Gallery/Review: A warm welcome at The Moon and Mushroom, Swilland

The Moon and the Mushroom Pub in Swilland.

The Moon and the Mushroom Pub in Swilland.

Matthew Symington popped along to the dog-friendly Moon and Mushroom, which offers comfort and tradition as well as a sprinkly of originality.

Setting

Even the name conjures up a certain magic: the Moon and Mushroom, it sounds like what you need to make a potion.

For this freehouse on the High Road in Swilland is magical. The fairy lights bedecked around the patio area offered an inviting warmth to me and my friend on a cold winter’s night.

Once the door closes behind you and the iron door fastener clicks into place you feel at home from home. The low ceiling supported by dark oaken beams keeps one encased, sheltered from the elements, and free to think only about food, beer, conversation and future plans.


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In other words, the Moon and Mushroom is a great English pub.

Interior

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The main bar area is small and personable, flanked by two well-maintained coal fires and with pew seating around the tables. The wood is aged, the red tiles on the floor are aged, the barrels of ale rest haughtily behind the bar and the lager taps are tucked bashfully to the side.

The decor is tasteful; some china above the fireplace and a few modest paintings. It’s antique and rustic at the same time, and everything is tinged with a reddish glow from the fires.

There’s been a pub on the site of the Moon and Mushroom, less than 15 minutes from the centre of Ipswich, since the 16th century. While sitting at my table, I was transported back to around 1672, to a place described by George MacDonald Fraser in which “squires ate roast beef and belched and damned the Dutch over claret while faithful hounds slumbered on rushes by the hearth” and “big-bellied landlords brewed rich October ale at a penny a pint for rakish high-booted cavaliers”.

But the pub wears its authenticity lightly, there’s nothing pretentious about the Moon and Mushroom, some modern lamps throw light into dark corners of the parlour, and wine glasses hang above the bar.

I checked it wasn’t just me who thought this with my friend Tom and he put it this way: “It’s comfortable, not trying too hard.”

Drink

Chalk boards above the bar advertise the current selection of ales, another above the fireplace advertises the specials from the menu.

I opted for Woodforde’s Bure Gold, a not-bad-at-all fruity ale with a slight crisp and even slighter tang at the end. It was £1.80 for a half pint.

Tom went for the Once Bittern of the same brewery and at the same price, he rated it four out of five.

Later in the evening I had a half pint of Jolabrugg from the Earl Soham Brewery. It was recommended to me by another cheerful customer and is strong beer at 5.2%, but this was well concealed, or well balanced I should say. It’s a golden, light ale with a definite sweetness.

I also had a taster of the Woodforde’s Nog, also quite strong at 4.6% and a stouty brew which made me sorry I couldn’t order a full pint. All in all a fine selection.

Food and prices

My rough hewn starter consisted of warm pear, stilton and walnut salad. It’s an old favourite that wasn’t overdone, with good contrasts and in good portions. Tom, a vegetarian, opted for the Dublin coddle; a broth of potatoes, leeks, onions and turnips which is hot and peppery and made for winter. A confident choice for the vegetarian option.

The mains vegetarian option was also brave: mushroom and stilton suet pudding. Tom was delighted not to be confronted with yet another lazy offering of mushroom risotto or vegetarian lasagne which is a staple of vegetarian menus.

Speaking of laziness, I opted for the smoked haddock fishcakes with chips and peas. The menu offered plenty of more adventurous choices, but my fishcakes were crisp and starchy and delicious. I was supposed to take photos of these dishes on my phone but regard it as a singular achievement of the Moon and Mushroom’s kitchen that doing so completely slipped my mind.

The prices didn’t raise any eyebrows either: £4.95 and £8.95 for the vegetarian starter and main respectively, mine cost £5.95 and £9.95.

Summary

The many advantages of the Moon and Mushroom were woven together by the charming proprietor; whose warmth matched her pub. The staff were equally engaging; I can’t pretend they didn’t know why I was there, but they displayed a natural enthusiasm.

Two asides: one good and the other open to dispute. Firstly, the Moon and Mushroom is a dog-friendly pub. Secondly, some customers may not like having to pop along a garden path (albeit fully sheltered) to reach the bathroom.

I felt that both of these added to the charm of the place. The Moon and Mushroom could run on charm alone, but it doesn’t. From within the comfort and repose of a traditional setting, it encourages us to try something new. It satisfies the itch for novelty and the ache for things gone by.

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