Whether you are a resident of the fine county of Suffolk or a visitor, one thing’s for certain, you won’t be disappointed by our pubs although it is not always easy to locate the very best of them. Some hide behind tall hedgerows of cow parsley or down winding country lanes and some boast an unprepossessing exterior concealing the treasure that lies within. If you aren’t local to the area, you can end up missing out on some of the UKs best pubs and wouldn’t that be a shame? That’s where The Millers Tale comes in with this pubs guide.
Some of these hostelries offer excellent food whilst others have a great rep for their beer, welcome and conviviality. A few rare beasts tick all of these boxes and function as true community hubs at a time when their kind has never been more under threat. If we’ve committed an injustice by failing to include your own favourite, let us know and we’ll endure the hardship and sacrifice of checking it out for our next pub guide.
In no particular order…
Oakes Barn, Bury St Edmunds.
This is a free house in the heart of the town with exquisitely kept guest real ales and a small and perfectly formed menu featuring cheese plates with local bread and chutneys (bread is made with ale from Shortts Farm Brewery), turkey and white bean chile, locally made pies and a few other bits and pieces. The staff and clientele are great: they’re deeply embedded in their community and determined to ensure the pub reflects its locality and they have won awards for this (West Suffolk Community Pub of the Year). Built on land that formed part of the towns original medieval defence ditch, the welcome is much MUCH friendlier now and the pub is a declared community hub with ‘Blokes in the Oakes’ for older male customers, Bury Folk Collective, language conversation, Voice Choir and book and crochet club meetings among many, many other activities and special events. There’s a small outside town patio with covered area, a disabled loo and dogs/kids are welcome.
The White Horse at Sweffling
Out east, near to Framlingham Castle and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that is the Suffolk coast, the tiny little village of Sweffling has a pub that is exactly what one would imagine a pub of its kind to be (great ales, deeply picturesque for a start) which is part of the reason why it has been voted Ipswich and East Suffolk CAMRA Pub of the Year and just recently, Suffolk Pub of the Year for 2015. With real ales and ciders, organically made wines and bottles of Fentimans cola, the pub is lit by candlelight at night, is attached to the award winning eco Alde Gardens campsite and run by two of the loveliest people you could ever wish to meet- Mark and Marie. Offering pony and trap rides from a local during the warmer months and a tiny year round menu of damper bread, cheese boards and pies alongside cheese toasties, the pub likes to think of itself as a year round slow food version of a beer festival. There’s a wood burning stove, trad pub games and customers sit together around a large wooden table of a night. Dogs are welcome and there’s a small beer garden open from spring to autumn equinox. Call before setting out or check the website for more info and to book a stay at the fab eco glamping site!
The Cock at Brent Eleigh
This is the archetypal roadside village pub with oodles of history lurking inside deepest West Suffolk, midway between Lavenham and Bury St Edmunds via winding lanes. To arrive here is to be a traveller in time with a profound awareness of the country people over the centuries who stopped here en route to and from the local markets. There’s pink plaster and a thatched roof, saloon cats and two tiny rooms- really tiny- that nonetheless serve discerning patrons with excellently kept beer and incredibly good value roast lunches, trad puddings and a real ploughmans. Locals sit together at a large table with a shove ha’penny board engraved onto its wooden surface and strangers are made welcome. Warmer nights see live acoustic bands play in a mini marquee at the side of the pub whilst Tuesday evenings are cheese and acoustic music night: locals bring cheeses which go on the bar for all to try. We’ve sat here at night on the grassed bank looking up at the stars in a part of Suffolk that enjoys darker skies, listening to music float out of the bar and the soft whaft of bats as they swoop over. The surrounding countryside makes for great walking with a plethora of views across some of the loveliest and most rural parts of the county, go at dusk for added loveliness. The easiest way to access the lovely village with its Jacobean houses is by taking the lane across the road and following it down to the church and its grounds which include a pond. Then take a walk along the treelined pathway that leads you back onto the village lane via a gated entrance. Just gorgeous.
The Eels Foot Inn at East Bridge
Another Jack (or Jill) of all trades and master and mistress of all of them, this pub also has a campsite, B&B and offers cycle hire alongside amazing food. Located near to RSPB Minsmere and close to the heritage coastal towns of Southwold, Aldeburgh and the villages of Dunwich, Peasenhall and Walberswick, the location couldn’t be more stellar: everywhere is accessible via a network of brideways, footpaths and cycle routes and the region is ridiculously over endowed with wildlife. The pub offers Adnams cask ales, ciders and all manner of other beverages alongside the best darned fish soup we’ve ever eaten (there’s plenty more foodie excellence too). Made by their French chef, we guessed what the secret ingredient is but we’re not going to spoil the surprise for you. Thursday night is ‘squit night’ where locals gather for an almighty folk jam session. The welcome is warm, the newly refurbished interiors are really lovely and you should go there. Now.
The Beerhouse pubs: The One Bull in Bury St Edmunds and The Crown at Hartest
The Crown (pictured above) can be found in the village of Hartest on the right hand side of the lovely common. They serve their own Brewshed best Bitter and some Greene King ales, make home smoked salmon, run fish and steak nights and have a well balanced menu of local, seasonal foods all cooked to order. When we came, we had some deeply satisfying oxtail and beef cheek mini pasties, a large bowl of chowder and a stunningly flavoursome butternut squash main course. Kids are welcomed with a huge garden and adventure playground, there’s crayons to keep them occupied inside and a decent sized enclosed courtyard garden to corral them in too. Dogs are welcomed. The surrounding countryside is perfect for walking from the river that bounds the gardens (you’ll need to watch the smalls here) to the lanes that lead off the common.
The One Bull is a rambling timbered and beamed building with a clattery cobbled coach entrance to one side, located on Angel Hill and next to the Abbey Gardens. This is one of the best town pubs for food with a sophisticated and well curated menu of local and seasonal foods. Owned by Brewshed, it aims to offer consistency and quality across all aspects of the pub experience alongside somewhere smart to go out that bridges the restaurant-pub divide. The kids meals have as much care taken over them as does the adult menu although the pub becomes child free of an evening- something a lot of parents and child free punters appreciate. From guineafowl, lemon sole with fennel to pork scrumpets with apple sauce, the food is honest and earthy and portions are decent. Check out their twitter feed for a riot of photos of their latest menu choices. It’ll drive you loopy if you happen to be hungry.
The Queens Head at Hawkedon
Rural and sprawling and one of Suffolk’s proper country pubs, the Queen’s Head is well bedded down in a Domesday village and was originally a coaching inn. Located on the Upper Green with stupendous views of rolling chases and the steep wooded cuts that so resemble the Normandy countryside, the pub is a flagstoned, timbered, inglenooked wonder. With cask conditioned ales and ciders, a menu composed of local ingredients including their own livestock and meat from the attached butchers shop, you’ll find it very hard to drag yourself away especially if you are enjoying one of their regular game nights, wine tastings, beer or music festivals. But, if you do, the wool towns of Lavenham, Long Melford and Sudbury are close by as is Bury St Edmunds in the opposite direction. It is also close to the Hartest Crown if you want to do a double.
The Kings Head at Laxfield
An Adnams ‘Community Pub of the Year’ and liked by us for several reasons, not least its location opposite a graveyard where the residents will have no cause to complain about any pub noise, this venerable Suffolk thatched pub is also a rarity- it boasts no bar. Perfectly kept ales from Adnams are served from barrels in the tap room and the ancient open fireplace in another room is surrounded by a perfect and cosy horseshoe arrangement of wooden settles with bottom shaped depressions from centuries of buttocks. There is a crisp cupboard from which customers help themselves and settle up when they pay for their drinks and you will might well walk into a spontaneously arranged music evening too. The Kings Head also serves up a short menu of staples- soups, sandwiches and sausages and mash plus smoked ham with bubble and squeak.
The Henny Swan, near Sudbury
Thankfully open once more after a change of hands, this pub fronts the River Stour just a few miles from Sudbury (see pic above) and offers a simply lovely spot to sit and relax on the Suffolk/Essex border. Popular with families and river users- it has a landing stage for small craft and canoes- a lot of locals simply sit on the river bank when all the outside seating is full and bask in the sun. Another of those sprawling rural outposts for drinkers of yore, the pub has a brand new menu with a range of modern European starters and mains. The pressed pork belly confit with pickled vegetables, slow lamb with apricots and puds such as pistachio bakewell have gone down well. There’s a kids menu and play area also. The River Stour Trust run boat trips that go right past the pub and they’ll stop and drop you off if you like, picking you up later. We wish the owners well and are keeping our fingers crossed that the pub has a long and happy future.
The White Horse at Whepstead
Newly refurbished with the former owners of the much loved (and missed) Beehive at the helm, this seventeenth century inn with its warm yet roomy interior is well worth a visit. Copper topped bar, wooden furnishings and open fires plus a ‘tuck shop’ selling candies, chocolate and ice cream inject the place with both style and fun. The menu is eclectic and more stylish than your average pub (goats cheese bruschetta with honey & walnut, tuna with celery and tomato confit) and there’s also top notch pub classics including Sunday lunches. Whepstead is well served by footpaths and located in the heart of lovely West Suffolk. Should you not want to move, the sheltered back terrace is a lovely and sunny place to relax.
The Ram in Hadleigh
One of a trio of pubs in the same ‘stable’ (the others are the Lavenham Greyhound and the Long Melford Swan), this is a highly regarded ’boutique’ restaurant and pub just off the lovely High Street with its well supported independent shops. With a sunny courtyard for mid morning coffee and smart interior all inside a building that is typically composed of additions built at different times. More smart bistro than pub, it is still a lovely and relaxing place with a country feel and the menu has a range of options from lunches of lebanese chicken wings with tahini, courgette and garlic soup or cauliflower veloute and truffle ‘ice cream’ to sandwich snacks, cream teas, evening three courses and steak and wine nights. Want a treat? Plates of native Mersea Oysters can be had during those months with a ‘R’ in- this is the place for a smart lunch with your mates or an evening with your other half.
The Queens Head at Blyford
Here we have a truly old pub dating back to the fifteenth century and well endowed with the thatched roof, roaring log fires and beams that add atmosphere by the bucket load. Located near to Halesworth and Southwold in pretty north east Suffolk, its conveniently near the coast. There’s a pretty beer garden with lovely Blythe Valley views and plenty of original features inside and out: the thatched roof itself reflects the preponderence of reedbeds to be found in the nearby river valley and along the Suffolk coast too. Lots of the ingredients are local such as line caught cod and there are afternoon teas bookable. Kids are welcome and they’ll eat well before playing in the sandpit and play boat. In the Autumn the pub hosts the Blyford Church Fete which comes with all the traditional entertainment you’d expect froma village fete: pet competitions, stalls, cake stands, pony rides. The aforementioned church dates back to 1088 and is situated on the East Suffolk Like Walk from Halesworth to Walberswick and Southwold providing walkers and history lovers with plenty to do.
The Maybush Inn at Waldringfield
A prince among pubs for its views (just look at them, above!), perched as it is on the banks of the River Deben near Woodbridge, this is one of the quintessential Suffolk views where decades worth of visitors have watched the light change and play across the waters as they sup their pints and feel smugly lucky to live here. If you want to explore further, the Deben Cruise Company will take you on a two hour boat ride along the river and special protection area of the estuary and drop you back later, fed and happy. Famous for its excellent food including local game and seafood, there’s a kids menu and a wide choice of snacks and full meal options plus guest ales from Adnams. Pub goers get their car park fees refunded and there is access to the sandy beaches nearby. The pub is sister to the Butt and Oyster at Pin Mill and the Wilford Bridge among others and both of these are equally worthy of a visit.
The Peacock Inn at Chelsworth
A great location in one of the regions prettiest villages (the whole village is a conservation area), around nine miles from Long Melford makes this fourteenth century half timbered pub a must stop. The Peacock is as pretty as its bird moniker although it has a lot more substance too- it’s not just about the chocolate box looks. There’s pretty views and rooms to stay in should you decide not to move on, breakfasts are served in rooms full of exposed brick, fireplaces and wooden beams and local ales from Adnams, Woodfords and Nethergate Brewery all add to the general air of bucolic loveliness. Should you decide to go for a picnic, take out fish and chips currently priced at £6,95 are a bargain. Seafood linguines, Lavenham bread, venison sausages and more await diners who want to eat in and there’s a weekend menu too.
The Bushel in Bury St Edmunds
Located on lovely old St Johns Street a linear street lined with independent shops and businesses and opposite the eponymous church, the Bushel is a well loved town pub with plenty of space to spread out and relax in. Food is served all day from morning coffee (free wifi) to bar snacks (try monkeys fingers-chicken in hot sauce with blue cheese dip, fried dill pickles) and full three course meals (buttermilk chicken, bags of doughnuts, marmalade ham and full roasts). Lately there has been a great programme of live entertainment with local folk singers, blues and acoustic musicians all making music here. Definitely a place for a night out then and its private car park eliminates the thorny issue of town centre parking on busier days.
The Star Inn at Wenhaston
Just a few miles from the sea and the lost village of Dunwich, this inn provides sanctuary for all those visitors sick to the back teeth of hipster fake this and hipster fake that. Run as a small local place and nestled in the sand and gorse covered five heaths of Wenhaston, the Star is immensely popular with locals, walkers and the tourists who have found it. Local rules here from the Penny Bun Bakehouse bread and Suffolk Red Poll Beef to the fish from the Sole Bay Co. The Whitebait are the freshest you’ll find and their crumb has never been acquainted with the Chorleywood Process. There’s a garden with boules and other games with space to host campers plus the occasional beer festival and live music. They seem cool with kids despite the tiny size of the rooms and a local bus service runs past the place connecting Southwold, Lowestoft and Halesworth. No need to drive if you are staying locally. (Image by Phil Gaskin)
The Fox at Ousden
A hill top location not far from Newmarket and a lovely beer garden with kids play areas, bouncy castles and pet rabbits and chickens keep this pub popular. It’s well known for good food cooked by an Anglo-French chef and the lobster is particularly lovely, in fact fresh fish is their speciality. Menus are seasonable with the summer salads looked forward to and they have Woodfords Wherry and Greene King IPA as resident ales plus guest ones also. The bars are kept for drinkers only which keeps the ambience alive and they offer a great public service by offering fres bread for sale on Fridays from the Friendly Loaf Company and they also sell coffee from award winning local company Butterworth & Son. Socially there are quiz nights and mini beer festivals alongside communal acreenings of various rugby tournaments.
The Five Bells at Rattlesden
This is a proper pub serving proper beer and is to be found at the heart of a tiny Suffolk community, fronting onto Bell Meadow and in front of the village church- a beautiful location.There’s well selected and kept ales served in traditional no frills pub surroundings: there’s old style pub games and no pub meals per se although the owners will apparently knock you up a cheese toastie for very little money. Pork scratchings and pickled eggs are sold across the bar and there is regular live music too plus a range of esoteric entertainment from bike shows to plane flyovers.
The Red Lion in Grest Bricett
Refurbed with al fresco terraces, the Red Lion is the only all vegetarian pub that we know of and it has become a bit of a destination for non meat eating diners who are tired of ‘choosing’ from just two options. There’s a wide choice of in house cooked meals with local ingredients such as African sweet potato stew and grilled smoked brie melt. Kids get to choose from macaroni choose and veggie nuggets plus a range of ice creams and other puds. The Red Lion also sells its own range of ‘redi-meals’ cooked in house and available to take away to heat at home. Choose from Caribbean curry and Moroccan tagines among many other options.
The Six Bells in Horringer
A recent visit to this pub which employs a new chef, formerly of Alimentum in Cambridge, blew us away with his variation on cheese on toast and I won’t forget the bosky taste of wild mushrooms, reblochon cheese and Suffolk black bacon piled onto local sourdough bread-a toastie of the highest order. There’s game in the winter and plenty of light fish and seafood dishes too. Open for lunch and dinner, the Six Bells has been refurbished with a sunny conservatory alongside a bar and side rooms filled with clean, stripped back furnishings and open fires, all popular with diners from near and not so near. There’s all manner of two course lunch offers (Autumn 2015 the cost is around 12/15 pounds for 2/3 courses), tasting menus and special dining events alongside well kept beers and a decent wine list. It’s a lovely mix of trad and contemporary and offers the stunning grounds of Ickworth Park and House over the road to walk off that lovely food alongside strolls in the Horringer countryside, all just a few miles from Bury St Edmunds.