Review: The Guinness Arms, Icklingham - 'A cracking addition to the Suffolk gastropub scene'
PUBLISHED: 16:19 08 January 2020 | UPDATED: 16:19 08 January 2020
Mark Heath and his wife Liz visited The Guinness Arms in Icklingham for a midweek lunch. Here's what they made of it...
For years, the Red Lion at Icklingham was known across Suffolk as something of a hidden gem, a warm and welcoming pub with good food sat right next to the long and windy A1101 road out to Mildenhall and beyond.
But since it last closed its doors almost nine years ago the pub has lain dormant and empty, a sad reminder of happy times for those who passed it.
Until, last August, it was reborn as The Guinness Arms, having been blessed with a £2m refurbishment by new owners the Elveden Estate.
And I must say, it's a very impressive sight now. Two bars, a sprawling conservatory restaurant and a cosy, comfy bar area with no less than two fireplaces. It makes quite the first impression.
Thankfully, we'd booked ahead, otherwise we'd have stood no chance of sitting down - the place was jumping when we rocked up at 2pm on a Monday post-Christmas.
We ordered up pints of Adnams dry hopped (for me) and Peroni (Mrs Heath), settled loyal hound Benson down - more on him later - and perused what is a superbly varied and mouth-watering menu.
They offer a range of individual starters, but what really caught our eye were the sharing platters - From the Sea, From the Farm and From the Land which, if you're after a light lunch, would do the job on their own.
As it was, we ordered up From the Farm, and what was duly plopped down in front of us was pretty staggering.
A warm Elveden Estate venison scotch egg, homemade sausage roll, chicken rillettes, Lord Iveagh's Dublin chicken wings, sourdough bread and dipping sauces.
Good lord what a feast. Neither of us really like chicken wings but these were great - nice and meaty with a tasty coating - while the scotch egg and sausage roll were wonderfully crafted, packed with both plenty of meat and bags of flavour.
Even the chicken rillette cubes were a joy - smooth, creamy and indulgent little savoury bites.
As a concept, we loved it - what a way to showcase both cooking skill and the quality of ingredients you have on offer. One note though - if, as we did, you're ordering this as a starter, be prepared to be pretty full upon clearing the platter!
Like the troopers we are though, we pressed on. Mains were next up - poached monkish with a Goan crayfish curry and pakora for me, the Hop House 13 battered catch of the day for my better half.
For me, a gastropub proves its true worth when one orders something off the menu which is not a 'traditional' pub offering - and you don't see monkfish on many pub menus!
Pleasingly, my gamble paid off. My fish was both meaty and perfectly cooked - though rather limited in portion size, for cost reasons I understand - while the curry was at once sweet and spicy, nicely complemented by the gently-spiced pakora.
If I was being hyper-critical I would have liked the pakora to be a touch crispier from a texture contrast point of view, but the flavours all worked well together.
Across the table, fish and chips are a dish Liz finds hard to resist on any menu, and it was no different here.
Coated in a batter made from Hop House 13, the fish was meaty and tasty, while the double cooked chips were crisp on the outside, fluffy on the outside and nice and dry, with very little excess fat - exactly what a chip should be.
The accompanying minted crushed peas added a welcome touch of freshness and she happily polished off the whole plate with the same aplomb with which I cleaned up my bowl of curry.
By now though we were really very well fed indeed, and dessert would have been a step too far - even with the tantalising offer of a dark chocolate and peanut butter fondant - two of the best things on earth - on the pudding menu.
Which, of course, means we have no choice but to return!
Dog friendly - as long as you use the right door!
My one real gripe with The Guinness came within seconds of us walking through the door. We'd wandered in the side door with the hound and, as a waitress walked towards us, I expected to be asked my name for the booking.
Instead, she walked right past me to Liz - and promptly told her we couldn't bring a dog in that way and would have to go back outside and enter through the other door.
As first impressions go, this was as bad as you could get, and I duly made my feelings clear. I've not made more of it because, as I paid for our meal, the manager stressed that he'd already been on to his handyman to fashion signs for the doors. Well played, sir.
In case they're not up yet - if you're taking a dog, go in the front door!
As one might expect from a pub owned by the heir to the Guinness fortune, there's a hefty drinks offering at the Guinness Arms, from a pint of the black stuff to numerous lagers and ales, a good wine list and a lot of interesting-looking gins.
Dog issue aside, friendly and welcoming, despite the fact the pub was heaving. Given that, our food came out surprisingly quickly too.
The Guinness Arms car park is HUGE. Even at this very busy time, we got parked with no bother - if it can handle the Christmas surge, the rest of the year should be no problem!
Prices are certainly towards the top end of what one might expect to pay in a pub, but the food is good enough to justify that. Our meal - a shared starter, two mains and two pints - came to £54, which I'd say was good value for what was served up.
We both loved the shared starter, but I was particularly impressed with my monkish - I love it when a pub does a 'non-traditional' dish really well.
Great food in relaxed, stylish surroundings. A cracking addition to the Suffolk gastropub scene.