PUBLISHED: 09:13 13 January 2014 | UPDATED: 09:13 13 January 2014
Archant Norfolk 2013
Morston Hall and Galton and Tracy Blackiston have entered folklore in the achievement of catering trade in Norfolk. Rolling back over several years, some 20, they came to north Norfolk, bought a moribund hotel in one of the best locations in Norfolk and maybe in England. They set out their store, with the restaurant model of John Tovey of Miller Howe fame in the Lake District where they had worked.
From the beginning, there has been no choice in terms of sitting-down time and menu. Some people in the business were sceptical - maybe mocking or jealous even - but, sticking to their guns, it was successful from the beginning. Back to today, everyone who is cooking notable, gastronomic food now offers the no choice “tasting menu”. There must a lesson in Morston Hall’s initially lone stance!
I hadn’t been to their place for several years when I arrived for our head-to-head chat, and it was intriguing to see the place and talk to Galton. He is still laid-back, modest and his views are really down-to-earth.
Galton has a reputation (and maybe obsession) for sourcing and using locally-sourced food, but he just says it makes sense to use local ingredients as he is located in such a wonderful area, with the sea and marsh on one side and the hinterland of farms and countryside on the other - so his choice is played by the season.
For instance, now that the the crab and lobster season is over, he says there are plenty of things around which he can move on to. In the kitchen he shows me a small bag of “diamant noir”, black truffles gathered around Dereham - exciting stuff rivaling the French equivalent.
Ingredients taste better when they are sourced seasonally and locally. One of Galton’s favourites is locally-sourced pork, and after cooking complicated food at the restaurant, a roast loin of pork with crackling and apple sauce is a great antidote to enjoy at home.
Since he came to Morston, the food industry, says Galton, has exploded, especially during the past decade. The gastro-pub (a terms which he agrees with me is well-used but anathema) is in the ascendancy and the traditional pub is on the wane. The public, he says, is more discerning about food and “going to a pub where actually we could eat well” is their mantra, especially around the north Norfolk coast.
But you have to box clever if you want to be on that bandwagon. Firstly, of course, you have to gain a reputation for good cooking and then you have to be inventive to keep the customers coming in, because the lifecycle is a short.
So what does the future hold for Galton? He is clear that he’s staying at Morston Hall, where he has a happy life. After expanding the bedrooms at the hall, he has recently started a fish and chip restaurant and take-away, No 1 Cromer. After a chaotic start because of high demand, with queues down the street which saw the shop running out of supplies after half an hour, things have settled down at this latest addition to the Blackiston range.
His instant reaction to being nominated as Pride of Norfolk was “I must be
getting on!” though he modestly comments “We must be doing all right!” But, in seriousness, he regards this title as part of the EDP Norfolk Food and Drink Awards 2013, as being right up there with the Michelin star on the local level, with two books behind him and the respect from Norfolk business for his consistent achievements.
And the Michelin star he has held for many years? He thought they would not
award him the star, given his style of restaurant, so - always respecting the
guide - he continued to cook as he felt driven (as I had also done when I got my
star, a little ahead of him!) We both agree that primarily one cooks for the
customer and if you are awarded the star then it is to be celebrated - but you must
not become complacent. If you just cook with your main mission being to get a Michelin star, there is something wrong with your motivation - younger chefs should heed this.
And so to Christmas? Nowadays the restaurant and hotel is shut for three days, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. So it’s Christmas lunch at home, with the expanded family and, thinking local as ever, Norfolk Black turkey with be the star!