opened their rather glamorous hotel, Strattons, in the heart of the town. I loved it and them, as they were a bit quirky, full of passion and great fun. Fast forward to 2017 and everything but nothing has really changed!
Strattons has gone from strength to strength and is now generally regarded as one of the leading boutique hotels in the region. Les and Vanessa remain as hardworking as ever and are joined by their daughter, Hannah, and her husband, Dominic, to keep it very much a family affair. And me? Well, I have some grey hairs, two children and a husband, but I’m still writing away about terrific places in Norfolk like Strattons.
I have returned over the years and seen more bedrooms added on, the garden mature into something very beautiful and a café and deli open. Julia (Jules) Hetherton is now executive head chef and Daniel Freear is the head chef. But the ethos of the place is constant - to serve seasonal, locally produced food, have a strong green philosophy and plenty of fun along the way.
My husband and I stayed overnight, with Bella the border collie, this summer and loved this calm oasis, as Strattons is tucked away up a little alleyway, away from the main thrust of the town. It is an immediately attractive building, built as a Palladian-style villa in the 18th century, with large windows and double exterior staircases. And inside has what is generally regarded as a wow factor. Les and Vanessa met at art college and boy does it show. The interiors are opulent, with a bold use of colour, dramatic murals, wacky sculptures and oversized mirrors. Look out for chandeliers and chaises longues, big fireplaces, dramatic wallpapers and endless little touches that give the place a real sense of individuality.
There are 14 bedrooms in all, with the majority in the main house. Four are set in the grounds, including Print Room One, where we were based and which also operates as a self catering option, with a kitchen area, large lounge, huge bathroom and bedroom. It is also dog friendly and has a lovely enclosed terrace where you can soak up your historic surroundings. Interestingly, it has its own cinema screen so you can relax after a day’s exploring to enjoy a movie or two in some splendour.
We arrived in time for lunch in the new CoCoes, created out of an existing barn with some additions. It is a lovely spot, with both indoor and outdoor seating and a fresh, light menu. Think salads, tarts, fishcakes - and of course, a wide selection of cakes which are Jules’s trademark.
I enjoyed beetroot, mackerel and horseradish on sourdough while himself had a classic cheese and chutney sarnie which set us up well for a walk on the Nar Valley Way in nearby Narborough, walking alongside the crystal clear river for about four miles, trying and failing to tire Bella out.
Prior to our evening meal, we sat a while in the Med inspired garden, admiring the lush planting and sipping Prosecco, before heading inside to The Rustic, the hotel’s main restaurant.
Set in the basement, with more pretty mirrors and subtle lighting, a fine dining tone is set with crisp white linen and a great wine list which I know Les has put a lot of effort into. The menu has about six choices per course and does reflect what is available on the doorstep. Indeed, vegetables, salad leaves and herbs come from the garden, eggs are from Vanessa’s own hens, meat is from Impson’s in the town, Cole’s of King’s Lynn supply fish, and apple juice is from nearby Ashill.
I started with Cromer crab, with a light basil mayo, and a smattering of heritage tomatoes which I loved. Himself had the super fresh carrot soup which disappeared quick. Next I had a charming chicken dish, gently pan fried with broad beans, shallots, smoked bacon, baby gem and granola. It was a triumph and very moreish! My husband had a pea and watercress risotto, with local cheese and lemon which was basically summer on a plate.
He only managed a scoop of ice cream for pud but I had the banana and blackberry pudding with a caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream, which was again somehow both decadent yet light. The food has always been a highlight of Strattons; Vanessa was championing local produce long before it became fashionable and her chefs are continuing to offer imaginative dishes where the quality of the ingredients is allowed to speak for itself.
After a great night’s slumber, breakfast is back at CoCoes with lots of choice, from vegeree to tomatoes on toast, although we both went for the full vegetarian with spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and the freshest fried eggs imaginable. Then we headed to Castle Acre, with its 15th century castle ruins and priory - and more glorious walking as the sun was shining kindly on us.
This is a wonderful part of Norfolk: unspoilt with masses of history to uncover and yet about half an hour in the car to both Norwich and the North Norfolk coast. Make time for Oxburgh Hall, a National Trust property in nearby Oxborough, too.
Afternoon tea is a real hit here and look out for a shop opening on site soon. Plus Christmas events are taking shape - watch this space.
Copyright © 2015 Feast Norfolk Magazine