Squirrelled away amid the deep green lanes of Suffolk is Retreat East, a 16th-century brick farmhouse and barns all beautifully converted to rooms by place maker Dominic Richards in 2017. The soul of this hideaway is found in the restaurant, the Great Barn, a beamed replica of a tithe barn, flooded with light, and cosy with sofas in front of a log fire. In midsummer 2022, a new chef arrived. Adam Spicer, schooled in sustainability, has shaken up the kitchen garden, produce sourcing, food waste recycling, and, of course, the menu. Spicer, previously of the Tack Room in Newmarket, and All Saints in Bury where he was awarded two rosettes by the AA guide, became a finalist on MasterChef: The Professionals in 2019 when 6,000 aspiring chefs applied.
Discarded pea pods infuse a Retreat East gin, beetroot skin is crushed and powdered to make gnocchi, and beetroot leaves and stems are pickled to accompany a venison dish. Spicer’s focus is on dishes rooted in local produce. Pork arrives by way of famed Suffolk Dingley Dell, and beef from Lincoln Reds which chew the cud on water meadows at Yarn Hill Farm near Woodbridge.
A humid summer’s evening demands a cool drink. A crushed-ice elderflower-flecked daiquiri with lemon verbena and Havana Club white rum arrived swiftly. Several more, to keep up with Hemingway’s habit, would have been very welcome. Little piles of peas, topped with blue borage, climb a tiny tartlet scattered with truffle shavings adding a umami depth-charge to this dinky dish, a pre-starter snack. Soft sweet figs, from the tree outside the Great Barn, sit in a dark shallow pool of red wine, balsamic vinegar, and pomegranate molasses alongside heritage tomatoes, pickled half-mooned grapes, and candied walnuts which recall popcorn days on a pier. This starter is an absolute winner. It’s followed by delicate Suffolk white bass, with a lightly crisped skin, served in a small jungly lake of warm tartare sauce with salmon caviar and a side of Pommes Anna ‘chips, a flipbook of mandolin-sliced potato dusted in samphire powder. The brie-like Baron Bigod, a clear-your-schedule-for cheese, courtesy of the contented Montbeliarde cows at Fen Farm Dairy in Beccles, is joined by a warm figgy brown butter tart layered with truffle honey. I couldn’t resist a portion of sea buckthorn sorbet, a quenelle of tangerine colour that tasted salty, tart, of coastal breeze. I Google where to buy the orange berry.
It’s handy all 28 Retreat East rooms are nearby. I stay in the Piggery, its ancient timbers exposed, now encased in new wood and beams. Pale pamment floors lead through to the bedroom with its salmon-pink and grey curtained bed plumped with cushions of candy pink and lemon yellow. Deep sofas face a log burner, and there’s a mini kitchen, too. On the travel trunk-turned-coffee table is a hamper of goodies from local producers – Pump Street Chocolate, Fairfields Farm Crisps and Maynard House apple juice. Those will definitely have to wait. Then with breakfast served outside on the vine-draped terracing, and a spa for treats, plus a new tasting menu, and foraging workshops in the plans, those two hours on the journey from London won’t pass quick enough. Claire Boobbyer
Address: Brick Kiln Farm, Sandy Lane, Hemingstone, Suffolk, IP6 9QE
Price: Double rooms start from £130