The Black Lion

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 15th April 2007.

It's a subjective business, reviewing hotels: all I can do is give my own impressions. But opinions will always vary, as I was forcibly reminded when I stayed at the Black Lion. From the moment we arrived, my friend Mandy and I agreed - on almost nothing.

"Long" is the right word to describe Melford. Its attractive high street, punctuated with antique shops and art galleries, stretches for a mile before reaching the large green with its two Tudor mansions and, on a busy corner, the Black Lion, a 17th-century inn with a colourful history. Six years ago it was bought by Craig Jarvis, a local hotelier, who has transformed it into a hotel full of quirky character.

Once inside, things seemed tame enough, with smartly uniformed receptionists and a tartan carpet that lent an air of a traditional Scottish Highland hotel. There was no hint at all of the flamboyant bedrooms upstairs, including the twin room into which we were ushered.

"It's like being in an exotic jewel box lined in gold silk, don't you think?" I asked Mandy. I was referring to the dark gold wallpaper in the bedroom and gold paint in the bathroom, the gold and brown embroidered bedspreads, exotic curtains, tassled cushions and lampshades, ornate mirror, oriental wardrobe and display shelves.

"No, it's not. It's like being a Ferrero Rocher chocolate stuck inside its wrapper," Mandy countered. "I want to get out."

Downstairs, we settled into squashy sofas in the bar, and put the world to rights with Robert, the barman, over a couple of glasses of good house wine. Dinner, in the comfortable, informal bistro, rather than the elegant dining room (where the same menu is served) was "absolutely delicious, first rate", Mandy claimed.

"Hmm," I replied, warming to the battle. "My scallops were okay, but this risotto is mushy. And these endless family photographs of Craig and his wife and kids really irritate me."

"They're charming," Mandy said. "It's not the photographs, but all the rocking horses that are silly."

"Well I like them: apparently it's because Craig's a horseman," I said.

"How daft," Mandy scoffed.

Back in the Ferrero Rocher bedroom, I looked down on cars and lorries queuing at traffic lights and gave mute thanks for the double glazing that rendered them mercifully silent.

"This room is ridiculously hot," Mandy said. "If I can't open the window, I'll die."

"I don't think it's hot, I'm glad the heating's on," I protested, but to no avail: help was summoned, the double gazing removed, and the window opened. Mandy slept like a baby in the icy blast, oblivious of the terrible traffic noise that kept me awake most of the night.

Next morning, after an excellent breakfast cooked to order, the much-heralded Craig, theatrically clad in a wine-red velvet suit, bounded up and offered to show us some more of the hotel's 10 bedrooms.

As he led us from room to room, each totally different, each impressively unusual, some really lovely dissension between Mandy and I finally turned into enthusiastic agreement. From exotically flamboyant to coolly romantic, we concurred that they were all rooms in which we would be delighted to spend time - whether the window was open or shut.

Black Lion Hotel, The Green, Long Melford, Suffolk (01787 312356; Doubles from £150 per night, including breakfast.

The Hotel Guru verdict

5 out of 5

Nothing dull here; surprisingly individual, refreshingly different

4 out of 5

Prompt and friendly; children and dogs welcomed with open arms

4 out of 5

Attractive georgian building with "secret" garden, though the busy road detracts

Food and drink
3 out of 5

Straightforward but enjoyable menu with plenty of comfort dishes

Value for money
3 out of 5

Both rooms and food are pricey; less would be better

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