Our food and travel writer Mark Heath visited MJP @The Shepherds in Fen Ditton, Cambridgeshire for a dinner, bed and breakfast stay with wife Liz. Here's what they made of it...

In life, you often discover good things in unexpected places.

For example, I met my future wife in Darlington, of all destinations. We're both from the Midlands, and neither of us have been to Darlo before or since life brought us together.

On a slightly less life-changing note, I also once happened across a crisp tenner lodged into a gap in a wall in the middle of nowhere. What a walk that was.

Anyway, you get my drift. All of which is a long-winded pre-amble to saying that I've found a bit of a gem in an unexpected location.

East Anglian Daily Times: Our room at MJP @The ShepherdsOur room at MJP @The Shepherds (Image: Mark Heath)

MJP @The Shepherds is, on the face of it, an attractive old pub in a small little Cambridgeshire village about half an hour's drive down the A14 from Bury St Edmunds.

But it's so much more than that. Before we get to that though, a bit of background.

The MJP in question is Chef Patron Mark Poynton, a man with serious food pedigree.

Poynton spent eight-and-half years with Daniel Clifford at the two-Michelin starred Midsummer House in Cambridge, before departing for a head chef role at Alimentum in the city, guiding that to a Michelin star.

East Anglian Daily Times: Our bathroom at MJP @The ShepherdsOur bathroom at MJP @The Shepherds (Image: Mark Heath)

From there, he took the plunge and bought The Shepherds, a 16th century pub, in June 2020, opening in July - post lockdown one, everyone's favourite - and has since been creating quite the buzz in foodie circles.

We'll get onto that food in short order, but first let's talk accommodation. We rocked up to MJP at about 3pm on a Friday, parked up in their small car park and were shown to our quarters.

MJP has five rooms at the back of the property, all well done - modern, stylish and spacious. Dog friendly too, which is fantastic.

East Anglian Daily Times: Free chocolates! A nice touchFree chocolates! A nice touch (Image: Mark Heath)

Our highlights were an enormous bed and rather pleasant waterfall shower, plus two complimentary home-made salted caramel chocolates, which went down very well with a quick cuppa as we got our bearings.

Worth noting too that each room has its own Nespresso machine, plus still and sparkling water, tea-making facilities and Smart TV.

But, of course, it was the pub - and the food - which took us to Fen Ditton, and we duly wandered into The Shepherds for a drink and a nosy.

The pub is split into two sections - the lounge and bar, and then the main restaurant area.

East Anglian Daily Times: MJP @The Shepherds is a 16th century pub in Fen DittonMJP @The Shepherds is a 16th century pub in Fen Ditton (Image: Mark Heath)

We sat in the lounge - also dog friendly - and supped on a couple of glasses of Colomba Bianca Grillo, recommended to us by restaurant manager Polly as an alternative to our usual go-to Sav Blanc. An excellent call, and a wine we'll return to.

Like the restaurant itself, the lounge blends a modern feel with the history and character of the Grade II-listed pub - exposed wooden beams and low ceilings mixed with plush leather seating areas and a bang on trend grey/black/white colour scheme.

Speaking of the restaurant, let's get to the food shall we? We're 500 words in and I'm hungry.

East Anglian Daily Times: Our cheesy, truffly amuse bouches - very indulgentOur cheesy, truffly amuse bouches - very indulgent (Image: Liz Heath)

Having retired to our quarters for a quick glow up and to deposit the hound - you can eat with your furry friend in the lounge if you wish - we were seated on a large table in the restaurant, with a great view towards the pass where Mark and his colleagues were hard at work.

Concept-wise, MJP is exciting too - they offer various plates on the always-changing menu, from which you can pick small or large options and pretty much structure your own tasting menu.

If you'd like an actual tasting menu, you can have that too - just ask and the team will craft one for you at a cost of £80pp.

East Anglian Daily Times: The sourdough bread at MJP @The ShepherdsThe sourdough bread at MJP @The Shepherds (Image: Liz Heath)

We decided we'd kick off with an MJP sourdough loaf (£6), along with small plates of seaweed-cured salmon (£11) and seabream (£11).

Bread, for me at least, is always a good indicator of the quality of an eatery, and the sourdough was fantastic - warm, soft and crunchy, with a delicious Abernethy butter.

A couple of amuse bouches went down well too - little cheese and truffle gourgeres, all rich and indulgent. 

East Anglian Daily Times: Art on a plate - our seaweed-cured salmonArt on a plate - our seaweed-cured salmon (Image: Liz Heath)

Meanwhile the salmon, served with buttermilk, caviar and dill, was as pretty as a picture - it seemed a terrible shame to fork it, but fork it I did.

And it was delicious, wonderfully soft and tender, with the richness of the buttermilk working splendidly with the herby dill and salty caviar.

East Anglian Daily Times: Our seabream at MJP @The ShepherdsOur seabream at MJP @The Shepherds (Image: Liz Heath)

The seabream, too, was a terribly photogenic plate. A goodly slice of fish, cooked perfectly, with onion seeds atop its skin to bring crunch and flavour, while a chickpea ragu, spinach and miso emulsion added savoury, sweet and salty flavours and textures, plus a kick of freshness.

For our mains, in our own personal menu, we'd decided to go with both meat plate options - the Hannan Sirloin (£26) and the pork belly and cheek (£25).

Let's start with the pork. This came served with choucroute (a type of sauerkraut), burnt apple and cider sauce.

East Anglian Daily Times: Our pork belly and cheek at MJP @The ShepherdsOur pork belly and cheek at MJP @The Shepherds (Image: Liz Heath)

The highlight for us was the cheek - as tender as a kiss from your mother, and a joy to eat. The belly too, was tasty, and worked well with the classic apple and cider flavours.

To our taste the choucroute was perhaps a touch too acidic, but given the sweet flavours elsewhere on the plate, you can't argue with the logic.

The sirloin, meanwhile, was the dish of the night. The sort of plate with which you can make others jealous simply by sending them a picture, this was a quartet of perfectly pink slices, sat atop a red wine sauce, encircled with a truffled parsnip puree and flanked by little parsley gnocchi.

East Anglian Daily Times: Our sirloin steak - wow!Our sirloin steak - wow! (Image: Liz Heath)

Everything there for a reason, all adding to the eating. Those parsley gnocchi were tremendous - all crunchy outer and fluffy inner - while the beef melted to the knife's touch. A wonderful plate of food.

A note too, for the lovely parmentier potatoes (£5) and, again, the wine recommendation from the team - an excellent drop of Domaine de Gournier 'La Savetiere' (£8) which really complemented both mains.

Onwards then, to the sweet plates. Here we went for the tosier chocolate, served with miso and brown butter (£12), plus the Baron Bigod cheesecake with ginger, quince and pear (£10).

East Anglian Daily Times: The tosier chocolate dessert at MJP @The ShepherdsThe tosier chocolate dessert at MJP @The Shepherds (Image: Liz Heath)

Liz loved the chocolate fondant, while I thought the cheesecake was very clever - a properly cheesy hit from the bold, brash bigod, offset with the sweetness and whack of heat from the ginger cubes. Excellent.

We capped the night - as is our wont - with an espresso martini (£11) before heading for our lodgings and hound.

East Anglian Daily Times: The Baron Bigod cheesecake - very cleverThe Baron Bigod cheesecake - very clever (Image: Liz Heath)

MJP lay on breakfast for overnight guests too, and this was a cracking way to start the following morning - orange juice, yoghurt and pain au chocolate, followed by a cooked breakfast, should you require it. We did, of course.

As with bread, I always think breakfast is a mark of a place and this one, crafted from clearly quality produce, left a good impression. Cooking up some extra sausages for our hound also left a good impression.

East Anglian Daily Times: Breakfast at MJP @The ShepherdsBreakfast at MJP @The Shepherds (Image: Liz Heath)

With that, it was out into the cold morning for a stroll across Fen Ditton's fields before the short drive home.

In conclusion then, MJP is an impressive offering. We loved the concept, and the feel of the place.

East Anglian Daily Times: An excellent way to start the day!An excellent way to start the day! (Image: Liz Heath)

The star, of course, is the food. Confident cooking with precision, presentation and flavour at its core.

Very good things in an unexpected place - but now you know where to find it.