First look: Inside Ruth Watson’s new Suffolk restaurant - opening this week
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Watson and Walpole flings open its doors in Framlingham on Thursday, July 23, serving authentic Italian cuisine made with prime British ingredients.
Restaurateur, food writer and former hotelier Ruth Watson laughs when I mention her retirement.
Nearly three years ago she and husband David, with business partner Tim, sold the award-winning Crown and Castle in Orford, seeking a quieter pace of life.
“But I love restaurants,” Ruth smiles, perched at a window seat in her latest venture.
It appears there’s no stopping the formidable foodie as she prepares to open neighbourhood Italian Watson and Walpole this Thursday on Church Street in Ed Sheeran’s home town, Framlingham.
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A passing glance offers little substance to what lays within. But beyond the clean lines, simple table settings and rustic menus is certainly more than meets the eye.
Crockery, for example, has been hand made by local craftsman Lars Gregerson, taking into account Ruth, David and business partner and executive chef Rob Walpole’s detailed specifications not only on colour, but also shape and functionality. There were, it appears, lots of conversations about the perfect vessel for pasta, for example. Not a plate – not quite a bowl.
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The menu isn’t your typical bland, faceless pizza and pasta fare – instead it sings of seasonal ingredients and regionality – from the gnocchi of the north, to the fiery spiced sausage of Calabria at the heel of the country.
And staff (many of them, including front of house manager Stefan, previously on Ruth’s team at the Crown and Castle) have been versed not only in the latest safety procedures for coronavirus, but in how to deliver effortless service that makes customers feel genuinely welcome.
Although she’s been out of the limelight for a while, Ruth admits stepping back into the restaurant game was never really off the cards. “We’d already discussed with Rob locations and thought Framlingham, with all the new houses and the complete ‘market town’ feel, was perfect. We were looking for a good 18 months or so before we discovered the Lemon Tree could be acquired. And we’ve completely changed it. Everything you can think of has been done from scratch.”
That includes the lighting, air conditioning, sound system, kitchen, dedicated pasta room, new upstairs private dining room and toilets. The only thing that survived the renovation is the floor.
The result? An unstuffy, unfussy place to sit, people-watch, imbibe hand-selected Italian wines and sample the clean, authentic flavours of Rome, Venice, Genoa, Perugia and beyond.
“I wanted to make this a proper restaurant,” Ruth explains of the set-up, “in the sense that you felt you were coming out at a little bit of a higher level than a pub. We really wanted it to be relaxed and casual, which is the way Italians eat. They are wonderful restaurateurs and are extremely friendly, and I wanted to have that kind of ambiance so if you wanted to you could pile out of your house to have supper and just one course, and that was fine, or if you wanted to come out for a birthday, then that was fine too. It was about reflecting Rob’s passion for fresh pasta as well – we wanted that to be a big part of the menu as a starting point. I just love the regionality of Italian food and the fact that their cuisine is about the ingredients far more than the cooking, which is very simple. It’s not highly technical – it’s about showing off the produce. If you’ve got fresh porcini, for example, all you’ll have is a frying pan, parsley and good olive oil. No mucking about.”
Rob echoes Ruth’s sentiments about giving customers no-nonsense dishes, looking to local and regional suppliers (such as Cleveleys butchers), without being afraid to go further afield. “We just like to find the best we can, make it sing and to make it do what it’s supposed to do,” he smiles, looking through the menus.
At weekends breakfast/brunch is served up until 12.30pm, with Rob assuring diners they won’t have tried many of the items before.
“We talked about what we like to eat for breakfast. Ruth and David said they enjoy having Pump Street bread with wonderful jams. Their perfect breakfast is simply good bread, preserves and butter, so we do that. But I said I’d been really enjoying my own Nutella with stracchino which is a really creamy cheese, and some banana. It just seemed to work. Ruth made a batch, which was perfect – exactly what I had in my head – so it’s gone onto the menu.”
Then there’s the wood-roasted apricots with St Jude Curd and homemade granola, and Watson and Walpole’s answer to an English fry-up – La Totale. “It’s delicious,” Rob declares proudly. “Wood roasted tomatoes, baked fresh borlotti beans, pancetta and buristo, which is Italian black pudding. That’s made at Laverstock Park and it’s honestly the best I’ve ever had.”
Lunch and dinner menus are almost mirror images, with a few lighter options for earlier dining. Don’t expect foams, reductions, gels and twee frilly superfluous bits of greenery adorning your supper. Each plate is about flavour, pure and simple.
Starters range from a selection of free-range British charcuterie from Cobble Lane, to slivers of melting beef carpaccio, anointed with a mustardy Harry’s Bar dressing and flakes of crumbly Parmesan.
The finest Loch Fyne scallops, sourced via local fish expert Mike Warner, are cooked to wibbly perfection and served on the shell alongside a zippy artichoke puree, with a dusting of spicy nduja crumbs.
While the creamiest organic British buffalo mozzarella from Laverstock Park is ripped, pooled with salsa rossa sauce, and served with wafer-like gnocco fritto – puffy, pillowy, crunchy parcels of fried dough to swoop each element straight into your mouth.
A star on the concise array of main courses has wood-fired, tender, slow-cooked lamb with fresh borlotti beans and gremolata.
“And I love the risotto,” says Rob. “It’s made with beautiful Loch Fyne langoustines, or scampi as we’ve called them. We’ve made a wonderful stock from the langoustines – it’s so rich – and we’re slicing in some nice soft queenie scallops and fennel.
“But the tagliarini is my favourite pasta dish. That’s made with wonderful Sardinian bottarga, which is cured mullet roe. It’s finished with pangrattato, made with Pump Street sourdough, herbs, lemon and garlic. You can taste the sunshine.”
The pasta used in the above is made on site in Rob’s coveted pasta room – where he conjures up three flat and three shaped varieties on a rotating basis, using Italian semolina and 00 flour. Not to be missed from the current menu are the agnolotti. Little ‘sweetie wrappers’ of dough encasing milky St Jude curd and doused in a butter, lemon and Parmesan dressing with pops of fresh broad beans and peas.
The Italians don’t really go in for puds, preferring a ‘little something’ sweet with coffee in the afternoon. Perhaps a scoop of gelato devoured during the evening passeggiata. Watson and Walpole’s chefs echo this culture in their dessert menu, which is short...and sweet.
“We make our own gelati,” says Rob. “The ricotta stracciatella is made with ricotta from Laverstoke Park. That’s made on the Tuesday and delivered here by the Wednesday. It’s so creamy and fresh. We use that in our base and finish with lots of dark chocolate. For the pistachio we make our own paste for a truly delicious flavour.”
There is, of course, a panna cotta. And, although Ruth isn’t one for chocolate desserts, she’s compromised by popping boxes of NikoB chocolate honey nougat for sharing on the dessert menu. “They’re made by a guy I discovered in Islington – Anthony. He’s American. Very cool. And he makes the most amazingly good chocolates. He was working in the Silicon Valley [or somewhere] and was made redundant so he decided he was going to become a chocolatier. The nougat we buy from him comes in little boxes and is coated in chocolate. He makes everything from scratch. He even glaces the fruit himself. And it’s all organic.”
“It’s mind-blowing,” Rob agrees.
Visit Watson and Walpole on a Sunday to experience family-style dining. For a set price your table is served three starters to share, before a platter of wood-roasted lamb, Suffolk skate, or polenta with wood-roasted vegetables and aioli arrives, accompanied by a selection of side dishes.
All to be eaten in the leisurely, Italian-style, of course, alongside a cool glass of a little something from the wine list.
Bookings are being taken online now.