As you might expect for a foodie like me, a birthday dinner is often a very celebratory occasion, and it gives me the opportunity to treat myself to a lovely dinner, although it doesn’t have to break the budget. Last year I went to Marcus at the Berkeley … the year before that was Joe Allens in Covent Garden, and the year before that Mishkins in Soho.
This year, Andrew and I were debating where to go when we saw Galton Blackiston on Saturday Kitchen. We’d been fans of Galton’s food since we’d first seen him on Great British Menu (one of my favourite shows – when’s it going to be on again?!) – he doesn’t go for fussy, rich, French style cooking, but instead favours fresh local flavours of Norfolk, letting the quality of the ingredients speak for itself.
A quick Google and we found his restaurant Morston Hall in north Norfolk also had rooms, and offered a tasting menu dinner, double suite and breakfast the following morning for a very fair price. After an email exchange with the restaurant I booked us in for 14-15 June to celebrate my 39th birthday.
The 14th started gloomily and so we didn’t rush to Norfolk – and in fact by the time we arrived, the wind was blowing a gale and the rain had started (yep, mid-June!). So after a warm welcome from the reception staff we settled ourselves into our room, ventured out for a quick drive and headed back to Morston Hall again pretty sharpish, and took our time getting ready for dinner in our cosy room.
Morston Hall only offers one sitting for dinner at 8pm, and asks guests to arrive at 7.30pm for pre-dinner drinks. We made ourselves comfortable in the lounge with a glass of champagne each, and enjoyed for the first time some large caper berries which were served. I’d only ever come across capers in jars which are about the size of large peppercorns, but these were like olives: still salty but juicy and moreish. I definitely want to get some to serve at home.
Then we were served some canapes: cheese gougieres which were also filled with creamy cheese, and lamb sausage rolls with a thin crust of delicate puff pastry.
Moving into the dining room, we were confronted with a wide selection of cutlery and glasses (we’d decided to have a tasting menu with wine so we’d have a glass to match each course). As you can see in the photo below, I am very excited by this. I became even more excited when I asked about an unfamiliar spoon on my bread plate. A butter spoon?! Nope, a ‘jus spoon’ to mop up gravy! Again, I want these for home.
Our amuse bouche was a gorgeous velvety pea soup with shredded ham at the bottom of the bowl. It was drizzled with mint oil and decorated with pea shoots. I didn’t know it at the time, but waiting for me at home was my KitchenAid magnetic blender – a gift from Andrew for my birthday – which would be perfect to help me to recreate this dish.
Next was 55 day aged belly pork with an apple and yeast puree and mead jus (which I used my trusty jus spoon to ensure I didn’t miss any). I’d never heard of aged pork but this little portion was rich and sticky, with a crust of crackling to provide some crunch.
Then we had a rabbit dish: loin and confit, served with carrots and a spoon of melting camembert which sounds strange but went amazingly well with the delicate rabbit and sweet carrot. The white carrot across the middle of the plate doesn’t look particularly attractive but don’t be fooled: the flavours were spectacular.
Then a pan roasted hand dived scallop with sea vegetables and herbs, which the chef explained were harvested from the nearby shore just a few hours before. The scallop was huge (I think restaurants often try and short change you with scallops by slicing them in half or even thirds – naming no names Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa – but this one was whole in all its glory), and caramelised so that the outside was sweet and crispy, and the inside was soft and transluscent. Possibly the stand-out dish for us both.
But there was plenty more goodness to come: next up was our main course of barbecued veal: gorgeously tender slices cooked pink, with a sticky barbecued chunk which had a delicious crust. Andrew’s came with mushrooms, mine with turnips. Both were served with kale and garlic mash, chicory jam and madeira jus. Sublime.
By this point we were more than ready for a break, and so asked the waiter to give us some time to let the lovely food settle before we moved on to pudding. Andrew chose cheese for his dessert as he’s not got a particularly sweet tooth, while I picked the rosemary panna cotta with peaches (poached, sorbet and puree). But before that came our pre-dessert of raspberry jelly with elderflower foam and meringue. Andrew hates meringue so lucky me, I got to have his too!
Andrew’s cheese was beautifully presented, and included Lincolnshire Poacher, Lancaster Blue, Ragstone, Blacksticks Blue and Baron Bigod. Homemade crackers, treacle bread and chutney were served with the cheese, and I couldn’t resist sampling the cheeses … Andrew was very full by this stage so he allowed me to help him out. The cracker was especially delicious: buttery and crumbly and moreish (even though I was very full myself).
The peach parts of my dessert were lovely, but I wasn’t overly fond of the rosemary panna cotta: it was certainly well made and the flavours were not overpowering, but it wasn’t really to my taste (although somehow I did manage to eat the whole thing).
Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more, some delicious petite fours were served with our tea, and guess what? I did manage to find room for a couple (it’s amazing what you can achieve when confronted by delicious food).
Then, absolutely stuffed and ready to roll into our bed, another plate appeared: this time a small piece of chocolate cake covered with pistachios and piped with a ‘Happy Birthday’ message. Would it surprise you to hear that I managed to eat that too?
Thank the lord of greedy that we were sleeping just a stone’s throw away in our lovely garden suite: if we’d had to make our way home I think I would have started to cry. We got back to the room and lay quietly to let our poor tummies digest the magnificent feast.
Although at the time I could not contemplate the idea of more food, our room price included breakfast the next day, and so we were up again the next morning ready for more goodies! I had a lovely fresh fruit salad to start, along with a complimentary bucks fizz to celebrate my birthday, and just when I was thinking how lovely it was that the staff had made such an effort to help me celebrate, who should come out to wish me a Happy Birthday but Galton himself. That was a lovely surprise and I was particularly delighted that he ignored the rest of the guests – it made me feel very special and was a lovely end to a great stay.
Well, almost the end of a great stay. Did I mention the full cooked breakfast?
Thanks Morston Hall for making my birthday so special. Yes, it’s not a cheap way to celebrate, but I wholeheartedly recommend Morston Hall for food and accommodation, and I have no doubt I’ll go back there again for some more.