Eat pizza and drink fizz in a Suffolk orchard
PUBLISHED: 13:07 10 July 2020 | UPDATED: 13:07 10 July 2020
This acclaimed restaurant is using local produce for its pizza toppings - from shredded ham hock to smoked pheasant.
Basking in the dappled shade of the orchard, the warm fragrance of summer roses trickling through the apple trees, soft blades of grass between your feet, nothing but the calls of peacocks and sweet song of blackbirds to break the quiet – there are worse ways to spend an afternoon than at Wyken near Bury St Edmunds.
The sprawling estate, encompassing a country shop, restaurant, café, gardens, sloping vineyard and ancient parkland, has been enticing diners to its grounds in recent weeks with the promise of freshly rolled, wood-fired sourdough pizzas, strewn with hyper-local toppings.
It’s been an unexpected but welcome depart for customers from the usual restaurant set-up, originally inspired by owner, and American native, Carla’s time working in California – namely at Alice Waters’ world-renowned Chez Panisse.
Carla would go on to transform what was an unloved barn, into a restaurant celebrating the unending bounty of Suffolk produce, gaining accolades from Michelin and The Good Food Guide, while husband Sir Kenneth raised and tended seven acres of vineyard in perfect symbiosis.
It was, says son Sam, the man behind the pizza and the next generation of Wyken, a bucolic childhood. A childhood spent foraging and rooting in the surrounding woods, helping to grow vegetables in the kitchen garden, learning about seasonality, and greedily peeking over the pass at the delicious food conjured from the kitchens.
At the time, he says, Wyken was a bit of a hidden secret, opening just two days a week for six months of the year. And then the recognition began flooding in, with the Leaping Hare restaurant becoming a leader in home grown, seasonal, local.
Keeping it local is close to the heart of Sam (who works for a rural lobbying group) and his doctor wife Georgia, both 30, and remains an important central theme of everything they want to do both now, and in the future – including those pizzas. So successful have they been, that the al fresco offering now has ‘regulars’ who stop in, laden with picnic tables and chairs, to quaff the estate’s sparkling Moonshine alongside lunch.
The pizza offering embodies the simplicity and value Wyken and the Leaping Hare have become known for.
“We wanted these to be special,” says Sam, “and to capture the ethos of place. So toppings we’ve had have included Wyken smoked pheasant and wild garlic from the estate, and local ham hocks with caramelised and pickled onions from the garden. We try and do the classics, and a few which speak of this place and its surroundings.
“We haven’t had venison pizzas yet, but we’ve had a few deer in already so that will happen. A favourite recently was the asparagus and feta with mint and pea puree. It was really good – people went mad for it.
“It’s been really wonderful.”
Alongside the pizza wagon, during lockdown the Carlisles converted a small 1920s farm building, once used as a bull pen, into a tiny shop, selling coffee, cold drinks, local ice creams, strawberries and cream and, notably, the estate’s own wine – from the delicately bubbled Moonshine, to lemony Wyken Bacchus (a former English WIne of the Year winner).
As lockdown eases and with a planned re-opening of the café and restaurant from July 29, Sam says pizzas will continue to be available, and the bull ring will remain open, as he and Georgia forge forward, entwining their lives further with the family business.
“We were always planning on moving back [the couple currently live in Sussex] in August to a small house on the farm, and were always going to get involved in running the restaurant together. It’s something my wife and I are passionate about...recent events expedited the whole thing.
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“I grew up around food and it was a huge part of my life,” recalls Sam. “When you run a business it’s all-consuming. My parents spoke about it all the time. They got married late and I was an only child, so as soon as I could talk I was part of those conversations. Growing up trying food, listening to my parents talk about menus, what they liked and what they didn’t like – it was like osmosis. I soaked it all in and it was an amazing introduction.
“I got really interested in wild food. Growing up on a farm you could pick mushrooms, forage for berries, or shoot deer. I grew up doing all of that and developed a real love of cooking, and an appreciation of the need to use all the ingredients as seasonally as possible. Georgia, equally, grew up in a hugely foodie family on the coast- that’s something we have in common.”
Plans for the future have had to come in thick and fast, chiefly due to the constraints caused by Covid-19 lockdown. In addition to bringing pizza to the site, Sam was involved in setting up Wyken’s first ever online shop, selling an incredible six months’ worth of their own Good Dog Ale in just one week.
As the restaurant looks to its opening date, Sam is keen to get stuck into the foodie world alongside the dedicated team, including head chef Simon who’s worked at Wyken since he was 16.
“There’s always more we can do, in terms of getting to know farmers and local producers – that’s something I’m really keen to do,” says Sam. “And one of the things we’d like to do is, next year my wife will start to work part-time for a year...she’ll be working in the gardens to see how feasible it is to grow much more produce ourselves. Also, I am very interested in charcuterie and keen for us to explore that here. We had a couple of pigs and have cured our own bacon and more. We want to look at growing, curing and preserving things. And we want to continue to be a restaurant that doesn’t complicate dishes, but that showcases that one, great ingredient at its best.”
Wyken pizzas are available from 12noon to 3pm Wednesday to Sunday and from 6pm to 8.30pm Thursday to Saturday. Pizzas can be pre-ordered from the Wyken Vineyard website and details of bookings for the restaurant can be found there too.
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