Review: Shillingfords at The Foragers Retreat, Pebmarsh - 'A truly unique offering, with one of the best desserts I've ever eaten'
PUBLISHED: 09:00 15 August 2019 | UPDATED: 16:24 15 August 2019
Mark Heath and his wife Liz headed out into the countryside to visit Shillingford's restaurant at the newly-opened Foragers Retreat in Pebmarsh for a Friday night dinner. Here's what they made of it.
I've been lucky enough to eat in a lot of good - and a few bad - restaurants around the country and beyond.
But I have never, ever, been anywhere like Shillingfords at the Foragers Retreat.
More on that in a second. But first, let's cross the t's and dot the i's of the detail. Shillingford's is the creation of Carl and Beth Shillingford, and was previously based at The Quay in Sudbury, before moving to the new location in June.
And, as the Foragers name suggests, chef Carl - an alumni of the Roux brothers' kitchens - takes matters into his own hands, literally, when it comes to sourcing some of the ingredients for his dishes.
The result is a fascinating, exciting concept - havng made our reservation online, we were e-mailed four menus more than a week before our visit and asked to make our selections.
Then off Carl goes to forage for what is required, serving it up in a variety of fashions. As I said earlier, I've never been anywhere like it!
Anyway, to our visit. We rocked up on a rainy Friday night and were met by two enthusiastic and friendly staff who offered us drinks - a glass of Merlot each, if you're asking - before escorting us upstairs to the restaurant.
The Foragers is housed in a former stables, so feels a lot like being in a barn conversion, all very pleasant. Waiting for us on our table was a copy of our own personalised menu too, another nice touch.
So what was the food like? Well, Carl and co don't offer traditional starters and mains - instead we were advised to choose three dishes from the menus, plus a dessert, and told they were roughly the size of a starter. Again, never seen anything like it...
Thus, I started with the heritage tomato and homemade mozzarella salad, while Liz began with her pork escalope dish.
Mine was tremendous - zinging with freshness and vibrancy and boasting foraged wild rocket and seashore pesto. One of the best examples I've encountered recently of a dish which shows that all you need are simple, quality ingredients, and just let them do the talking. A real winner.
Across the table, Liz's escalope was served sliced on a bed of handcut spaghetti with a homemade tomato compote and garnished with cheese.
Each element was well-cooked and very tasty, but the star of the show for my better half was the compote. Packed full of flavour and with a delicious natural sweetness, it was the perfect accompaniment to the pork and pasta elements. She told me, in fact,that she could easily have demolished another portion - praise indeed.
A great start to our meals then, if not in the traditonal 'starter' format. Up next, we'd decided to share a Suffolk green curry, boasting wild garlic, roasted squash, mixed wild spices and served with rice, onion bhajis and bread.
Because I'm terribly uncouth, I immediately grabbed a bhaji, dipped it in the curry, and got stuck in. Honestly, you can't take me anywhere.
The bhajis were fantastic - spicy and flavoursome, crunchy on the outside and without the grease you often get with them.
The curry itself was fragrant and low on heat, but packed with squash, cashew nuts and foraged greens - I swear there were nettles in there and, when I put that to our waitress, she just laughed and said "probably, knowing Carl!"
I would have liked more heat in the curry, but one can understand playing it safe in that regard.
Next up was the haunch of venison, served with roasted new potatoes, glazed carrots, French beans and a wild bullace jus.
As one would expect, the venison was perfectly cooked - nice and pink in the middle - while the sweet plummy jus really worked in tandem with the crunchy, earthy potatoes and the beautiful honey-glazed carrots.
Some of my venison was a little chewy but overall, a really tasty dish.
And thus we'd arrived at our desserts. Liz had picked the homemade golden plum ice-cream and mulberry sorbet served in a tuille basket and garnished with strawberries and fruit coulis.
The sorbet delivered a huge flavour hit, and was complimented by the smoothness of the ice cream. The tuille was more of a plate than a basket but still added texture to the dish for a satisfying end to her meal.
For me - and I know this will sound ridiculous - the sorbet was a touch too cold. Now, I appreciate that it kind of has to be, of course - but anyone with sensitive teeth should be aware that it may make you pull a few faces!
When not nicking Liz's sorbet, I was tucking into the Suffolk Delights - a dish based on Turkish Delight, using ingredients foraged in Suffolk.
I had elderflower jelly rolled in chopped cobnuts, wild strawberry coated in chocolate and a rose petal jelly too, all served in a ginger snap basket.
It was exceptional - one of the most fun and inventive desserts I've had for a long time, and I realised as I was eating it that I actually had a big grin on my face.
A delicious blend of texures and flavours, perfectly mirroring the tastes of a Turkish Delight. A fellow diner remarked that the ginger basket didn't make sense with the dish but for me its purpose was obvious - adding texture and crunch to an otherwise wobbly plate.
I can count on one hand the number of truly memorable desserts I've had in my life - and this is certainly one of them. Brilliant.
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Well fed and suitably happy, we ventured out into the rain to head back across the Suffolk border as the night closed in. A meal well worth the trip, and our time.
So, so important - and I'm pleased to say here our welcome was both friendly and informed.
You can't run a restaurant based on foraging without being able to tell the guests what was foraged in each dish - because irritating blighters like me will ask!
I was delighted that our waitresses could both put me straight and shut me up by providing the foraging facts.
It was also a really nice touch that, when we were seated, we were told that if at any point we wanted a break from the courses, or a stretch of the legs, that was no problem at all.
Maybe not quite the range you would expect in a big restaurant - no beers on tap, for example - but still enough wines, beers and especially gins to keep one happy.
Our Merlot was excellent so if in doubt, pick that!
Really nice, if a little off the beaten path.
The stables rennovation has been done well, resulting in a cosy, welcoming vibe - both upstairs in the restaurant and downstairs in a lounge-style seating area.
There was a goodly amount of parking around the courtyard in which The Foragers is based - enough to accomodate your vehicle at all but the busiest times, I'd imagine.
With no dish more expensive than £10, The Foragers boasts excellent value - and for the quality of the offering, it's probably undercharging.
Our entire meal, plus drinks - Mrs H had two large glasses of Merlot, of course - cost £76.
Definitely the Suffolk Delights for me - I'll be boring people with descriptions of that for a while!
Liz would say her venison was the standout.
A truly unique offering, with one of the best desserts I've ever eaten.