The fine-dining restaurant feeding snails to children

Dining room - Brian Dandridge
Dining room - Brian Dandridge

Coming from L’Escargot – London’s most venerable and velvety French eatery – this isn’t the first time restaurateur George Pell’s team has served snails. It might, however, be the first time they have served them to a nine-year-old, having propped her up on a pile of cushions, given her a friendly tutorial in holding the spring-loaded tongs and inserting the tiny fork, then stood back, awaiting her verdict.

Pell arrived in Aldeburgh with his team of six from L’Escargot during the pandemic, to run what was meant to be a pop-up. He was reeled in by the sea – swimming each morning; buying seafood directly from the fishermen’s huts on its shingly shores – and by a building: a handsome 17th-century inn with an alleyway down one side, leading in seconds to the sea.

The team stayed, renovated, opened a restaurant, named it the Suffolk and this month finished six bedrooms above it.
Sounds familiar? Maybe because Kristie Lomas, founder of London members’ club Keystone Crescent, is opening a restaurant with rooms in Kent called Boys Hall. Or because London restaurateur Nicholas Balfe is adding rooms at his Somerset outpost, Holm, while Brendan Eades, head chef at super-cool Silo, has fled Hackney for Sussex where he is now cooking up a storm at Tillingham: an organic winery and restaurant with rooms.

But while Tillingham, like L’Escargot, bars children under 10, Pell’s rural outpost welcomes all ages. Yet the menu looks grown-up: lobster bisque, halibut with a champagne and caviar sauce, oysters thermidor… Can he really welcome them and serve that?

In short, yes – though it is hard to pin down quite how he pulled this off. There is something in the Suffolk’s position, of course, right in the thick of Aldeburgh’s attractions: the shortest of strolls from its cinema (where local residents Richard Curtis and Emma Freud will soon present their “Desert Island Flicks” film evening), its eponymous bookshop (hosting an annual literary festival), its countless delis and bakeries and – closest and most dazzling of all – its glorious beach. In summer, you could roll out of bed and into the waves before breakfast.

Then there is the world inside its doors, which walks a tightrope between home-from-home and high chic. Moments after arriving, the children were behind the bar, learning how to shake me a cocktail. In the lounge, where my husband and I waited for our drinks, parquet flooring and sultry table lamps say “private members’ club” (Pell has worked at the best). On the other hand, a record player and stacks of vinyl for guests to play say “home” (and won the heart of the tweenage boy).

floral bedhead - Brian Dandridge
floral bedhead - Brian Dandridge

I am a sucker for this high-low formula, which continues upstairs in the bedrooms. Much as if you are a guest at a friend’s, there is no in-room tea and coffee. Instead, a shared pantry on the landing contains all that, plus an honesty bar and Suffolk snacks. Rooms are simple, elegant and restful. Super-king beds have upholstered headboards in fabrics that suggest the watery natural world outside. Floors are sisal (or a hard-wearing, dog-proof alternative). Armours are antique. Radios are Roberts (no TV). Two rooms (Orford Ness and Havergate) have dramatic, up-close views of the churning sea. But the top floor is home to just two, which taken together are ideal for families with older children who are happy enough to sleep a few steps across the landing.

There are wrinkles: no private parking, for instance. And my hasselback potatoes needed a few crucial final moments in the oven. But the Suffolk has an X-factor that I am always seeking. It is the product not of corporate calculation, but of Pell’s childhood dream to have a restaurant by the sea. And it shows in the details. Like the fact that the whole place just smells great. Or that the bathrooms, though simple, are stocked with Haeckels products, which feature key ingredients from the sea. Or the menus, which are bound like books, in joyful shades: sea-blue fabric for the food; sunshine-yellow for the drinks.

And yes, the menu is grown-up, but they will make everything in smaller sizes at half price. So the kids tried and loved lobster bisque and crab rarebit (£6 for a children’s portion) and scallops with pickled squash (£7). They even guzzled the decadent Omelette Arnold Bennett on the breakfast menu.

And the snails? “Best thing ever,” she declared. So there you have it.

Doubles from £160, including breakfast. 152 High St, Aldeburgh, Suffolk IP15 5AQ (07557 333453; the-suffolk.co.uk)

For more hotel recommendations in Suffolk, see our guide