Travel: A stay at one of the top 20 places to eat by the sea
- Credit: Matt Finch
There really is something a bit magic about being by the sea, isn’t there?
Particularly the British sea. Granted, it’s not all turquoise waters and golden sands, but there’s the soothing freshness and salinity of the air. The sharp quality of light.
A holiday taken along Britain’s shoreline is something to be treasured. And, I tell you what, you’ll eat a darn sight better than anywhere in the Costas!
Particularly if you head to The Brudenell, whose seafood grill has just been named by The Guardian as one of the 20 best places to dine by the sea.
It’s perched quite literally a stone’s throw from the beach in Aldeburgh – one of the loveliest seaside towns in the UK.
It’s impossible not to be wooed by Aldeburgh’s charms. Find solace in her sleepy, shingled, pastel-shaded seafront, with a hotchpotch of elegant townhouses and cutesy cottages, where folk sip red wine, continental-style, from their shuttered balconies.
And find life and buzz and bustle on the endlessly busy high street, where even mid-week there’s a flurry of activity as locals and visitors mill about the town’s galleries, independent fashion, gift, food and drink stores, or make their way to one of the many fine places to eat and drink.
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Aldeburgh is a perfect destination for a mini break by the water where you want to do little else than eat, drink, sleep, shop and dip your toes in the sea. Everything you could possibly need is on the doorstep – even a cinema. Within 10 minutes’ drive there are forests to explore, rivers to navigate, golf courses, the world-class Snape Maltings concert hall.
Until the end of September The Brudenell has a natty little package on the go – which surely will lure staycationers here. They’ve teamed up with Fishers Gin to offer dinner, bed and breakfast, plus a gin tour and tasting for £350 per couple, in one of the hotel’s newly refurbished rooms.
Check-in is from mid-afternoon, with tours beginning at 2pm – what better way to kick off your holiday?
Sitting just outside the town’s conservation area, Fishers Gin distillery (next door) is uber-modern – its glass-fronted tasting room opening out to a wide sea vista, and tranquil zen garden planted with wild grass and verbena. Guide Sarah pours a G&T garnished with orange and freshly picked samphire as we wait, which (as the heatwave is just beginning to wane) couldn’t have come at a better time.
At this point I have to say...don’t go on an empty stomach. I am a lightweight (admittedly) but you are about to consume a fair bit of booze and a salad will not suffice!
Inside the tasting room, where there’s a view to the copper still (named Watson for owner Andrew’s dog), Sarah begins what’s possibly the best booze tour I’ve been on. And tremendous value too (it’s £35 per person if you’re not on the hotel deal).
We hear the history of Fishers, about the inspiration for the name and bottle design. There’s a beautifully-shot video, showcasing all the areas the brand uses along the coast to harvest its wild ingredients. And an interactive tour of the rivers Alde and Ore, with snippets of history thrown in.
We smell tiny hessian sacks filled with botanicals, used to flavour the smoked gin.
And then we head down into the belly of the operation, where head distiller Ben launches into stories about the botanical ingredients. We sniff juniper, orange peel, angelica, gorgeously perfumed vetiver and curry-scented spignel, crushing each in turn with a tiny pestle and mortar, depositing the heady mixture into teabags, before steeping in boiled water – tasting the essence of Fishers...without the booze. Even guided by Ben’s expert eye, all of our drinks are different in flavour and colour.
Sarah leads us in to take a peek at Italian-designed steampunk-style Watson, and the vintage ‘spirit safe’, revealing more about the process of gin-making. And then it’s back upstairs, for a tutored tasting (the original gin is surprisingly creamy), and not one, but two cocktails – a negroni made with the Fifty gin, and a smoked gin mule.
Well, I was certainly sozzled by the end, needing a pastry from the nearby Two Magpies Bakery to revive me! But what a fabulous experience. One not to be missed if you’re a gin lover visiting the area (just make sure you have a designated driver or a place to kip for the night).
Which brings me to The Brudenell – one of the most family and dog-friendly places to stay on the East Anglian coast.
A gently nautically-themed property with cheery staff, the aforementioned seafood restaurant and terrace, and airy lounges with plenty of boardgames to see you through wet and misty days and long, lingering nights.
Room 201, a recently retouched sea view deluxe suite) is huge, and boasts squishy carpets, a giant velvet teal bed, a chest of fancy teas and coffees, swivel TV, loads of storage space, and, most importantly, a lounge area set into a bay window.
We open one of the panes...and in wooshes a sound that’s the essence of British summertime. Gulls. Waves lashing on the beach. Children laughing.
The bathroom is a touch scuffed in places (the temperature gauge has fallen off the shower), but it’s nicely done, with a shower, bath, and Temple Spa products. I only wish they would replace the miniatures with more environmentally-friendly, fixed shampoos and conditioners.
After a bit of R&R in the cool of the room, it’s time for an early dinner – the restaurant very busy for a Wednesday evening, and staff all jolly despite it being really really warm inside.
We’re shown to a table with double aspect views, and given a menu that’s filled to the brim with seafood and ‘grills of the day’, alongside a reasonably-priced wine list, and a selection of interesting ‘drivers’ drinks’, from kombucha, to low-calorie, sweetener-free sodas from Punchy.
We kick off with a glass each of Coates & Seely NV Brut – one of my favourite bottles of English fizz. Scoring 97 with Decanter, it sparkles with crisp green apples and red berries, and a mellow undercurrent of malt. A very good partner in crime with anything from the sea.
I start with sweet, succulent scallops and griddled chorizo, with braised spring onion and squid ink polenta. It's a pretty, and tasty way to begin.
On the other side of the table is a runny-centred Scotch egg, surrounded by citrussy, herbal mackerel rillette and crunchy breadcrumbs. It sits on a sweet/spiced potato salad and my husband declares it “better than usual Scotch eggs”, which is a big complement coming from him.
He sticks to classic British fare, and a mammoth piece of flaky, super-fresh cod in a golden Adnams batter, with sweet mushy peas, chunky tartare sauce and a stack of chips. Just the kind of thing you want to eat by the water.
I am more adventurous, plumping for the grilled plaice. Tender as you like, it was billed as coming with a crab gremolata. Rather than a tumble of herbs, lemon and breadcrumbs, it's more of a gratin – the crab bound with cheese and herbs and baked over the fish. Thankfully it doesn’t overpower the plaice, which stands its ground. And it is just delicious, accompanied by slowly braised fennel and peppers, saffron spuds, a delicate shellfish butter sauce, and pops of salty samphire. Just yum.
I recommend a glass of the Sancerre with this – its smooth, rounded, bright notes of honeysuckle, lime and ripe melon going a treat alongside the fish.
To finish, for him there is a creamy, totally tropical passionfruit and white chocolate cheesecake.
I’m trying to reduce my sugar load and having consumed a fair bit of wine, opt for cheese, which comes with grapes, celery, walnuts and chutney. The offerings of a young Lincolnshire Poacher and Shropshire Blue are decent enough...but I want something a bit more local. A Binham Blue, Copy’s Cloud or Baron Bigod. Room for improvement perhaps?
We finish the night with a walk under hazy skies, just as the heavens open to wash away the 35C-plus temperatures of the past few days. And return to find staff have been in to deliver a turndown service with chocolates – a nice touch.
Sleep comes easily on the coast (it’s that magical sea air). I struggle to find slumber away from home. Not here. The bed was super comfy. And the curtains and pelmet box blocked out every fraction of light and noise. In fact, without an alarm, we’d have struggled to get up.
Drawing them back in the morning floods the room with light, and the soothing sounds of the shore.
There’s time for a smoky Pinney’s kipper, and bumper-sized eggs Benedict with coffee before we hit the road, feeling well-fed, relaxed and refreshed.
The Brudenell is genteel and friendly. It reminds me of the seaside holidays of my childhood.
Yes...I’d rather be here than sizzling it up in Spain.
Find out more and book at brudenellhotel.co.uk
For gin tour bookings go to fishersgin.com