Restaurant review, The Secret Garden Wine Bar and Restaurant, Sudbury: “Exemplary service and top class wines”
- Credit: Archant
Charlotte Smith-Jarvis finds excellent service, and great wine, at The Secret Garden restaurant in Sudbury.
I’ve eaten at The Secret Garden café several times. God how I love their lemon tart! So I was keen to see how owners Stephane and Alain would bring that special French touch to Buzzards Hall.
My friend Claire (who’s been dying to eat there for a while) and I loved the teensy homemade sourdough rolls – with butter that was actually spreadable.
And the surprise amuse bouche of salted cod fritter with a zippy tomatillo salsa was a tantalising start to the meal, firing up our tastebuds.
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I ordered the recommended starter of chorizo in cider – something more typical of a Madridian tapas bar. I was initially unsure. I mean, chorizo and cider I get, but with grapes and apples? Once I had the trio of ingredients in my mouth, though, I was proven wrong. There was spice, sharpness from the apple (which had kept its shape) and the grapes added a hum of sweetness, not unlike having a glass of dessert wine with the dish. At the bottom of the bowl the hot chorizo oil, herbs and cider pooled together into a soupy concoction that I lapped up with the homemade bread on the side.
Claire declared her fish soup with rouille “wonderful”. What looked like quite a light stock was deeply aromatic, delivering the essence of fish without being ‘pongy’. I enjoyed watching her grapple with the melted gruyere on top!
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In the middle, again, I went with the recommended confit duck. Carefully trimmed and cleaned at the bone, the flesh fell away from its crispy skin and wasn’t over salted. It sat on a bed of classic French braised lentils. The addition of Asian style veg on top was puzzling, but they weren’t doused in five spice and soy so worked well. I liked the peppy, nutty salsa, which cleansed my palate between mouthfuls of duck.
Pan-fried trout was flaking and still moist throughout. Claire eats more fish and veg than meat so asked for it without the meaty jus and the kitchen rustled her up a citrusy sauce that more than worked with the earthiness of the plate’s centrepiece. It came with indulgent dauphinoise potatoes and plenty of seasonal kale.
For dessert I wasn’t so in love with my chestnut and whisky parfait I’m afraid. The meringue on top was perfection, but the parfait was over frozen and too icy/crystallised in places and the overall flavour was ‘sweet’ with no discernible whisky at all.
Claire’s chocolate fondant however was a sight to behold, unleashing a puddle of lava as she cut into it. Eaten with the cloud of ever-so-subtle coffee Chantilly and a crunch of cashews it was simply dreamy.
We didn’t order coffee but were generously given petit fours of candied lemon peel in dark chocolate and soft, rice paper wrapped nougat anyway. A thoughtful touch, and delicious to boot.
Being a wine bar, we were keen to have our wine paired for us with our food. Owner Stephane, who was running the floor, surprised us with different wines for our starters and main courses and, without hesitation, said he could do me really small glasses for tasting as I was driving.
I’m a viognier girl, but I have to say I think I’ve found a new favourite in the Pacherenc du Bilh. Wowsers. It was a mouth-drenchingly fruity wine, dripping with peaches and floral essences, with a hit of Parma violet on the tongue. I liked it so much I tried to buy a bottle to take home – but he didn’t have any left.
Claire was more than happy with her off-dry Provence rose, which was filled with those typically juicy summer berry flavours and excellent with the soup.
A South African Shiraz served with the duck gave up jammy plums with just a teensy bit of oak in there. And the viognier Claire was served with the trout had a creaminess more typical of Chardonnay and a touch more citrus than the average viognier wine. We were both very happy.
Looking online, the hall appears cold and dark, but that’s very deceiving because inside the restaurant is warm and inviting, with soft lighting creating an intimate setting. In its lives past Buzzards Hall has been a wool merchant’s and was lived in by Thomas Gainsborough’s uncle. The building’s history is deeply evident in the ancient beams, wonky walls and deep-set handsome windowsill of the main dining room. It’s charming.
True, it wasn’t busy on a Wednesday. However I still reckon the level of service we received is typical of this place. From checking in our coats, to asking if the room temperature was OK, pouring water without us noticing our glasses were empty, and expertly regaling us with stories about the wine, Stephane was an exemplary host and made us feel very well looked after.
You’ll have to try and grab a spot on the street. Or park on North Hill or at Kingfisher Leisure Centre, both less than five minutes away.
We were astonished by the value. The menu is priced on a set basis and was just £23 per person for three courses (not forgetting the amuse bouche, bread and petit fours). The bill came to £65 with a large bottle of still water and two regular and two taster glasses of wine.
The chocolate fondant was incredible. A little edible masterpiece.
It’s fabulous. The menu is rammed with seasonal ingredients. Nothing’s too fussy or overcomplicated. And the knowledge, service and wine were well above what you’d expect for the price.