Our food columnist and reviewer Mark Heath takes a look at the best places he's eaten in 2023, in his final column of the year...

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, so it's time for me to share the best places I ate in 2023 with you - and hope you appreciate that.

Yes, friends, the annual all you can eat buffet of Yuletide is almost upon us. The one time of year you can have chocolates, half a pint of Bailey's and a slab of cheese for breakfast, and feel absolutely no remorse. 

It's also a time for reflecting on the past year, and for looking ahead. Thus, I'll do both across my next two columns - today is all about the best of 2023, while January will see me sharing the places I hope to visit in 2024.

Although I'm based in Suffolk, I'll include a few out of county places on this list too - because where's the joy in limiting yourself to just one county? These are places worth travelling for, trust me.

So, grab yourself a sherry and some festive nuts, and join me on my journey through the ghosts of good meals past...

East Anglian Daily Times: We visited the White Horse Inn back in JanuaryWe visited the White Horse Inn back in January (Image: Mark Heath)
The White Horse Inn, Badwell Ash

We kicked off the year with a trip to a West Suffolk pub generating quite a buzz in the community. 

The White Horse had been newly refurbished, with a sexy lounge bar among the additions when we visited.

And we were impressed. The restaurant boasts an old stables sort of vibe, while the new bar is all cosy, modern and stylish.

Food-wise, worthy of highlighting here were my Suffolk hog starter (£7.50 at the time) and an excellent value signature burger (£14.50).

Elevated pub food - but at great value prices.

East Anglian Daily Times: We tried The Peacock's new tasting menu in FebruaryWe tried The Peacock's new tasting menu in February (Image: Liz Heath)
The Peacock, Chelsworth

I've been wanging on about The Peacock to anyone who will listen since we first visited last year.

We returned again in February to try their newly-launched tasting menu, which was fantastic.

Head chef Sam Clover and restaurant manager Jack Butler are creating something special in this 17th century pub, a former favourite haunt of the Kray twins.

I was absolutely blown away by two fish dishes on this occasion - the roasted halibut, served with a cabernet sauvignon butter sauce, plus the native scallop, accompanied by rhubarb among other things.

Top notch, creative cooking in a beautiful setting with fantastic service.

East Anglian Daily Times: The double stacked burgers at The Pigs are tremendous - as are their rooms!The double stacked burgers at The Pigs are tremendous - as are their rooms! (Image: Mark Heath)
The Pigs, Edgefield

Our first trip out of county, The Pigs is one of our happy places - their rooms are simply extraordinary.

We always opt for the traditional spa lodgings - because they're dog friendly -  which means you get a huge bed, massive shower room, your own personal sauna and bath, plus a private outside space with fire pit.

Because the rooms are so good, I'd advise you to order room service - which is free of charge - whack on your robe and dine in front of your own fire. It's great fun.

The food is cracking too - I can highly recommend their double stacked burgers and superb breakfasts.

East Anglian Daily Times: The Maharani in Ipswich offers cracking traditional Indian fooodThe Maharani in Ipswich offers cracking traditional Indian foood
Maharani, Ipswich

There are times when only a good curry will hit the spot, right?

I headed to the Maharani, on Norwich Road, back in June for a work meal out and was very impressed.

Really good traditional Indian food, with flavours you can detect and enjoy - rather than just pure heat.

Friendly service too. Excellent.

The Stein Inn, Isle of Skye

Ok, now we're really travelling out of county! Yes, Skye is one hell of a trek and I'm not suggesting you pop up there for a quick meal.

But, if you find yourself on this beautiful island and fancy a top-tier seafood feed, get thee to the Stein Inn, the oldest pub on the island.

The setting is frankly ridiculous, right on the shore of Loch Bay. Could be the best beer garden I've ever seen.

And we had an incredible meal here back in June - langoustines absolutely fizzing with freshness, plus a bowl of mussels which I still think about, even now. 

For such a small place, Skye punches well above its weight in terms of eateries - I can also recommend The Oyster Shed, plus the Michelin Star Three Chimneys.

The Anchor, Walberswick

The Anchor is the quintessential coastal pub - a lively bar buzzing with both locals and visitors, where the salmon trouser brigade rub along happily with salt of the earth types.

You can sniff the sea from their garden, and take the short wander down to the beautiful pebble beach either pre or post visit.

For me, The Anchor also boasts the consistently best fish and chips you can get in Suffolk. We try to visit at least three times a year.

East Anglian Daily Times: The George & Dragon in Cley-next-the-Sea is a fantastic coastal pubThe George & Dragon in Cley-next-the-Sea is a fantastic coastal pub (Image: Mark Heath)

The George & Dragon, Cley-next-the-Sea

Another coastal pub, though this time on the equally charming and picturesque North Norfolk coast, The George is thriving again after a period of standing closed and empty.

We visited last year for a stay, and were back there again this summer because their pies are worldies and their fish and chips spot on.

It's also very dog friendly, with a new-look beer garden - the perfect spot to stop off for mid-walk refreshments if you tackle the scenic Blakeney-Cley out and back stroll on the costal path. 

East Anglian Daily Times: The Dog in Norton is a cracking country pubThe Dog in Norton is a cracking country pub (Image: Mark Heath)
The Dog, Norton

A good pub with good food and a friendly welcome is a soul-enriching place. And The Dog is just that.

We often pop in for a quick pint and some nuts or their more traditional pub grub - but were delighted when we visited for a review in September and discovered they can do next level gastro pub fare too.

Highlights for us were the pan-roasted chicken breast special - always make sure you check the specials board - and the barbecued lamb.  

East Anglian Daily Times: Our trip to Lark was sensationalOur trip to Lark was sensational (Image: Mark Heath)

Lark, Bury St Edmunds

We finally made it to Suffolk's hottest new restaurant in October, and boy was it worth the wait.

Incredible, exciting - and yet in some ways simple - food in the unique setting of a former bus shelter on Bury's Angel Hill, which seats just over 20 people.

Their cacio-e-pepe could well be the single best dish I've eaten this year.

James Carn's special little place has already made it into the Michelin Guide, and one imagines a star may not be too far in their future.

Restaurant 22, Cambridge 

October was a good month for eating in the Heath household. Or rather, outside of the Heath household.

Just a few days after dining at Lark we headed to Sam Carter's Michelin-starred eatery in Cambridge and, again, had our culinary socks blown off.

If you visit in the evening, as we did, you're getting the full tasting menu and as much time as you want to enjoy it, given they only do one sitting.

Wow. Highlights for us included the monkfish with Thai chilli, the squab pigeon main course and the almost too pretty to eat Bramley apple dessert. Best service we had anywhere this year too.

East Anglian Daily Times: We loved our stay at The Lion in East BergholtWe loved our stay at The Lion in East Bergholt (Image: Mark Heath)

The Lion, East Bergholt

Finally, on this best of list, we enjoyed a stay at The Lion back in November.

We were prompted to visit by their opening of several new luxury rooms, and we had a roaring good time in their Lion's Den lodgings, boasting perhaps one of the biggest bedrooms we've ever stayed in.

The pub itself is all wood, warmth and welcomes, and our meal was good eating - particularly the scallop starter plus our seabass fillet and venison mains.