Restaurant review, The Wagon, Sudbury: ‘Expertly cooked steak but the chips could be crispier’

Bang bang chicken Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Bang bang chicken Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis - Credit: Archant

Our food and drink editor visited this town centre gastropub a year after it was revamped.

Black pudding Scotch egg Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Black pudding Scotch egg Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis - Credit: Archant

Food

I took the family along on this mid-week review with me. All of us running towards the pub, coats held aloft over heads as we made a dash from the nearest car park in the rain. 'Ooh, this place looks fancy,' Ella (14, steak and seafood aficionado) declared.

And it did. The pub is celebrating a year since its reincarnation and they've certainly done a lovely job with it. The outside area, warmly lit and planted with bay trees, is a neatly-kept space which says 'come on in'.

Inside, there are three areas to plonk yourselves. A dining room. Bar. And, a panelled lounge - not dissimilar in style to our sitting room at home, with funky wallpaper (ours doesn't have monkeys on), velvet sofas and seats, and a bit of a 20s vibe.

Steak and chips Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Steak and chips Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis - Credit: Archant


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A plethora of menus was perched on the table - from gin, to cocktails, mocktails, breakfasts and more. And, in addition to the main menu, we were soon offered a specials board and told it was Steak Night. Two steaks and a bottle of wine from £30 - a great deal.

We got stuck into dishes though, from the main selection.

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Black pudding Scotch egg. A decent, fist-sized, dark golden brown beauty, with a desirably runny centre, surrounded by pudding that was on the right side of salty. A sharp, cutting mustardy dressing ran through, binding to a thoughtful little salad of leaves, radishes and tomatoes. Excellent.

My bang bang chicken was a riot of colour, popping with fresh leaves, chilli and tiny sprouted leaf tops. Tender, slowly braised, torn chicken fell apart in the mouth, clung to by a savoury, salty, lemon fragrant sauce. Bites of bang-in-season fennel, red onion and shredded cabbage added texture, cleansing the palate. My only criticism is that, in the slow cooking, little pieces of gristle and bone had made their way into the sauce. These things happen, but a note on the menu saying to watch out for them wouldn't go amiss.

Potato and halloumi massaman curry Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Potato and halloumi massaman curry Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis - Credit: Archant

The kids started their meal with garlic bread. No complaints there.

Ethan chose a burger from the children's menu as his main course. The burger itself was generous in size and made from good quality meat. However the chips with it were lacklustre. Kudos to the kitchen for making their own, but they needed more crunch.

Fish and chips with wasabi peas Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Fish and chips with wasabi peas Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis - Credit: Archant

MORE: Read our review of The Woolpack in Fornham St Martin.

Ella's sirloin steak, cooked medium rare, was pure perfection. You could tell before approaching it with a knife it was going to cut like butter - ribbons of fat melting away at the edges, the flesh teased apart in feathers. It was expertly seasoned, and ate beautifully. The accompanying mushroom and tomatoes were on point too. It's just the chips, again, which let the plate (slab) down. Where was the crunch?

And that was a theme on the other side of the table, where fish and chips were being demolished. The plate-filling portion of fish flaked into meaty pieces, bound in a thin, golden, crunchy batter which couldn't be bettered. But the chips were flaccid and a little wet. And we failed to detect much, if any, wasabi, in the wasabi peas. If the menu says wasabi, bring on the heat.

Chocolate and hazelnut brownie Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Chocolate and hazelnut brownie Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis - Credit: Archant

My main course of potato and halloumi massaman curry with flatbread and rice was, I'm afraid to say, a little disappointing. The sauce itself had quite a flat flavour profile with the overriding impression being of chilli heat, rather than lemongrass, shrimp paste and shallots. The potatoes, thankfully, were on the right side of being cooked and held their shape without turning to mush. But the halloumi was rather tough. It would have benefited from being cooked 'a la minute', just before serving rather than being cooked into the sauce. The flatbread was delicious. With a bit of work this could be a nice little veggie plate.

And onto dessert. A red wine poached pear had bags of Christmassy spice to it and was fork tender - something many a restaurant gets wrong. I've eaten more solid pears than I care to remember. It was complemented by an almost sharp chocolate mousse, spongy, sauce soaked almond cake, and the cooking liquor. Well balanced and very tasty indeed.

Our chocolate brownie looked the business, all elegantly presented with a crowning of hazelnuts, cream and caramel sauce with a hint of salt. Sadly, because it was a cakey brownie, rather than a fudgy brownie, a spell in the microwave to warm it had rendered the dessert dry and crumbly. A real shame because the rich cocoa flavour was there in spades, and the sauce was luscious. It would have fared better at room temperature, or from a few minutes in the oven instead.

Red wine poached pear with chocolate mousse and almond sponge Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Red wine poached pear with chocolate mousse and almond sponge Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis - Credit: Archant

Drinks

The association with Nethergate Brewery doesn't go unnoticed here, with several of their beers on tap. The recent award-winner Umbra Magna was a true champ. Creamy smooth, with only a touch of bitterness, overidden by sweet malty forenotes and a touch of grapefruit at the back. I was really impressed by their drinks for drivers- several non-alcoholic cocktails and a couple of low alcohol beers were listed. The apple, elderflower and mint sparkler was very refreshing indeed. Other cocktails come in at no more than £7.50. If you prefer gin, they have plenty to choose from.

Ambience

It was a little empty on our side of the pub, but we'd chosen not to sit in the main dining room, which is where it seemed folk were filtering into. But there was pleasant banter going on at the bar, and the look and feel of the place is quite decadent.

Service

Our server was very friendly but service was inconsistent. We had to wait a while for some things we'd asked for - at one point a drinks order seemed forgotten. And there was no courtesy check. It wasn't that busy during our visit so we wondered what it would be like in full swing.

Toilets

Nicely decorated and bright. Very very clean and freshly-scented (in the ladies' anyway). Some of the best pub loos we've seen.

Parking

There's free car parking just across the road - for up to three hours or overnight from 5pm.

Accessibility

The parts of the pub we used were on one level and there was plenty of space between tables so wheelchair users shouldn't struggle.

Price

It was £92.10 for two main starters, two children's starters, a child's main course, three main courses, two desserts and drinks.

Highlight

The cooking of the steak. They really know how to cook it here.

Summary

Very much a game of two halves. The look and feel of this pub is fantastic. The range of drinks and beers excellent. And most of the food was great, but some lacked a bit of attention to detail. There were over a dozen main courses to choose from and I couldn't help feeling they'd be better paring it back and focusing on pushing out fewer plates. They also need to crack making proper, crunchy chips. Overall a good spot for a bite though.

Our food reviews are published every Thursday evening at 7pm. Check back in next week to see where our reviewers have been.

All of our reviews are based on an unannounced visit to the establishment. All views and opinions are our own.

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