Restaurant review, The Grazing Sheep, Ipswich: 'Greggs wish they could make a sausage roll this good'
PUBLISHED: 19:00 28 November 2019 | UPDATED: 10:31 29 November 2019
Our food and drink editor went to try out the Spanish-influenced cafe on the town's waterfront.
Under its previous guise, the food at The Grazing Sheep was very tasty indeed. But new (well not so new now) owner Bart Bisbal and chef son Julian really appear to have taken the café to the next level. Throughout the summer they've been offering pop-up tapas dining, and have set out their stall, to bring continental style breakfast and lunchtime cuisine to Ipswich's waterfront area.
Blown into the café by the wind and rain on a recent lunch visit, my friends and I were comforted by the sight of an array of goodies at the downstairs counter. Eclairs. Brownies. Muffins. Croissants stuffed with ham and cheese. Homemade empanadas.
We could hear it was busy so (eager to get a table) I was sent on a reccy upstairs, where it was packed to the rafters for 12.15pm on a Monday. Luckily my beady eye spotted a space and I muscled my way in.
Once settled/wrestled from our bulky winter coats, we perused the newsletter style menu. Brunch and breakfast looked interesting, but we were too late for that. No matter, because the lunchtime offering looked vibrant, with something for everyone, whatever their diet/allergy etc etc.
First up was a cheese scone. Warmed lightly and served with a couple of pats of butter. Light, fluffy, delicate and well risen, it was a technical triumph. Full marks for not 'nuking' it in the microwave - the death of many a scone! The only thing it was missing was a big, rounded cheesy flavour. An extra mature or vintage cheese in the mix would have made this a 10/10 for me, and that's no mean feat.
Nicola was impressed by a smoked salmon and cream cheese toasted bagel. A more than ample size. Fresh, lightly toasted bread. Succulent fish and smooth, cool cheese. There was a wallop of piquancy from house pickled shallots and voluptuous Spanish capers, which have more body and less bitterness than other varieties. A well-dressed salad on the side made this a great lunch plate.
Open toasted sourdough sandwiches are the house speciality and the Spanish Serrano ham variety we sampled was quite simply one of the best things I've ever eaten on bread. The mature ham was married with a sweet pepper ketchup, melting piquillo peppers, dressed leaved and nuggets of wibbly, milky, delicate burrata. Every bite was fresh, sweet, creamy, salty and crunchy.
In the middle of the table, was the café's signature salad bowl (vegan) which could be topped with anything from falafel to avocado. It's the kind of thing you'll find for breakfast (yes breakfast) in Melbourne or hipster cafes on the California coast. Popping with textures, bites, and tastes it was a party of around 10 elements, from spicy kimchi baby gem, to fermented beet, ancient grain salad, tiny balls of cucumber, lentils and marinated exotic root veg. Just brilliant and so much care had gone into it. The only thing I would say is aside from a few leaves and grains in the centre, the whole salad was 'pow pow pow' with little respite from the pickly, salty, spiced flavours. It needed something (dare I say it), bland, to bite in between to give the tastebuds a rest. Maybe a few more simply dressed grains. But really outstanding.
We had to wait a while for our sausage roll, but it was absolutely worth it. Within thin, golden pastry, all gleaming and golden from its egg wash, was a non-greasy, proper meaty sausage filling that quite frankly put many of the others I've eaten to shame. I like the fact they'd kept it simple. There were no herbs or whack of garlic or inclusions. Just a true, good old sausage roll (Greggs eat your heart out).
We took cakes back to the office with us from the choice of around six or seven types. The vegan, gluten-free brownie was rich, gooey and filled with chocolate flavour. It also had a decent crust.
Victoria sponge was vanillary, with a thick whirl of icing. But the least successful for me was the gingerbread slice with caffe latte icing. The cake was crumbly, falling apart dramatically with every bite, and the icing was incredibly sweet and lacking in the latte flavour.
What a selection! All kinds of coffee, including a rarely found café bon bon (served with condensed milk). And they had Birchall teas, smoothies, fresh juices and probably the entire back catalogue of Fentiman's fizzy drinks, including lime and jasmine, which I'd not seen before. We chose a Victorian lemonade and sparkling elderflower, which came with iced glasses (a nice touch), and a smooth, rich, not-too-sweet Italian hot chocolate. A hug in a mug.
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Although we agreed our servers were lovely, all three of us couldn't help but agree that on this occasion service let them down. It's worth pointing out though it was heaving, and there appeared to be only two people manning the till/coffees/clearing/serving so perhaps they were a person down? Water we'd asked for didn't arrive. Our sausage roll didn't show up until we'd nearly eaten everything else. And when we queried one of the elements on the salad, our server couldn't tell us what it was.
The majority of dining is upstairs which makes it tricky for wheelchair users. But there is outside seating with umbrellas and we spotted a basket of blankets.
None on site but it's about five minutes from the nearest car parks.
£33 for an open sandwich, scone, sausage roll, large salad, two cakes and a hot and a cold drink.
The open sandwich. Outstanding.
Yes we had a few service issues but I'm going to forgive the café as staff were gracious and it felt like an unusually busy shift. I thought the food was markedly different for the town and was of the kind of quality Ipswich is crying out for. Premium ingredients. Unique dishes. Beautiful flavour pairings. I can't wait to try their tapas when they start their pop-ups next year again.