This hotel review of Tuddenham Mill in Suffolk is taken from our guidebook, Mr & Mrs Smith: Hotel Collection – UK/Ireland Volume 2.
We’re late leaving the city. Usually it’s a flat battery or an evasive passport. This time, concerned that we might be heading for the coast, Mrs Smith has a bikini wax. I remind her we’re off to Suffolk, not Copacabana. We hurtle down the M11 with all the Stansted traffic. The delight is that we’re at our destination in 30 minutes, rather than the 30 hours it’ll take the rest of them. From a turn?off just after Newmarket, we wend our way along winding country lanes to the village of Tuddenham. There’s not another car in sight and relying only on moonlight, we wonder if we’ve missed a signpost. Then we spot the Mill’s chimney standing to attention.
There’s been a mill here for close on 1,000 years, but this 18th-century abode is thoroughly modern. About as close to Manhattan as you’ll get in Suffolk, it’s akin to a downtown NY hotel – set in 12 acres of gorgeous Brecks-borders land. The reception, with its generous glass double doors, welcomes you into a large lobby with cool greys and flagstone floors. Catching our eyes in the corner is a blazing fire; the ambience is relaxed and inviting and we are entirely ready to collapse onto the clean-lined furniture. This is a proper, manly building. Nothing fluffy in sight (although we have yet to see the emperor-sized beds).
The current property, created by Collins Millwrights of Melton, dates from 1775 and its brickwork possesses the warmth of Cotswold stone with hues of soft pink running through. Aged oak beams float stylishly above minimalist interiors on every floor. Outside, we spy a lone swan gracing the millpond. A member of staff informs us that he lost a wing in a scrap with a fox (although this hasn’t prevented him hooking up with his own Mrs Swan). When we catch sight of him later, the rosy light that tints the encircling trees has also transformed him, so he appears like a ghostly ballerina.
We’re sleeping in the upper eaves of the mill, and it turns out to be a huge, double-height, beamed barn of a bedroom, resplendent in sleek, Italian-designed minimalism. The iron brace holding up the ceiling is also perfect for those inclined towards pull-ups, dispensing with any need for a gym. Mind you, it’s clearly all about relaxation here and a complimentary bottle of Fleurie helps us settle onto the six-foot bed. We can’t help but wonder what the mill-workers that used to toil their lives away here would make of our lazy-lubber weekend.
Knowing that this hotel revolves around its restaurant, and wizard Scots chef Gordon McNeill, we’re thrilled it’s time for dinner. Besides, it’s a car journey to the nearest eatery, and after seeing that most of the other diners aren’t even guests, we’re keen to find out what the fuss is about. Centre stage, behind the bar, is the original waterwheel; it becomes a real showpiece by night when its full glory is illuminated by pulsating up-lights. Even patrons who take a table upstairs can peer down, through a glass floor-panel, at the mighty and beautiful machinery – lovingly restored, yet still resolutely functional.
The kitchen team doesn't disappoint, delivering inventive, courageous, witty and hearty fare – not suited to the squeamish, though: Gordon’s signature dish, ‘A Taste of the Highlands’, features haggis spring roll and shin of beef stovi. It far surpasses the modest ‘Taste’ of its title. Opposite me, a seafood salad is being devoured – Cromer crab, crayfish tails, king scallops, peeled prawns – a reminder that we’re not far from fleets of fishing vessels. The wine list is not only excellent, but also reasonably priced, with carefully chosen producers showing off their gems. Even the glassware is fabulous; bulbous bowls that fill your palm, perfect for each slug of shiraz. Clearly, Tuddenham Mill is a place that’s perfectly suited to foodies who like proper portions and are happy to hole themselves up in this culinary fantasyland.
The following morning, we discover another feather in Tuddenham’s cap is that there’s no chance of bed-head. Why? Goosedown duvet and pillows mean we arise crinkle-free and refreshed. Greeted by duck?quacks, we peek out after our 10-hour slumbers. A huge egg-shaped bath (hatched in South Africa) sits next to the bed, with views over the pond. The Starck-fitted ensuite couldn’t be more designer-savvy, stocked with Jo Malone pampering materials and Missoni dressing gowns.
Just when you thought we’d been spoiled enough, we discover that breakfast is the biggest treat. Mrs Smith and I think it the best we’ve ever had. The ‘Kickstart’ smoothie has more oomph than a Suzuki GSXR. Just as well, since I was going to need every morsel of energy it provided to get me through the enormously portioned ‘Full Mill’.
Tuddenham is nestled neatly between two of the country’s most historic towns: Cambridge and Bury St Edmunds. The toss of a coin took us east to the cathedral town of Bury but rather than view its architectural treasures, we headed straight for the world’s smallest pub – the Nutshell. It was full to the rafters, although not with the expected hordes of tartan-togged American tourists jostling for a photo opportunity, but three local patrons. Despite the dimensions of this shoebox-sized inn we get seating sufficient to enjoy a swift half of ale and an eavesdrop – gleaning tips on how to sleep surreptitiously on a factory production line.
Back at the mill, Sunday lunch trippers are flowing in to relax in the swish interiors and revel in the delights from north of the border. It’s a venue that smacks of ‘special occasion’, a step above your gastropub or country-house hotel. The staff are young, friendly, professional and yet suitably unfussy. Everyone, from the owners down, seems genuinely happy working here, creating a jovial vibe that seeps into every corner. As for guests going home contented, that’s a given – particularly as you can parcel up some of that Tuddenham magic, to go. Keep the culinary dream alive and buy Gordon’s jams, chutneys, relishes in the lobby. Then, to go with the lime-basil-and-mandarin-scented toiletries squirreled away in your suitcase, give your ablutions back home a designer boost: pop a stripy Missoni robe on your room-service bill. This is a hotel that exemplifies those golden hospitality ingredients – quality and attention to detail. So, when it comes to giving satisfaction to sophisticated sensibilities, a run-of-the-mill chic countryside retreat, this is not.