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The complete foodie guide to Suffolk

The complete foodie guide to Suffolk

by Polly Robinson 07 August 2019

Polly Robinson takes us on a tour of her home county of Suffolk, highlighting the best places to eat in this sleepy, laidback part of East Anglia.

The Suffolk coast bustles with weekenders and summer visitors – many, I’m told, booking their supermarket delivery before they’ve even left home. But the county is a hotspot for great food, with world-class produce, independent shops, farmers markets, farm shops and a wonderful variety of pubs and restaurants celebrating local produce.

You’ll find Suffolk produce on the menus of some of the UK’s most celebrated restaurants. Blythburgh and Dingley Dell Pork, Sutton Hoo chickens, Fen Farm Dairy’s Baron Bigod cheese and chocolate from Pump Street are often namechecked on menus by chefs wanting to show off their sourcing credentials. But by visiting Suffolk, you can visit the home of these incredible ingredients (among many others). Oddly, for such a foodie county you won’t find a single Michelin-starred restaurant; instead, there are reinvigorated country and seaside pubs serving accomplished but relaxed food as well as special cafés and lunch spots. Here are some of the highlights Suffolk has to offer.

Darsham Nurseries, Darsham

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Credit: Craig Girling
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Darsham Nurseries wouldn’t look out of place in founder David Keleel’s native California. With white walls, a checkerboard floor, colourful flowers from the garden and light pouring in from the gardens which supply the salad, vegetables and fruit, it’s a beautiful place to simply be. In the summer the doors open up to the terrace with outdoor tables.

Head chef Nicola Hordern moved to Suffolk from Jeremy Lee’s Quo Vadis having trained at Ballymaloe Cookery School and completing a stage at legendary Chez Panisse. Her vegetable-led, Mediterranean-inspired menus are designed daily around the garden’s produce, with Nicola working closely alongside the gardeners.

Call in for breakfast or brunch (shakshuka is a must) as you whizz up the A12 to Southwold but do make time for lunch if you can – the Friday evening prix fixe menu is especially great value at £19.50 for three dishes. Dishes are zingy, fresh and full of clever contrasts of colours and textures – think roast cauliflower with vadouvan butter, herb yoghurt amd pistachio dukkah, or chilled white courgette and golden beetroot soup. There’s also local meat and fish: grilled octopus skewers with chickpea and aubergine salad or honey-and-rosemary-braised lamb ribs with spelt, wheatberry and lavender pilaf.

darshamnurseries.co.uk/cafe/

Butley Orford Oysterage, Orford

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The Pinney family has been fishing and smoking fish as well as cultivating oysters since the 1950s. The family restaurant opened in the 1960s in Orford’s pretty village square and retains a simple bistro atmosphere to this day – marble-topped tables and chalked up specials are all part of the charm. Oysters are cultivated nearby at Butley Creek; lobster and fresh fish are caught by the Pinney’s boat and salmon, mackerel and trout are smoked at the simple smokehouse using whole oak logs.

Cooking, as Jay Rayner phrased it, is ‘flavoursome, no-nonsense’; Angels on Horseback, smoked trout with horseradish sauce and grilled cod with a herb crust topping are served with bread or boiled potatoes. You can also visit the Pinney’s shop on Orford Quay to stock up on fishy treats to take home.

pinneysoforford.co.uk

Pump Street Bakery, Orford

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Credit: Yuki Sugiura
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Credit: Yuki Sugiura

Across the square from Butley Orford Oysterage is pretty-in-pink Pump Street Bakery, which has further secured Orford’s place as a mecca for food lovers. Famous as one of the country’s best artisan bakeries and bean-to-bar chocolate makers, you can pick up bread and pastries and a takeaway coffee, or wait for a space on the elegant long communal table for brunch or lunch.

Breakfast is served all day. Tuck into brioche bacon buns with homemade ketchup or a Baker’s Breakfast: toast, baguette, Fen Farm raw cultured butter, jam, a boiled egg, provolone and prosciutto. From midday simple lunches are served including seriously superior sandwiches like ham and Dijon baguettes, as well as tarts and seasonal salads. And of course, do grab some of the incredible chocolate to take home with you.

pumpstreetbakery.com

Aldeburgh Fish and Chips, Aldeburgh

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Fish and chips on the beach with a bottle of something from the Adnams Cellar & Kitchen store whilst watching the swarthy North Sea is my favourite way to eat in Aldeburgh. Just watch for the seagulls hovering like vultures for your scraps! While the town has its share of smarter restaurants, the queues outside the Aldeburgh Fish & Chip Shop and The Golden Galleon (another fish and chip shop) are justifiable. While people often ask which is better, not everyone realises they’re both run by the Cooper family who took on the Fish & Chip Shop in 1967 and opened the Golden Galleon thirty years later. Because they’re so busy, everything is cooked fresh and steaming hot. It may not be gourmet, but it’s a great Suffolk experience.

aldeburghfishandchips.co.uk

The Unruly Pig, Woodbridge

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Literally risen from the ashes of a devastating fire in 2015, The Unruly Pig is a smart dining pub just outside the riverside town of Woodbridge and en route to the Anglo-Saxon burial site at Sutton Hoo. Formerly The British Larder, The Unruly Pig doesn’t live up to its name – it has swanky interiors, restaurant-quality service, a small bar and a big garden.

Italian-influenced food is well presented and vegetarians and vegans are well looked after with their own menus. Menu highlights include sardines on toast, citrus-cured halibut, ‘nduja porchetta salad and braised rabbit ravioli with pancetta and porcini velouté. Sunday roasts are popular and elegant deserts wrap everything up.

theunrulypig.co.uk

Pea Porridge, Bury St Edmunds

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Credit: Phil Morley
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Credit: Phil Morley

Bury St Edmunds, one of Suffolk’s largest towns with its medieval buildings and ancient cathedral, is beset by all the usual chains – dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find something totally unique. Chef Justin Sharp opened Pea Porridge in 2009 with his wife Jurga and its reputation has flourished.

Justin worked at Chez Bruce and is well versed in classical techniques but imparts his own bold style on seasonal and local ingredients, often resulting in big, butch and mostly meaty dishes rich in game and offal. He uses a Bertha charcoal oven to give extra flavour and smoky aromas to dishes such as grilled Cornish mackerel and fegato alla Veneziana (grilled calf’s liver), as well as subtler vegetable-led lemon and mint courgettes with fresh cow’s curd and risotto primavera. The interesting wine list features natural and biodynamic wines from small vineyards.

The set lunch is great value at £15 for two courses and £20 for three, making a meal here cheaper than a bog-standard pizza in a chain and far more memorable.

peaporridge.co.uk

The Leaping Hare, Bury St Edmunds

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Credit: Dan Jerrold
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Credit: Dan Jerrold

A Suffolk stalwart, Wyken Vineyards has been showcasing local and seasonal food for over twenty years. As you arrive you’ll pass Shetland sheep grazing on a patchwork of fields and the award-winning vineyard – a quintessential picture of old Suffolk.

In a huge seventeenth century Suffolk barn you’ll find the Leaping Hare restaurant (as well as a café and stylish shop). This restaurant isn’t following any trends; it’s been serving fuss-free yet imaginative seasonal and local food for years before it was a thing and continues to do it well. Most of the meat, game, eggs and some vegetables and fruit come from the estate (as well as Wyken Vineyard wine of course) to become dishes like roast poussin, peas, broad beans and bacon, while the Wyken wild venison fillet is tender and flavourful. Follow with seasonal fruit tarts, panna cotta, Wyken’s own salted caramel ice cream or my personal favourite, the affogato. Service is old-fashioned in the best possible way and the cathedral-like barn is an inspiring setting.

The farmers’ market held here every Saturday morning sells local bread, cheese, apples and meat. If you can, make time to explore the formal gardens crammed with topiary, herbs, roses, fruit trees and meandering peacocks, guinea fowl and chickens surrounding the Elizabethan manor house.

wykenvineyards.co.uk

The Sun Inn, Dedham

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My last choice is a bit of a cheat, as technically Dedham is in Essex – but the picture-perfect village with its patchwork of colourful houses sits beside the River Stour which dissects the two counties. The Sun Inn is well worth crossing the bridge for. Perhaps the meandering river and country boundary is why it’s usually referred to as Constable Country and, despite the busy A12 rushing by from London a few miles to the north, the countryside has changed little since it was immortalised by John Constable in the eighteenth century.

The Sun Inn has been a watering hole for villagers and a resting post for travellers for centuries.

It’s a proper coaching in with a large elm bar, ancient beams, oak floors and open fire places. It’s been independently owned since 2003 and while it’s stylish decorated with a menu of top-notch Italian-influenced food, there’s nothing pretentious about it.

The bar menu is ideal for those seeking something casual to snack on in the characterful bar or lounging on one of the deep sofas in the wood-panelled lounge. The restaurant is smart and head chef Jack Levine creates robust dishes that are big on flavour with hearty main courses including game (when in season), rare-breed meat and day boat fish. The menu always offers three cuts of British rare-breed steaks to suit every wallet – skirt, sirloin and prime bone-in-rib and on Sundays there’s a generous roast with seasonal changing accompaniments. Puddings also have an Italian twist such as espresso tart with burnt meringue and vanilla ice cream, or praline and buttermilk mousse with rhubarb and polenta biscuit. The young front of house team are friendly and relaxed and there are piles of papers, magazines and games to play. Once you’ve settled in, you won’t want to leave.

thesuninndedham.com

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