04 November 2014
My wife had been wanting to visit this restaurant for years, as much on the basis of the public face of the patron as anything, so it would have been almost impossible not to make an excursion to the North Norfolk coast when we were more or less in the area. We were suitably impressed with our room in the modern annex, which would be considered sizeable enough and comfortable enough to be a luxury bedsit, and we are not in principle against a set menu for the evening, but we had reservations in advance about everyone being obliged to eat at the same time, refectory style. However, in the end, Morston Hall's ratings and the head chef's reputation persuaded us to partake (although Galton Blakiston was not actually in the kitchen that evening). The conservatory dining room was pleasant enough with a good amount of space between the tables, and the day's menu looked promising, the wine list had a good Condrieu to match the food, so we settled down in expectation of an experience to remember. And so it proved. The venison tartare with a chocolate sauce and the cornflour goujons wih Lincolnshire poacher cheese were fine canapés, and these were followed by an amuse-bouche of very discreetly- smoked haddock mousse, which was more foam than mousse, and shallot rings, the whole dish underseasoned and served cold. Then came a tiny portion of very good middle white pork supported by dried pork skin puff, a dash of fresh truffle mousse, a few compressed apple cubes and some grain mustard. The next course consisted of some good brown shrimps with what was supposed to be the main element, namely a buttermilk mousse (yet more mousse!) and whey jelly cubes that added nothing to the dish. We thought this was pretty much underwhelming, but the braised turnip dish which followed, comprising two mini-turnips with some chive oil, a tiny deep-fried half-potato skin, some raw turnip rounds and a touch of lemon purée, was even less convincing and frankly less than we thought we had a right to expect given what we were paying for this tasting menu. It could all have been redeemed by the locally-caught wild sea bass which was served on top of some spinach and with deep-fried parsley and what passed for bubble and squeak, but the ungenerous portion of fish was seriously underseasoned and we had to resort the salt cellar thoughtfully, and necessarily, provided on the table. A pre-dessert of chocolate mousse, which again was more foam than mousse, with some rather passé popping candy and just about detectable mint oil brought us to the dessert proper, a warm banana soufflé with a butterscotch pouring sauce, which in my wife's case was mostly lost onto the plate through a gap in the crust on the soufflé, and a fairly neutral milk sorbet which did little to counter the over-strong banana flavour. Jelly, marshmallow and chocolate petits fours closed out this disappointing effort which we hoped to be able to discuss with the head chef but were unable to as he had disappeared immediately after service ended, apparently too stressed-out to speak to the diners. Given that so much of so many of the dishes must have been pre-prepped to leave the actual cooking at a minimum, this came as something of a surprise and disappointment. Small portions of mainly inexpensive ingredients seemed to be the order of the day, and it would be interesting to see a breakdown of the costs against the menu charge. We certainly did not consider this meal to be value for money.