Our food reviewer Mark Heath and his wife Liz enjoyed a Friday night stay and dinner at The Bildeston Crown. Here's what they made of it...

The best thing about reviewing pubs, restaurants and other eateries is finding somewhere genuinely special.

If you're lucky, it might happen once or twice a year. Last year, for me, it was Bury's brilliant Lark, and the exceptional Restaurant 22 in Cambridge. In 2022, The Peacock in Chelsworth was my lightbulb moment.

Well, it's only late-March 2024, and I've found another. I say found, but in truth The Bildeston Crown was never lost. It's had a tremendous reputation for food for years, and has held three AA rosettes since 2008.  

East Anglian Daily Times: The Bildeston Crown is a 500-year-old coaching innThe Bildeston Crown is a 500-year-old coaching inn (Image: Mark Heath)
I expected to be impressed. I did not expect to be blown away.

A few details first before we get into the meat of things. The Crown is a 500-year-old coaching inn perched above the narrow main road through Bildeston, a classic chocolate box village in mid-Suffolk.

READ MORE: Mark Heath food column - An underwhelming trip to the Unruly Pig

It's now part of the Nedging Hall Estate, a family-owned country estate, which also includes The Lindsey Rose, Sudbury's Brewery Tap and Mauldons Brewery, the oldest brewery in Suffolk. More on all of that to come.

We rocked up at just gone 5pm on a Friday night, swung into the Crown's surprisingly large car park and duly wandered through a beautiful little courtyard to reception.

There we met George Bonwick, the Crown's general manager and a man with some serious Michelin star pedigree.

East Anglian Daily Times: Our room at the Bildeston CrownOur room at the Bildeston Crown (Image: Mark Heath)
He showed us to our quarters, the newly refurbished room 10 (£240/night). First impressions - The Crown is way bigger than expected, a warren of corridors and wonky floors which boast a real charm.

Our room - one of the Crown's trio of 'luxury' lodgings - featured a huge super king bed and a spectacular bathroom with a walk-in shower large enough to hold meetings in, plus an eye-catching double-ended bath set beneath a painting of a Venetian vista.

It is the sort of accommodation in which one feels a bit special. No surprise, then, that the Crown was recently named among the best places to stay in Europe by The Times.

East Anglian Daily Times: What a bathroom!What a bathroom! (Image: Mark Heath)
To dinner. Given we had faithful hound Benson in tow as per, we were seated in the bar area, a warm and inviting space complete with original wooden beams, a lovely old fireplace and a nice Friday night buzz as folks laughed, drank and reflected on their weeks.

We kicked off with a couple of glasses of prosecco (£9.50 each) and some spiced lamb croquettes from the snacks selection (£8).

These were a tasty prelude to the night's eating, crunchy and delicately spiced, with chipotle mayonnaise adding to the experience.

East Anglian Daily Times: The bar area at the Bildeston Crown - charmingThe bar area at the Bildeston Crown - charming (Image: Mark Heath)
Bread is often one of the key quality indicators of an establishment, and the Crown's offering - a light honey and rye baguette with beurre noisette - was top tier. Almost dessert levels of sweetness, nicely offset by the burnt butter. Delicious.

For the rest of our meal, we let the aforementioned George guide us. A passionate and knowledgeable host - especially when it comes to wine - he shared the estate's ethos with us.

The Hall's gardens supply much of the fruit, vegetables and herbs used by the pubs, a noble approach, while the bars stock beers from Mauldons.

Despite being something of a Neanderthal when it comes to beer - make mine a lager, please -  I supped two of those, the Mole Trap bitter and Silver Adder pale ale. Both were good, though I suspect better appreciated by a more refined palate than mine.

East Anglian Daily Times: My salmon starter at the Bildeston CrownMy salmon starter at the Bildeston Crown (Image: Liz Heath)
Back to the food. George suggested we kick off with the gin-cured salmon (£12) and pork and spinach tagliatelle (£14), so we did.

The salmon, served with a beetroot pickled quail egg, cucumber and caper salad, looked great and was delicate and light, with freshness from the cucumber, earthiness from that little purple egg and texture from the crunchy fried capers.

The pasta, meanwhile, was home-made and cooked perfectly, with a generous serving of well-seasoned pork, zing from the lemon butter emulsion and bite from crispy walnuts.

East Anglian Daily Times: The pork tagliatelle starter at the Bildeston CrownThe pork tagliatelle starter at the Bildeston Crown (Image: Liz Heath)
A note too, for the George-approved wine - a beautiful Rioja Blanco from Nivariuus (£8.50/glass), which paired superbly with our food.

Next up, Mauldons-battered monkfish served with buttered English lettuce, pea, mint and saffron potatoes (£24).

East Anglian Daily Times: Our monkfish course at the Bildeston CrownOur monkfish course at the Bildeston Crown (Image: Liz Heath)
A wonderfully light batter encased the meaty fish, which sat on a little broth of vegetables - creamy, but not heavy, with a kick of acidity from some shallots in the sauce. Such a well-balanced dish.

Main event time next. George recommended the Chateaubriand for two (£47.50 each), and I saw no reason to argue.

Chateaubriand should be a showstopper dish, something which makes the whole restaurant pause and gasp as it makes its way to your table, and this was exactly that.

A huge platter of steak, cooked to a perfect pink medium-rare, along with a couple of meaty croquettes, confit tomatoes, truffled green beans, fries and two sauces.

East Anglian Daily Times: Showstopper! Our Chateaubriand main at the Bildeston CrownShowstopper! Our Chateaubriand main at the Bildeston Crown (Image: Liz Heath)
Goodness me, what a dish. It ate superbly, with a fantastic pop of sweetness and freshness from those estate-sourced vegetables. Certainly the best-single dish we've had so far this year.

Again, George was spot on with the wine recommendation - a Malbec 'Alto Molino' (£8.10 per glass) - which complimented the meat very well.

Belts being tested, we pressed on to desserts. Caramel roasted pears, Reblechon mousse and grape jelly mille-feuille (£12) plus the iced rhubarb parfait, madeleine, ginger marscapone, sablet biscuit and poached meringue (£13) were the tips, and once more we obliged.

East Anglian Daily Times: Cheesy and sweet - our mille-feuille dessertCheesy and sweet - our mille-feuille dessert (Image: Liz Heath)
The former was brilliantly naughty - a cheesy mousse contrasted by the sweetness of the pears and jelly, lifted by the crunch of the pastry. I feared the cheese would overpower everything, but again it was perfectly-balanced.

The parfait, meanwhile, proved the perfect end to our meal - light and delicate eating, in comparison to the big, bold flavours of the mille-feuille.

East Anglian Daily Times: Our iced rhubarb parfairt dessert at the Bildeston CrownOur iced rhubarb parfairt dessert at the Bildeston Crown (Image: Liz Heath)
All in all, a wonderful meal - our best of 2024 so far. Kudos to executive chef Freddie Fallon and head chef Vikki Tolfrey - you have something special brewing at The Crown.

Breakfast the next morning - another key quality indicator - was cracking too.

East Anglian Daily Times: These are exciting times at the Bildeston CrownThese are exciting times at the Bildeston Crown (Image: Mark Heath)
Everything about The Bildeston Crown is exciting, from the accommodation to the food and the overarching estate ethos.

You've heard of field to fork. This is estate to plate. And it's great.