I liked Giraffe and I didn’t expect to

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I didn’t drink all of these.

*I was asked to visit my local Giraffe and write a feature about it by their PR team. I received financial compensation for this post.*

I don’t usually eat at chain restaurants, not having a young family-a demographic for whom a lot of them seem to cater for-and chain places seem a bit too ‘maison de la casa house’ as Calvin Trillin once said with their mixing of dishes from all over the world, many of them anglicised out of all recognition.

Unfortunately located on Parkway next to the stop-start traffic of Bury’s inner thoroughfare and therefore not the most attractive site, Giraffe is nonetheless convenient for the pre and post-cinema crowd who park nearby and mill about restlessly outside the doors of the various food outlets here. There’s a lot of competition and not a lot of opportunity to distinguish yourselves from the others when your restaurant is housed in a generic built-for-purpose retail block but they have kept the exterior pleasingly stripped back.

Giraffe doesn’t take reservations for weekend brunch, having decided that first come-first served is the fairest way and it also means walk-ins can be accommodated. It can get busy because their brunches are pretty good examples of when chains get it right, menu-wise. Once inside, you’ll notice that Giraffe has had a recent refurbishment if you are a regular, resulting in a clearer and more adult vibe although it retains its family friendly atmosphere. I saw a lot of families dining here, they seemed happy with their lot. I asked head office about customer reaction to the refurbishment which comes in the light of increased competition at mid-market level: “We’ve had a really positive response here. Guests especially comment that it feels lighter and welcoming- a great atmosphere,” a spokesperson told me. “We re-opened on November 13th 2015,” they added, “and Emily, Giraffe’s Bury St Edmunds’ General Manager describes the design as “fresh, colourful and fun.” 

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That lethal cocktail/pudding

The coffee is pretty good for a chain and Giraffe say they are passionate about their blend, and use Union Roasted coffees. I don’t know enough about coffee to comment on this brand but our server told us about the training he had recently completed and rattled off impressive statistics about cups served and the lengths Giraffe went to in sourcing good coffee and investing in decent machines and barista training. We drank Bright Note, a blend of Guatemalan and Brazilian coffee with a fruity cocoa finish. They serve it English style in a mug with no frills if that’s what you want as well as all the cortados, americanos and expressos you could ask for. We didn’t order a capuccino because only philistines order them after eleven a.m.

Across two visits including brunch, I tried the huevos rancheros Mexican breakfast, a large plate covered with a tortilla topped with either scrambled or fried eggs, chorizo and a pile of black beans topped with cheese, adobe sauce and an avocado & tomato salsa; the falafel burger with red pepper & harissa hummus, and the miso & lime grilled salmon with wasabi fried rice, teriyaki greens, lime and sesame crunch. We shared fries and some garlic bread, good and large portions of these staple sides. I liked the look of the bowls packed with lively salads too: the ‘Penang Bang’ with shredded chicken, peanuts, bok-choi and nappa cabbage with a lime-chilli-ginger dressing and another one made with quinoa, edamame, fresh herbs & elderflower dressing. Ideal light lunches, really.

The miso and lime salmon was great, looked and felt healthy, with a pile of really well flavoured rice with a wasabi-like heat [although probably not the real wasabi as the margins on that would be too low for a chain restaurant] and some citrus crunch from the lime and sesame. I steamed through this and would happily order it again. Husband ordered the falafel burger as a kind of test as he tends to find most places serve a vile, shrivelled little ball with not enough juice in the accompaniments to get it down his gullet but Giraffe’s version was better than most and the harissa-hummus pushed away any tedious chickpea blandness.

We also tried out one of their ‘dessert cocktails’ which, on paper, sound totally OTT but was less sickly than it sounded and quite fun to drink because, um, alcoholic pudding.  The Banoffee Martini came in a large cocktail coupe with crumbled cookie crumbs on the top. The combination of butterscotch, brandy & banana liqueur with cream nearly put me under the table [lightweight] and its definitely not one to order if you plan on doing anything other than lying flat on a sofa afterwards with a smug ‘I’m not at work and you are’ grin on your face.

I did think there was potential to develop their appeal to the post-work drink crowd: the bar looks good for a chain, the bar staff are knowledgeable about their product and keen to try out new cocktails and guide you towards something new. There’s already a Bar Buddies offer, which provides 50% off cocktails after 5pm from Sunday-Thursday and the possibility of more offers to come.

This is the best of all the chains, a business that pays more than lip service to healthier menus and doesn’t think that all parents want to eat with their children in gaudy, noisy and infantile surroundings. I also prefer it to fake trattorias and fake French bistros which make me want to hurl. It’s also a place to bring the morning papers or your tablet and sit with a coffee and breakfast in one of the booths away from the busier and more open seating areas. There’s room to attract business clientele and the evening crowd looking for somewhere to have that first drink. I liked Giraffe and I didn’t expect to.

Find Giraffe online.

Images by Giraffe.

 

Afternoon tea with Nancy

Afternoon tea with Nancy

Without wishing to go all Pollyanna on you, sometimes the peskiest Nuisances Of Life can end up as good things and such was the day which started with a ridiculously long detour because we forgot about the road closure at Clare and ended up driving miles out of our way. After months of being tortured by photos of gorgeous cream teas on the Nancy’s Tea Shop twitter feed we decided to visit but had NOT intended to drive to Newmarket via such a circuitously long, albeit pretty, route. We trundled past the ancient and flinty Packhorse bridges at Moulton, watched streams of racehorses being exercised in clouds of dust as they cantered along the Newmarket runs and crossed the borders of three counties: Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire. Eventually, our chosen route (if you could call it that) deposited us outside the door on a side street off the main shopping drag in Newmarket.

The street is fairly unprepossessing and I would imagine it’s not an ideal location for a business that must rely on footfall as much as local rep but the curious shopper, venturing off the main streets onto the ‘clock end’ of Old Station Road, will be greeted by a warmly retro interior which manages to stay on the right side of the past. Nancy’s avoids the overly fussy, rolled- through- Cath- Kidston- covered- in-glue style of interior decor that some tearooms fall into the trap of. It’s light and airy, there’s plenty of space to move around and you aren’t crowded in by flowery, bobbly ‘stuff’.

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(Cream tea image by Nancy’s)

There’s a menu of teas with names to help you navigate (Tranquil-tea, Purit-tea, Heart-tea) and these are custom blended, including the classics such as Earl Grey (a darn good EG too) and Breakfast Teas alongside cold American-style ice teas with mint and lemon. They’re poured out of teapots into bone china teacups, patterned with violets, primroses and sprigs of ferns, or served cold in retro glass jugs and tall hi-ball glasses. While we were there, we saw a table full of young women enjoying an afternoon tea with teetering cake stands piled high with scones, petit-fours, cream cakes and slices of sponge cakes (lemon drizzle, red velvet, coconut and raspberry). There’s various permutations of afternoon tea too with special events such as VE Day, baby showers and leaving parties and Wimbledon catered for (themed tennis ball patterned macarons anyone?) and the in-house chef guarantees a constant supply of these, all freshly baked.

I have managed to ignore my inner Judge and can now freely order cake for starter and main course should I so wish to without feeling *too* piggish. I have achieved this by ensuring I sit facing away from everyone else in the room so I don’t have to look at their judgy judgy “look at her, she’s eating cake three times in a row” face as they nibble delicately on their three leaves of rocket with gluten-free celery on the side, or whatever these joyless, soulless folks live on. This is a TEAROOM people, and yes, I KNOW Nancy’s also serves savoury food and YES I do like non sugary things too but there was FOUR cakes on the counter, fluffing up their buttercream icing, their layers of fruit and cream flirtily peeking out like the underthings of the dancers at the Moulin Rouge.

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I had cake for starters. The raspberry and coconut with a buttercream icing. We also ordered a china plateful of curried cauliflower soup which sounds rather unsummery but actually worked in a ‘Days of the Raj’ kind of way ie curry spices = cooling us down through various biological epocrine processes over which I will draw a veil. It was lightly spiced and spoon coatingly creamy. I’d have added more salt but then I always say that and it was actually perfectly balanced salt wise, according to my husband who isn’t as committed to an early salt-related death as I am. The soup left enough room (even after the accompanying cheese scone or bread) for a fruit scone, jam and clotted cream (I wonder how many scones Nancy’s gets through each week?) with a good tart jam offsetting the richness. A pear and elderflower cooler from local company Breckland Posh Pop was so good I ordered another bottle.

 

We could have had a pea and ham salad (specials board)  and they also do classic English things like gala pies, homemade pork pies and picalilli, eggs hollandaise and plates of tiny triangle sandwiches alongside larger rolls and toasties. There’s ice cream sundaes too which little kids will have to stand up to reach into.

Nancy’s is where I’d bring a gaggle of teenage kids to entertain them and teach them how to ‘bee-haive’ in polite society although Nancy’s is not stuffy or staffed by people who will look sniffily at you should your teenagers remain glued to their smartphones or put their elbows on the table. It’d make a great venue for a tea party for younger children too, alongside bringing mum/granny/grandfather. The prices are incredibly reasonable, the staff are friendly and you can linger on comfy sofas and take your time- nobody is going to chase you out with a stick after twenty minutes.

Nancy’s Tea Shop.

Taking it to the Next Level: Tuddenham Mill’s Head Chef Lee Bye

Taste Head Chef

Image courtesy Tuddenham Mill/Lee Bye

 Chef Lee Bye hit the ground running when he took the top job as head chef at Tuddenham Mill two years ago and he hasn’t stopped for breath yet. Steering the restaurant to gain an award of two rosettes by the AA a mere two months after taking up position and then being named the winner of the Employee of the Year Award in the Bury Free Press Business Awards, 2014 culminated in the restaurant being awarded the prestigious Good Food Guide Editors’ Award for the best set lunch. In 2015, his team at Tuddenham Mill went on to win the prestigious Good Food Guide Editors’ Award 2015 for the best set lunch menu in the UK and Lee was titled Suffolk’s Chef of the Year in the Suffolk Food and Drink Awards 2015.

Tuddenham Mill enjoys a bucolic setting on the outskirts of its eponymous village, close to Newmarket, Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge. The hotel has been sensitively restored with a restaurant and bar used by locals and visitors to the region. Having developed a new menu, Chef Lee and his team intend to ensure that Tuddenham Mill becomes a regular stop off for locals and visitors to the region and Lee’s input has been fundamental to steering the Mill restaurant in a fresh direction.Lee may have won accolades early on in his tenure as head chef but he is far from complacent, aware of the pitfalls of the culinary equivalent of that difficult second album:  “When I was told about the [Editors] award I kind of sat in my chair for two days; the spotlight comes onto you and brings a lot of pressure. As a young chef I was suddenly made to think ‘how do I sustain this?’ I’d reached a goal- The Good Food Guide- it was always a personal and professional goal of mine, that old school vintage thing that the award has, I like it and I achieved it early.”

How would you describe yourself as a colleague and boss?

“I wouldn’t say I am a modern chef in that respect.” He takes a moment to think… ” My focus after winning was not to move onto the next thing but to sustain our success and build on it. I’m old school [as a chef]. I like the traditions, that idea of ‘win as a team, lose as a team’ and my main focus now is finding the right team members, the right blend of people in my kitchen.”

Every chef knows that to a certain extent they have to build a kitchen and the people who work within it in their own image but they also must balance this with bringing on the individual talents that each person brings to the table (or prep area in this case). The chef also has to manage their teams response to the long hours involved at the top. “It’s challenging across the industry as a whole and for the right reasons. It is hard to attract the right personnel and the people who want to do it for the right reasons. I’m 99.9% of the way there but it has been hard.” he answers when I ask him about how he copes- both as head chef and as a person trying to have a life, a life that involves a partner (who works front of house) and a new baby, born at the end of last year.

The team at Tuddenham Mill/ photo by kind permission Tuddenham Mill/ Chef Lee Bye
The team at Tuddenham Mill/ photo by kind permission Tuddenham Mill/ Chef Lee Bye

“I believe in the old values, of team work and consistency and complete honesty and I do not want them to suffer in silence when things are tough.”  Valentines Day was a recent case in point, seventy people booked to eat the tasting menu with 350 plates to prepare and get out to tables of couples, buzzy with the expectation that Lee and his team will give them a memorably romantic evening- a LOT of pressure. If a chef is not proactive enough about signalling a potential problem in advance, the potential for it to all go tits up (technical term, that)  is huge and there is no second chance from a customers point of view as he says: “The team is a very young one, top to bottom and it takes a lot of dedication to bring them on. When someone runs into deep trouble on their section and sits in silence I cannot bear it.  I have to have honesty, for them to come to me early on. It can be sorted out then and the team functions as a whole.”  Fortunately, they powered through what must be one of the industries busiest nights to live, cook and prosper another day in an industry where every service is the equivalent of opening night as far as the customer is concerned.

Behind the professional satisfaction these awards bring lies another, more complex story about consequences and implications, the behind the scenes stuff that places a young chef and his team in the running for industry recognition even though Lee is keen to impress that accolades do not define him and nor is he chasing them. As we talk about what it takes to function well in the kitchen and the long hours built into the industry as standard, a look of determination crosses his face.  Lee is just a few months into new fatherhood and and working hard because of a joint decision made by himself and his partner that this is his time and one he must take full advantage of. Although their family life might appear to the casual observer, to be, in his words. a traditional set up, it is one that acknowledges that he has to sacrifice some family time now for the bigger picture and means hours away from his new baby and partner. This is something that he does not ask of his employees though, rather more, it is a decision that they must make for themselves “I cannot ask them to put me in front of their own families.” It is the right decision for his family and whilst undeniably, a tough one, he has a partner who he says fully understands the unique pressures of the hospitality industry being employed within it herself.

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Tuddenham Mill at Halloween / courtesy Lee Bye

With regards to the under reported problem of stress, anxiety and other mental health issues within the catering industry, he has a clear sighted grasp on how it affects chefs and the difficulties they face in trying to wind down after a hectic adrenalin filled service. He is also cognizant of the lazy stereotype of a chef with a drink problem. ” People laugh at the thought of chefs as alcoholics, they laugh at the label. They should work in the field and they’d see what it is really like” he says with a degree of annoyance. “They just say, ‘there’s a lazy assed chef’ and don’t consider that there’s a life balance out of the window. If a policeman did that [drink excessively] people would acknowledge it as a problem but with chefs, people expect it or don’t think it is important. Chefs come home after 18 hours of service and have to force themselves to relax. You cannot just go to bed and that’s why many younger ones end up wandering down the High Street looking for a drink- they have to release that [adrenalin].”

Acknowledging this problem in an everyday manner is something he sees as important and the first step towards prevention. “it’s sad to see when chefs fall off the edge. I want my chefs to have a life [outside of work] and I want them to build their own strength, to be resourceful but I do check up on them to see if they are alright. I’ve been there- I didn’t want to ask for help- so I do ensure that they know they can come to me, to ask for help. I’ve seen when people go off in the wrong direction in their heads, they just swim off and you can lose them so I step in, get there before that.” He concludes by pointing out that this has benefits to both himself and the customer. Lee works six days a week and has just the one day off. Building a reliable team with an inbuilt sense of Lee as mentor and boss means that he can have time away knowing that all is well without him. “The customer must not know that on that day I am not in the kitchen. The food must not give that away.”

Stonebass 'St Jacques' sprout heart and Jerusalem artichoke/ courtesy Lee Bye
Stonebass ‘St Jacques’ sprout heart and Jerusalem artichoke/ courtesy Lee Bye

So who motivates the motivator then? As he says, It is very easy to let go when you are at the top without somebody else there and like most chefs, Lee has a strong background of mentors, the people who have guided his career or conduct themselves in ways he admires. Top of the mentor tree appears to be former head Chef of Tuddenham Mill Paul Foster, who Lee trained under, eventually becoming Sous, two and a half years ago. When Paul left last year, Lee returned to the Mill after a spell working across several other establishments, gaining experience. He donned his head chef toque. Aged only 31 when he left Tuddenham, Foster has garnered huge praise and respect from his former sous.“Working for Paul massively improved my brain and I will always be thankful. You find a lot of chefs will add one component too many and the dish then becomes unbalanced. Paul [among many things] educated my palate, taught me to bring my own personal edge to my food, not think too hard and end up with too much on a plate, using stuff for the sake of it and losing seasonality.”

The same respect is afforded the ‘chefs chef’, Marco Pierre White and Lee acknowledges that while he will probably never get the chance to work by his side, the books written by this undoubtedly great chef serve pretty well in his absence. “Going back to the idea of my kitchen philosophy and those of others, well Marco is full of them. He said ‘nature is the true artist’ and for me, that says it all. The easiest guideline but one that too many chefs ignore.”Lee’s own cooking shows he has taken heed of Marco’s counsel too. Take one main that caught my eye, served for sunday lunch- a straightforward sounding crispy pig’s head, cockles, pear aïoli. coastal herbs, written as is, on the menu. I asked Lee to talk me through the conceptualisation of the dish.

“I always bring the pig back to Suffolk. The pig is Suffolk and a lot of our meals, our canapes are pork based. Our core base has, in the past been a lot of city folk but I do not want to be London in Suffolk. I want our diners to have the experience of Suffolk with a boutique edge in the surroundings. As I’ve said, I’m quite old school, traditional in what I do and am inspired by what is around me.”

The dish is clean, uncluttered, paying homage to the pig as orchard animal with the pear spiked aoli, designed to both cut through the natural fattiness of pork and season the plate. Instead of going with the obvious apple, we have pear, also an orchard fruit and feasibly what pigs would eat should they get the chance to live as a pig naturally would. The coastal herbs are from Walberswick and whilst Lee doesn’t seem to want to be identified as someone who has adopted the recent trend for foraging- and there are serious environmental implications (some parts of the New Forest have seen indigenous fungi populations decimated)- he is aware of the amazing produce the region contains. “That salty edge from the sea herbs pulls this dish together. These are from Walberswick and collecting them on a walk is a great way to spend spare time. I’m not a massive fan [of foraging] but stuff like Samphire that is so good here? You’d be mad not to use it.”

Stone bass, chervil root, Moules St Jacques, runner beans courtesy of Chef Lee Bye
Stone bass, chervil root, Moules St Jacques, runner beans courtesy of Chef Lee Bye

 The award winning set lunch menu features a lot more of the same good regional stuff (sea trout, beef flank with St Edmunds sauce, an under used cut) but avoids an over adherence to the principle to the exclusion of other ingredients worth a look in from further afield (Shetland mussels, Spanish squash). The puddings are eye rollingly tempting-  a banana tea loaf with salted toffee, blackberries, earl grey ice cream had my name on it- and don’t seem an afterthought, something that a lot of other pudding menus display. My particular dislike is snobbishness about patisserie and good puddings where they aren’t seen as important as the other courses which might be the result of a place not employing a creative or technically innovative pastry chef or existing chefs simply not being interested in this aspect of cooking. The whole set menu comes in at £15,50 for two courses, £19,50 for three at the time of writing. That’s less than twenty quid for serious technique and flavours, right there.

I am unsurprised when I ask Lee what his last meal would be and he cites Pierre Koffman’s Gascony birthed stuffed pigs trotter, one of THE greatest signature dishes of all and originally served at La Tante Claire. Pureé chicken breast, egg whites and double cream are bound in with veal sweetbreads and morels then fried in butter to make an unctuous stuffing, elevating this usually humble pig part to an exalted position on the hog eating scale. It is a dish of classical technique, a test of a chefs training and a wonderful collection of contradictions- high/low, earthy/ethereal. Lee would follow this with a chaser of Beef Wellington cooked by Marco and Gordon Ramsay. (Would the dish ever end up at the pass or would it serve as kitchen projectile?) He rounds his last meal off with a glorious tarte tatin-made by Pea Porridge’s Justin Sharpe to be precise.

Cox apples baked in dark muscovado sugar with buttermilk cream and oats/ courtesy Lee Bye
Cox apples baked in dark muscovado sugar with buttermilk cream and oats/ courtesy Lee Bye

A bit of a coincidence that on the way to see Lee, I subjected my husband to a long monologue about the Koffman stuffed trotter and how one could protect a signature recipe from plagiarism. I asked Lee about this whole issue and he turned out to have a pretty measured take:

“It’s flattery at the end of the day. People will always be inspired by the food of others and they will want that for themselves.”

But how do you deal with this when it appears to be less of an homage and more attempt to actually pass off somebody else’s creation as your own, I wonder, finding it hard to imagine your average chef not turning puce with annoyance at all their hard work and inventiveness being essentially nicked. Lee passes on more wise advice from his former boss. “Paul used to say that they [plagiarists] will never replicate your brain, they cannot reproduce where that dish comes from.” He goes on to explain that when he trains his own team, he can teach them to cook from their hearts and to use their imagination to create dishes but the mind, the terroir if you like, of a chef is uniquely his. This terroir, like all carefully tended land, is multi layered, both wellspring and sponge, soaking up all that surrounds the chef, inspiring him to produce food that is greater than the sum of its parts.

And one thing that surrounds all chefs are critics- start making a name for yourself and they will appear. What do you think of them? Without missing a beat, Lee assured me that he saw a place for them, “It’s an opinion at the end of the day although we are at the needle point of the freedom to be praised or slagged off.” He spoke amusingly of the day Jay Rayner came to town, dined at the Mill and reviewed it, raving over the less is more, local and relevant philosophy that Paul became known for and Lee is now revising and developing.  Lee was sous back then and was busy prepping in the kitchen on the Sunday the day the review came out- published some time after Rayner’s visit. He watched in amazement as “car after car, Jags etc came flooding in, down the drive and parking then people getting out with the copy of the paper underneath the arm.” He laughed. “We got on with it but…” I asked about the double edged sword of a review’s effect and he admitted that yes, there is the danger that for smaller establishments especially, the attention can be overwhelming and cause as many problems as a regular full service can solve.

Rosemary, hazelnut and bitter chocolate truffles: courtesy of Chef Lee Bye
Rosemary and bitter chocolate truffles: courtesy of Chef Lee Bye

Lee is pragmatic about critics, Trip Advisor reviews, and having to deal with the good and not so. As he points out, a chef cannot own the praise of a top critic and the approval of less famous patrons then disregard and reject the criticism if and when it comes. Not if he wants to avoid looking like a dick that is. But he also makes it clear that the work is hard, arduous involving deep emotion alongside finances and time: a bad review from someone who doesn’t understand what the chef is trying to do and bases an opinion more on personal taste as opposed to objective analysis may be a game changer, restaurant closer and career ender. There are consequences. The same goes for twitter he feels. Lee uses it (find him on @leebye) but counsels against unnecessary and indulgent unpleasantness for the hell of it. and because it can blur the line between professional person and professional ass, even if it is a private account. “it’s a brilliant tool.” After I recount a recent trolling experience that spilled over into real life from social media (threats made over my land line, police called), his face blenches.

Lee has achieved so much, relatively young but this is not a guy who is ready to rest on his laurels and nor is he restlessly looking for a new thrill or gimmick. Keen to take himself, his kitchen and the hotel to the next level, the last year has been about him establishing himself as head chef in a kitchen he has come up through, about putting more bums on seats and building the reputation of Tuddenham Mill as a flexible place to eat, offering many different options for dining. The coming year will see a challenges to attract even more locals to the restaurant and build on the reputation that being the recipient of such awards bring. As Chef Bye says “We’ve been through a long tunnel and held the ceiling up. This year we’re going to build through it.”

Rice pudding, blueberry and pistachios / courtesy Lee Bye
Rice pudding, blueberry and pistachios / courtesy Lee Bye

To make a reservation, head to the Tuddenham Mill website.

The Millers guide to great pubs in Suffolk [1]

 

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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.

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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

two-horses.jpgOut 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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

 

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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

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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

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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 Blyfordthe-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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.