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Fall in love with Felbrigg

Former BBC Radio Norfolk broadcaster Tony Mallion has fond memories of Felbrigg, ever since doing a live broadcast on the Estate 25 years ago. So he jumped at the chance of staying at the country retreat Felbrigg Lodge

When it comes to National Trust properties I have a soft spot for Felbrigg Hall near Cromer. In December 1994, on the eve of the trust’s centenary, I produced and presented a live mid morning outside broadcast from there. The house was in its winter hibernation but opened up for BBC Radio Norfolk and, thanks to a duo of dedicated engineers and miles of cable, it gave me free roam, including access to secret cellars and the roof with its magnificent view. Most memorable was the preview of the programme in the station’s breakfast show just after 8am, standing outside the front door with that ethereal early morning mist you get across acres of sweeping Norfolk landscape and sky. It was a stunning vista.

So imagine the pleasure to discover recently a small boutique hotel nestled at the edge of the Felbrigg Estate in the village of Aylmerton where a short walk will take you directly into the grounds near the lake. Felbrigg Lodge is a truly hidden gem tucked away in acres of trees, describing itself as ‘a unique luxury countryside hotel and restaurant’ surrounded by a number of individual purpose built brick lodges.

Friends had recommended it, and we weren’t disappointed with this secluded haven in a woodland setting, ideal for a recharging short break. Our accommodation had a large and comfy bed with a chair and sofa grouped around a fireplace, a luxury bathroom and very warm radiators. It couldn’t have been a more relaxing home from home.

Add to all of this something high on my ‘must have’ list – a swimming pool. And what a pool! One of the warmest I’ve swum in (I’m not complaining) while just outside was an even warmer Jacuzzi where on a winter’s evening you could lie back and wallow in the darkness with underwater lights and enjoy the starry sky. All you needed to do was pop on your provided bathrobe and wander across from your lodge. Bliss!

Philip Lomax and his wife DeeDee bought the Lodge 12 years ago. They both have a rich pedigree in the hospitality industry, with DeeDee from Essex and Philip a local man who trained at Norwich City College as a youngster acquiring an early ambition to run his own establishment. This he achieved with the Green Farm in Thorpe Market, developing and running it for almost 30 years before taking over Felbrigg Lodge where the couple make their intention very clear: ‘We aim to provide the highest standard of accommodation and believe we offer a different concept in hospitality in an unbeatable rural setting which offers you peace and tranquillity.’ All those boxes ticked then.

As we were there in December several of the other guests were from further afield and using Felbrigg as a base to explore Norfolk and enjoy the Thursford Spectacular; some regular returners.  Fully inclusive packages are offered or you can be optional about having dinner there (with a choice of two or three courses), or you are welcome to explore other nearby establishments. We were keen to sample the restaurant where we were greeted with drinks and aperitifs in the bar before sitting down to a starter of deep fried chestnut mushrooms with cheese and herb pâté and apple chutney for me (the chutney was superb) and poached white wine pear with a light tarragon cream dressing with flavours enjoyed by my wife. The accompanying homemade bread had a perfect crust.

Then came a really unusual, refreshing surprise, with a palate cleanser sorbet consisting of banana, blueberry, blackberry and beetroot. If ever a dish lived up to the posher title of amuse-bouche this one most certainly did so.  For our mains my wife favoured slowly roasted pork belly with apple sauce and maple drizzle which she felt was tasty but perhaps, for some a bit too sweet, while my duo of lamb rump and cutlet with redcurrant and mint gravy hit all the right notes with crisp vegetables, the meat perfectly cooked and the right amount of mint.

The puddings looked tempting but after so much else we resisted and settled happily for the two course option; the coffee rounded it all off nicely. Not being drinkers we were satisfied with Norfolk Cordials but there was an obviously well stocked cellar with a clearly explained wine list.  

The restaurant was pretty busy for an early weekday evening but my wife remarked on the attentive staff and the way nothing seemed too much trouble. Breakfast the next morning included delicious, locally sourced thick bacon and perfect scrambled egg, individually served rather than the more usual buffet.

I welcomed the unpretentious style of this place. Philip says in the brochure: ‘We are not claiming to be two or three Rosettes. What we offer is good home cooked food with local meat, fresh fish and vegetables and homemade desserts with care and a lot of love.’ You can’t say fairer than that.

After dinner we headed back across the lawn to our welcoming room where we switched on the TV and caught part of MasterChef Professionals with Gregg Wallace praising the group of finalists commenting: ‘This just shows what incredible talent there is in our kitchens’. At that moment he could have just as easily been talking about Felbrigg Lodge.

Published in Feast, issue 35.

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