origin story behind The Suffolk, a new restaurant with rooms sat
beneath the watercolour skies of the county it shares its name
with, is a classic cliché. (No judgement here; we stan a love
story). When restaurateur George Pell (the former managing director
– and now partner – of Soho’s L’Escargot) arrived in the sleepy
seaside town of Aldeburgh to direct a pop-up project, he wasn’t
expecting to fall head over heels. Ergo, he did, wooed by wide
skies, shingle beaches and the tiptop local produce.
“When the freehold became available for the building, I thought
it was too good an opportunity to pass up,” he says. “I was excited
at the chance to bring a sense of life and purpose back to this
great spot and make it, once again, the heartbeat of
George Pell, left, and Aldeburgh’s shingle beach. | Photo
credit: Rebecca Dickson
Take a slow stroll through Aldeburgh and it’s easy to understand
the appeal. Blustery beaches, pastel-hued terraces, independent
stores and artisan bakeries put the destination in contention with
the likes of Hastings, Frome and Southwold for the UK’s most
picturesque place. Pell’s new restaurant, housed within the storied
walls of a 17th-century inn, The Suffolk, opened in August. The
60-cover Sur-Mer is already welcoming dinners, with six softly hued
rooms open for bookings by September’s end. The menu from head chef
James Jay is a tribute to a Blighty beach barbecue (if your pit
set-up is more “G7 leaders frolicking al fresco” than “foil barbie
in the dunes”). Of a hefty spread of dishes, Pell picks the
signature shellfish bisque as his favourite, followed closely by a
samphire butter-doused monkfish tail cooked over hot coals. Where
possible, produce is sourced from the area, including dairy from an
acclaimed Fenland cheesemaker and oysters hatched down the
Likewise, much of the furniture and curios set to fill the six
rooms was found in antique stores across town. It’s a pretty parcel
of a seaside escape just under three hours from London by car – and
the focus is squarely on feeding guests well, both in and beyond
the doors of The Suffolk.
We sat down with George to hear about Aldeburgh’s best eateries,
markets and gourmet delights, from beachside fry-up breakfasts to
five o’clock G&Ts.
Where to scoff seafood in Aldeburgh according to The Suffolk’s
Sur-Mer, left, and a native lobster dish from the menu. |
Photo credit: Rebecca Dickson
What’s Aldeburgh’s vibe?
Aldeburgh is steeped in history. It’s a fishing and
boat-building town first, but Benjamin Britten, the great composer,
was also born here, which has led to it becoming a home-from-home
for creatives. It’s a place for people to come and escape; there’s
a laid-back approach to life here.
When’s the best time to visit?
There’s something different going on at every time of the year.
In winter you see unbelievable sunsets over the marshes and it’s
all blustery and very romantic. Summer is joyous – especially if
you do late-evening walks along the beach.
We’re staying at The Suffolk – which room is your
Rooms aren’t quite ready yet – they’ll be opening in
late-September – but Orford Ness, named after the area of shingle
spit just south of Aldeburgh, is the one I’m most looking forward
to seeing come to life. You’ll get a glorious sea view from the
Bunting above Aldeburgh’s high-street. | Photo credit:
That’s our autumn break booked. Where should we head for
Café, near the garden centre at the top of the town, is a great
spot for a full English. Many a hangover has been busted there. The
local sausage is unbeatable.
What about a low-key lunch?
Aldeburgh Market is a great little
deli-come-restaurant if you want to lunch like a local. A dressed
crab or kedgeree always goes down a treat, and it’s right on the
high street, so perfect for a stroll along the beach
Best bites for dinner if Sur-Mer is all booked up?
The Lighthouse serves home-cooked, simple fare and has
a lovely neighbourhood vibe. I’m partial to their salt and pepper
squid. For something a little more spicy, there’s Sea Spice – an
Indian where all the food has bags of flavour. Such a friendly
front-of-house team there, too.
When we’re seeking seafood?
You’ve got the shacks along the beach in Aldeburgh that serve
smoked fish – perfect for a box of prawns by the sea. There’s also
Butley Oysterage in Orford, run by Bill Pinney, who
has some of the best smoked products I’ve come across. He and his
family have been running the place for decades. It’s all so simple
and delicious. On a cold day I often pop there to devour a fish
pie. The oysters are from their oyster beds just up the road (we
now serve them at Sur-Mer) and the Dover sole is a triumph of
Achari Bhuna king prawns, left, and the dining rom at Sea
Any other food-focused spots to make time for?
Most of the Sur-Mer menu is sourced from local growers and
producers – where can we get our mitts on some to take home?
One of my favourite dishes is our cheese course – whipped Baron
Bigod with game chips and shallots. Baron Bigod is a brie-style
English cheese from Fen Farm Dairy, local to Suffolk, and it’s marvellous.
Decent cheesemongers all over the country stock it and I would
recommend getting your hands on some.
Time for an evening drink – where shall we meet you?
Step back in time just a little and visit the garden terrace at
Wentworth Hotel – the place is like a time machine, in a good
way. It’s great for a gin and tonic.
Snape Maltings’ concert hall, left, and crullers from Pinch.
| Photo credit: Philip Vile
Any cultural experiences we should be checking out?
Snape Maltings has a world-renowned concert
hall and an amazing antiques centre with shops and cafés. You’ve
got to spend an afternoon moseying around there taking it all in.
It’s also home to the Aldeburgh
Food & Drink Festival, which takes place on 24-25 September
– that’s a real foodie treat.
We’ve heard exciting things about the bedroom interiors at The
Suffolk – anywhere we can pick up similar pieces?
Antiques Centre and Gardens is a local treasure trove – it’s
where we got lots of bits and bobs for the bedrooms at The Suffolk.
It’s filled with over 70 independent dealers, selling everything
from old books and side tables to grand period furniture.
Anything a drive away that’s worth a visit?
Drive to Tunstall Forest (about 20 minutes by car), which has
beautiful scenery to explore. You’ll see birds galore around these
parts, like nightjars and woodlarks. The air just smells so clean
Head to Woodbridge to explore the rambling cobbled streets and
lovely little boutiques. Be sure to visit New Street
Market, too. It’s housed in an absolutely stunning building,
run by the lovely Sam. She brings together the coolest stuff in
fashion and homewares under one roof.
A book to read while we’re in town?
Benjamin Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century by Paul
Kildea. It’s a fascinating read about the Aldeburgh-born composer,
conductor and pianist.
Something to bring back as a souvenir?
Main photo credit: David Calvert / Shutterstock.com