May 27, 2010
If the people who documented Tuddenham Mill in the Doomsday book of 1086 could see it now, we think they’d approve. Straddling a fast-flowing stream and backing onto open Suffolk countryside, the present 18th century structure has evolved from a working mill complete with water wheel and grindstones to a state-of-the-art luxury boutique hotel, which takes its role as custodian of the building’s architectural integrity very seriously.
Outside, it’s idyllic. Herons, otters, Canada geese and tiny darting moorhens all jostle for space along the banks of the stream, well-trodden paths snake off into the forest, and water meadows stretch back to the skyline – but don’t be entirely fooled. Located 20 miles east of Cambridge in the small Suffolk village of Tuddenham St. Mary, the hotel is a rural retreat for those who like to bring along a tiny slice of the city when they get away from it all. Once through the doors, you could be in Manhattan (though the original exposed beams give it away).
Inside it’s all gleaming, urban style and beaming smiles from the attentive but inconspicuous staff members. A low-key reception area leads to the intimate lounge, where a rather unique feature dominates the bar – the mill’s original water wheel, encased in glass and brightly illuminated by lights which move slowly through the entire colour spectrum. Upstairs, the hotel’s stylish restaurant overlooks the millpond and the large decked terrace below.
Cosy Minimalism We stayed in one of the four well-planned loft suites, which are huge – easily enough space to swing twenty cats, paw to paw. A monochrome palette of putty-white floorboards, whitewashed walls, silvery voile drapes and charcoal furnishings is combined with high vaulted ceilings and clever lighting to create a space that manages to be both ultra contemporary and extremely comfortable – not an especially easy feat to pull off. Shaggy Ronaldo rugs, a large, low-slung sofa and the world’s squidgiest beanbag lend a tactile warmth to the smooth lines and angular, steely minimalism. It’s light, airy and more than a little bit indulgent.
Taking centre stage beneath the suite’s single painting, and perfectly positioned for both star-gazing and tv-watching is the eggshaped free-standing Castello stone bath – big enough for three we reckon, not that this is your only washing option. Discreetly hidden behind the partition wall lies the bathroom proper: another vastly spacious ‘area’ with his n’ hers sinks, a walk-in shower, striped Missoni bathrobes and a plethora of Jo Malone toiletries in bounteous sizes – which you’re actively encouraged to pilfer. We say ‘area’ because the entire suite is basically open-plan. It’s all very subtle and tasteful but if you’re arriving for a romantic weekend with a new partner in tow, you should be prepared to leave your inhibitions behind!
The bed – in which you could just as easily sleep sideways as long – is as dreamy as it looks. Plan on having a lie-in and consider getting your breakfast delivered to your room as this may well be your best night’s sleep in years. A Bose iPod dock on one side and a miniature decanter of sloe gin on the other will help lull you to the land of nod if the cloud-like pillows don’t induce an instant slumber.
Tucked away in a corner beyond the room’s most engaging distraction – a rather professional-looking telescope trained on the distant horizon – is where you’ll find all your edible treats: mini Mill-made brownies and flapjacks, fresh fruit and a fridge full of squeezed orange juice, fresh milk and sparkling water. So what’s it to be, a nice cup of tea or straight into the complimentary half bottles of Chablis and Fleurie? It’s a difficult choice, but not as hard as the one you’ll have at dinner. The restaurant is a magnet for fine dining enthusiasts from miles around and the menu and extensive wine list are easily on a par with anything London can offer.
Despite the impeccably high standards, it’s a casual environment and you’re encouraged to savour and linger, which we did. The menu showcases Head Chef Paul Foster’s passion for local, seasonal produce and is visually innovative. We opted for lemon sole and pork belly, served with local asparagus, broad beans and pickled mushrooms, and the lemon and basil gnocchi with watercress and poached egg yolk; both were sublime.
Try and snag a table next to the window so you can watch the very special pink swans glide over the pond while you eat. It took us a while to realise that it wasn’t the pickled mushrooms making us hallucinate, but just the atmospheric outdoor lighting playing tricks with our brains.
The final word has to be saved for breakfast though, which was excellent – amazing smoothies followed by poached eggs with spinach, locally smoked kippers, or even a sirloin steak if you’re particularly ravenous – but a very special mention must go to the humble marmalade, the likes of which I have never tasted before. There’s nothing more to say other than don’t miss it; it’s like experiencing the taste of orange for the very first time.
If you like, breakfast can be served on your terrace which, in the unlikely event of you still needing to unwind, is a wonderfully relaxing way to round off your stay.
Tuddenham Mill can be booked through Mr & Mrs Smith hotels and if you’re a Smith Member, you’ll receive a Mill bag (a gift from the kitchen) to take home with you, and even a visit to the nearby private Denham Estate for those staying three nights or more.
There are four loft suite rooms at the Mill, all with balconies and extensive views, and eight ground floor rooms with private terraces. These are all located in two separate, tasteful annexes surrounded by green fields. If you’re lucky, the only sound you’ll hear at night will be owls. In the Mill itself are three further bedrooms, all decorated in the same cool, minimal style but with exposed ceiling beams and windows directly overlooking the pond. All three rooms are beautiful, but we liked ‘The Mill Room’ the best, with its perfect position for direct upstream views.
Weekend rates start at £205 including breakfast but check the Mr & Mrs Smith website for the latest deals and offers.
The author stayed as a guest of the hotel.