New cafe opens at one of Suffolk's most historic homes
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
New England on the north American coast is known for its windswept sand dunes, quaint Shaker-style buildings...and seafood. It also has deep-rooted links with Suffolk. Have you spent time in Cape Cod? Taken a boat trip to Martha’s Vineyard? If so, you may be surprised to know you’ve stepped in the footprints of Suffolk barrister and explorer Bartholomew Gosnold – who is responsible for the naming of both spots. Born in Grundisburgh in 1571, his family seat at Otley Hall, Gosnold was tasked with creating the first permanent settlement on this stretch of coast – leading to the creation of Jamestown.
The Great Hall at Otley is where he is said to have plotted his voyages.
And now the new owners of Otley Hall want to invite diners to enjoy eating in a little piece of British history.
Louisa and Steve Flavell, who bought the hall in April 2020, have just opened the doors to Martha’s Barn café - set within a capacious property on the grounds, and named for Gosnold’s daughter (the inspiration for Martha’s Vineyard).
General Manager Luisa Roberts says: “Records show there’s been a property here since the 12th century, but what remains dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries. In fact, Otley Hall is one of the best-preserved examples of 15th century architecture in the UK.
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“There used to be historic house tours here, and that’s something we’re looking at doing in the future. But for now we’re excited to have opened Martha’s Barn, the gardens, and the hall as a wedding venue.”
The barn, which was previously only open on Wednesdays, has been completely renovated, with new interiors, a new kitchen, toilets and chef.
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“It’s a lovely oak barn looking over the gardens and the H canal in a beautiful countryside setting,” adds Luisa, who says you might even meet the Hall’s two resident peacocks on your visit. “The views really are fantastic. Guests seem to love the fact we’ve brought the outside in. There’s lots of macrame with hanging plants, different shades of green furniture, and we’ve built a new coffee counter. It’s really fresh and botanical and relaxing.”
Martha’s Barn is currently open from 9am to 4pm, Tuesday to Friday, with a view to opening on Saturdays soon too.
Light bites such as house made granola with seasonal fruit compote, are available from 9am to 10am, when the brunch menu kicks in. “There are so many delicious things to try,” says Luisa. “We’ve got our own version of a full English. Everything is sourced locally, from the sausages and bacon to the eggs, and the chipotle smoky beans are made by our chef. This week we put two new dishes on there – eggs Florentine and eggs Benedict, which we’ve made with hot smoked trout.
“We’re also really pleased to have lots of vegan and vegetarian options that, like the rest of the menu, will change seasonally. One of my favourites is a lovely avocado and feta dish which comes with a tomato, cucumber and lime yoghurt. And the homemade beetroot hummus is great. It’s the most fantastic pink colour.”
At lunchtimes the menu offers interesting salads and sandwiches, from Suffolk smoked ham and Lincolnshire Poacher toastie with homemade tomato and apple chutney, to a smoky bean and mozzarella quesadilla, and a mushroom, vegan mozzarella and homemade seeded pesto toastie.
Then there are the daily specials.
“Our chef just made a roasted squash, red onion and goats’ cheese frittata with a nice side salad as a special. We have other salads as well – roast chicken breast wrapped in Parma ham with soft boiled egg, gem lettuce and house dressing, or the orzo pasta salad with almond and rocket pesto.”
Sausage rolls and fruit and cheese scones are available all day, alongside cakes which are either made in the kitchens at Martha’s Barn, or locally. “They come in fresh every morning and we’ve got such a good selection,” says Luisa. “The classic Victoria sponge has been popular. And there’s a vegan banana bread which is so delicious. Then we have a gluten-free orange and almond cake and sticky double chocolate brownies. We’re hoping in the future to do afternoon teas. We can do them by request at the moment for special occasions and parties.”
Allpress coffee, Teapigs tea and luxury hot chocolate feature on the drinks menu with kombucha from Suffolk’s LA Brewery, Maynard House Orchard juices, and Posh Pop from Breckland Orchard.
“We’re licensed so will have wines and beers soon too,” adds Luisa, who says the café is hoping to host pop-up suppers later in the year, with their first event already planned for the August bank holiday.
“It’s going to be an Italian-inspired event, with opera music from the internationally-renowned singer Christina Johnson who is local to Suffolk. She will be giving performances on the Saturday and Sunday, and alongside that we’ll have a three-course Italian supper cooked by brilliant chef Peter Harrison. The idea is guests will arrive, have some drinks and dinner in the barn, then head out into the gardens where a stretch tent will be set up on the croquet lawn, ready for the music. We are really so so excited about that. And excited for everything else to come later this year too.”
Tickets for the opera event are available at the Otley Hall website. And the Hall’s gardens are open to the public on the same days as the café, from 9am to 4pm, costing £4.50 for adults and £2.50 for students and over fives.