Review by Fiona Duncan, published 15th June 2008.
Verdict first: mixed feelings. I can admire it, but I can't love it. It's obviously down to personal preference because undoubtedly Tuddenham Mill is a well-run hotel, with many qualities, but one that, for me, lacks enchantment. Others will strongly disagree: the couple at the next table were on their fifth visit, no less, and the hotel is only a year old.
I suppose, if I'm honest, it's also a question of age – not that oldies are made to feel remotely excluded – but Tuddenham Mill answers the requirements of the metropolitan thirtysomething couple with steely accuracy.
They'll enjoy their weekend break and they'll even return during the week on business. But for this fiftysomething couple, the relentlessly contemporary furnishings and minimalist decoration undermine the sense of past and hence the charm of staying in a 17th-century watermill.
Tuddenham Mill stands on a country road (that's remarkably noisy in the morning). A mill on this site was recorded in the Doomsday Book, but the present handsome structure was built in 1775 and enhanced in 1855, when the imposing 53ft chimney was installed. It continued grinding flour until 1954, when its cast-iron wheel (now illuminated and encased in glass) revolved for the last time.
Eventually the mill became a restaurant and then, after careful restoration, a restaurant and 15-room (more planned) hotel owned by Agellus Hotels. The millstream has been excavated and is now home to swans, otters, herons and fish.
Sound lovely? Much of it is, but maybe those two words "Agellus Hotels" hold the key to what's missing here. Because despite the ancient mill; despite the superb, hands-on manageress, Rebecca, and her young and willing team; despite a committed chef producing amusing and imaginative, if over-complicated dishes, Tuddenham Mill feels more functional than characterful.
You've a one-in-five chance of staying in the mill itself, which has three bedrooms on the top floor (by far the most alluring and atmospheric, with old beams and original features). The new owners have built two chalet-style structures in the grounds, housing 10 bedrooms and two loft suites. They are, like the mill's interior, monochrome, masculine, uncompromisingly contemporary, luxurious (each with a suntrap terrace) – yet transient.
Close the silvery gauze curtains on their steel poles or flick the blackout blind switch and I could be in Frankfurt or Copenhagen. It's the human touches that count the most: a complimentary decanter of sloe gin and a bottle each of good Chablis and Fleurie, as well as freshly squeezed orange juice, cookies and bath products.
"Chic and contemporary, luxurious and stylish, yet oozing rustic charm", reads a press quote. No quibbles with the first part of that sentence, but as for rustic charm, despite the heavy beams and slate floors, I beg to differ. This is a contemporary hotel for contemporary folk.
High Street, Tuddenham (01638 713552; www.tuddenhammill.co.uk) Doubles from £195 to £395, including breakfast. Suitable for guests with disabilities.