Travel: Stay in the best small hotel in East Anglia
- Credit: MagnusPR/Joe Lynton
There’s an unusual greeting when you pull into the car park of The Hog Hotel in Pakefield.
Dave the hedgehog.
He’s not the real deal, of course, that would be weird. No, this Dave has been lovingly designed and carved for the hotel, and forms a central part of the boutique destination’s branding. A cute, cheeky touch that lets you know this place isn’t all starched shirts and Sunday best.
Owners Nathan and Sally Jones, who were delighted recently to win the Small Hotel of the Year category at the East of England Tourism Awards, want you to feel completely at home, relaxed and looked after.
Which is exactly what we found during our stay, from start to finish.
After saying hi to Dave, we were greeted by the (human) staff on reception, a soothing grey/pastel colour scheme, and jazz drifting along the lobby into the bar.
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Following the elegant stairway upwards, our feet sinking into the plush, squishy carpet (everything in the three-year-old hotel still looked and felt new) we found...the wrong room.
“She said number seven,” Mr J insisted, plonking our bags down on the bed, beside a travel cot – something we haven’t needed for at least 10 years.
“No, I’m sure she said 17,” I countered.
“There isn’t a number 17,” came the hot and flustered reply. He was, obviously, wrong. If you happen to stay in room 17, it’s along the top corridor and through a door at the end, positioned overlooking the gardens, and gaining most of the day’s sunshine.
A jolly nice room it is too. All Scandi country style, botanical prints and clean lines.
Everything has been thought of. Blinds under the curtains to block out the light. A Krupps coffee machine, with fresh milk and complimentary bottled water in the fridge, a huge TV, plenty of storage space, a nest of a bed, covered in high quality pillows and throws, and a robe each. Dave had made another appearance in the room too – this time in biscuit form.
In the contemporary/traditional bathroom, a rainforest shower is fixed over the bath – complete with locally-made toiletries (large sized rather than wasteful disposables), and even an over-the-bath ‘shelf’ on which to perch your book and a drink while you take a soak. Perfect.
I thought the welcome guide was really well put together. A handy A to Z to the hotel, detailing all the little touches staff offer to make your stay the best it can be – from organising a homemade picnic, to booking a horse ride or beach hut.
Having devoured our Dave cookies, and worked out how to use the coffee machine, we were fuelled for a walk on the beach...just five minutes around the corner.
Flanked by sand dunes, Pakefield Beach is dog-friendly year-round (the hotel has a few outside rooms suitable for pooches). Walk right, and stroll to the capacious beaches of Kessingland. Or, go left, heading up to Lowestoft – as we did, joined by dog walkers and lots of horse riders.
It’s a peaceful stretch, with a pathway linking all the way to the seaside town. There was a pit stop at The Jolly Sailors for a pint and charcuterie platter, before we went on to Lowestoft itself, where there’s plenty to see and do.
Take a walk in Kensington Gardens, roller skate at Claremont Pier, book a show at the Marina Theatre, tuck into fish and chips before making a sandcastle on the beach. I also highly recommend lunch at award-winning Jojos. The waffles with chicken are incredible.
There’s a lot to commend Lowestoft, with a whole bunch of creatives backing plans to regenerate the town (which Banksy anointed with three of his Spraycation pieces last year) further. First Light, the organisation behind the incredible free First Light festival (June 18-19), for example, has plans to convert a pavilion along the seafront into a music and street food venue. Watch this space.
A ‘hidden’ part of Lowestoft you might not have heard of is Kirkley Village, signposted a few minutes from Claremont Pier. It is not, as my husband thought, a retirement home! Rather a clutch of interesting independent businesses, from cafes and gift shops, to antiques and fashion stores. Well worth a look.
Back over at the hotel, and there was time for a drink in the stylish (and well stocked) bar, before dinner in the restaurant – surely one of the loveliest in the area, with more of those subtle shades of grey and painted ceiling mouldings.
The menu, created by executive chef Terry Balme, is droolworthy, changing with the seasons, putting a global twist on local ingredients.
This foodie found it too hard to choose from – did I want the duck tortellini, or the crispy belly of spring lamb? The pairing of squid, or slow-cooked Dingley Dell pork? Stumped, I asked chef to send over his favourite dishes.
While we waited there were a couple of well-made cocktails. A citrussy bright Cosmo for me, and an edgy, slightly bitter Manhattan for him. We were also served up bread from nearby Penny Bun Bakehouse – which has a pop-up at The Box in Southwold every Saturday.
Next, chef sent out a velvety smoked haddock chowder, spiked with crisp-edged chorizo and shreds of fish and potato. Just divine. I did manage to refrain from licking the cup!
To go with our starter, brilliant, super-friendly manager John (who likes fishing and football according to that A to Z) poured a glass of Croatian Riesling – honied on the nose, and extremely quaffable, being off-dry with hints of honey and lime flower.
To eat....wibbly soft, caramelised scallops, sweet and melting, with the most tender Dingley Dell pork belly, its fat rendered golden and crumbling, pork puffs, rhubarb puree, and slivers of radish. Pause for applause to the kitchen. There was almost a When Harry Met Sally reaction to this plate of food...and to what followed.
Terry had elevated what I think is the most boring, flavourless cut of beef – the fillet – to new heights. Charred and seasoned on the outside, almost with a crust, the beef was buttery within, and complemented by wild mushrooms, carrot puree, pommes Anna layered with thyme, and a slick, savoury jus.
John’s choice of Chianti to go with, bringing chocolate, smoke and plum, was a good one.
Our pre-dessert (rhubarb sorbet with basil cress) was too sweet for me, it needed a touch less sugar.
I did, though, obliterate the gluten-free chocolate nemesis. A dense, fudgy, devilish concoction, with tangy orange sorbet, and a caramel sauce to die for.
What a meal! Hats off to the kitchen, and serving staff.
There was time for a nightcap in the bar (both this and the restaurant are open to non-residents) before retiring to bed....for reruns of The Chase, late night movies, and slumber.
Breakfast the next day was taken in the airy, sunshine-infused conservatory room off the bar. All the usual buffet suspects were there – juice, cereals, fruit, bread to make your own toast, jams and spreads, warm pastries.
And the hot breakfast menu had some interesting options – including Middle Eastern shakshuka.
We kept it traditional, choosing a nicely cooked full English, and for the stinky fish lover of the household (me) a grilled Lowestoft kipper. Removing the bones from a smoked herring is surely one of the best ways to ignite grey matter in the morning? I had thought the addition of treacle butter toast on the side odd...until I remembered up North they often serve kippers with a side of bread slathered with strawberry jam, to take away the aftertaste. A thoughtful addition – and one that meant Mr J wasn’t repulsed by me in the car on the way home!
We left The Hog Hotel well rested, and very well fed. Terry’s food is, I think, some of the best you’ll get for miles and miles around.
A slice of foodie paradise on England’s sunshine coast.