Review La Grande Maison at Lavenham 2021
4:00 p.m. November 7, 2021
On bank holidays and bank holidays our families have come to The Great House in Lavenham since the arrival of French couple Régis and Martine Crepy in the 1980s, merging Gallic gastronomic flair in a medieval setting to make it a restaurant to be cherished.
The Crepys looked for new pastures three years ago, but the French connection has not wavered for the new owner of La Grande Maison is Dominique Tropeano, from a small country farm in Nice.
Mr Tropeano is best known in the area as the owner of Colchester Zoo, which he transformed after inheriting it in disrepair in 1983. But he made it clear that he was determined to preserve the Crepy’s legacy – and build on it, with plans submitted to Babergh’s advice to improve conditions for kitchen staff and create more dining space.
We traveled the short distance from our Suffolk home to Lavenham, not only to eat, but this time to stay in one of the boutique bedrooms the hotel has to offer. La Grande Maison has five rooms, all named after places, moments, and emblematic themes in the history of France – Versailles, Elysée, Bastille, Montmartre and Bohème. We were accommodated in the largest of them, Versailles, a spacious suite at the front of the house with a grandstand view of the market square and all its old half-timbered houses.
There is no mirror room here, but a pretty bedroom and living room in purple, teal and green colors, the latter with a comfortable sofa and an antique desk. But the highlight of the show was a splendid four-poster bed (apparently Jacobin) that Marie-Antoinette would have been happy to find room in her Palace of Versailles!
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The Grande Maison has, as you might expect, a fascinating history. The best guess is that it was built at the end of the 14th century by the Caustons, a wealthy draper family at a time when the village had a national reputation in the textile trade.
After the collapse of the wool trade in the 17th century, The Great House was one of the few properties in Lavenham that could afford modernization – hence its distinctive Georgian facade. Inside, however, much of the old medieval house, beams and all, remains.
It’s a difficult role to run a restaurant that has been decorated with local and national honors over the years, but as we will find out, current chef Swann Auffray, 26, clearly lives up to it.
Swann never wanted to be more than a chef, since he sat down one evening at the age of 12, and was fascinated by the computer animated comedy Ratatouille, in which a rat named Rémy dreams of becoming a chef and tries to achieve his goal by befriending the garbage man in a Parisian restaurant.
Swann’s mission is to offer modern French cuisine – “contrast and balance in taste is extremely important to me” – made from the best local ingredients. Everything should be sourced as closely as possible, so that the lobster and shellfish come from Norfolk, while the ray, sea bass and lemon sole (deliciously cooked) come from the Suffolk coast. The meat comes from the exceptional Lavenham Butchers on the road. Only the foie gras must be shipped from France.
So seated on comfortable padded chairs at our favorite table – the crisp white tablecloth and dazzling crockery, as always – in the corner of the dining room, next to the huge fireplace, we waited with large expectations from Swann’s “Experience” menu. .
Each dish was a delicious surprise, as well as the carefully chosen wine that accompanied it. We savored our carrot mousse with rose of prosecco, and devoured our roasted Gressingham duck breast with a superb Pinot Noir from Maison Louis Latour. parsley and mashed potatoes, drizzled with a fine Riesling d’Alsace.
A combination of Brexit and the pandemic has slowed the traditional flow of young French people to La Grande Maison. But the night we went, the largely local waiters and waitresses did a great job – under the watchful eye of Mr. Tropeano, who floated around, helping in the dining room.
Before leaving Lavenham, relaxed and sated, we entered the splendid ocher-colored property next door – Little Hall, inextricably linked to The Great House since the Causton family bought them both in the 14th century.
This house regained all its majesty when an eccentric couple of twin brothers, Major Robert (known as John or JG) and Colonel Thomas (“Pum”) Gayer-Anderson bought it (along with The Great House ) in the 1920s. Both were renowned art collectors and Egyptologists, and many of their finds are housed in a museum named after them in Cairo.
Nowadays Little Hall is a charming little museum owned and operated by the Suffolk Building Preservation Trust, now fully operational after the pandemic. Here you can see a bronze replica of the brothers’ most famous find, the Gayer-Anderson cat depicting the goddess Bastet (the original is in the British Museum), and a remarkably eclectic mix of antiques, images, of books, porcelain and art throughout the seven rooms.
Step out onto the streets and into the dazzling autumn sunshine through the largest wooden door that looks like 600 years old, and return to the almost fairytale market square. An excellent excursion into the living and breathing history of Lavenham.