Restaurant review, The Boxford Fleece: “It was a game of two halves”

Calamari with chilli sauce.

Calamari with chilli sauce. - Credit: Archant

The starters were excellent but other elements of the meal here didn’t strike a chord with our reviewer.

Steak and ale pie

Steak and ale pie - Credit: Archant

Food

The Boxford Fleece has all the trappings of a great village pub. A friendly welcome as you shake off the cold at the bar. Fantastic real ale on tap. Unfussy surroundings.

But when I looked at the menu I have to admit it worried me. Despite being popular with locals, I can’t imagine it throngs with diners mid-week (there were only a couple booked in on a Wednesday when we visited). So why the long list of main courses? I counted over 20 (most of them served with mash) which surely can’t be sustainable for a small country pub?

Anyway. We ordered. I checked out the calamari fritti which was excellent. The baby squid pieces weren’t chewy, the batter was tender and crisp without being oily, and the bowl came with a smattering of dragon’s breath-hot chilli dressing. Squeezed with a lift of lemon it was as good as any I’ve eaten in Spanish tapas bars and set a pleasant tone for things to come.

Syrup sponge pudding

Syrup sponge pudding - Credit: Archant


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Hubby went for chicken liver pate. Nicely presented in a little pot, it had a dense, rustic feel – not unlike what you’d eat in a bucolic French village, smeared over bread from the local bakery.

We weren’t so won over by the main courses. I ordered a stilton and mushroom burger. The burgers, I was told, were from the local butcher and they were fine, if a little salty from the preservatives used in the mix. The bun, however, was dry and chewy. The stilton listed turned out to be a loose, uninteresting white sauce that didn’t pack any kind of blue cheese punch. And the fries were of the cheap, frozen, French fries variety.

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Mr Jarvis fancied a pie and settled on steak and ale. After ordering we were told they’d run out of pastry but would put a mash lid on top instead. Thankfully the pie didn’t come with mash on the side too (as listed on the menu) but the seasonal vegetables was bizarrely just a large helping of broccoli. There was a feeling they’d run out of things perhaps in the kitchen.

The pie itself was just OK. The meat was a tad tough. And the gravy didn’t have that mouth-filling unctuousness you’d expect.

Sticky toffee pudding

Sticky toffee pudding - Credit: Archant

We were told the puddings were homemade but if they were, they didn’t feel it. The syrup sponge pudding was very very overly sweet (although some diners at the bar seemed to be enjoying theirs). Sticky toffee pudding was more like a toffee cake with a strange sweet/slightly sour toffee sauce – my husband liked it a lot but I wasn’t convinced.

But the brownie was really quite nice, regardless of whether it was homemade or not. It was pleasantly gooey, with melted pieces of chocolate and a nice cocoa flavour.

A bit of a game of two halves really.

Drinks

There’s great beer at the bar, including the collaborative brew White Lies by Adnams and Yeastie Boys, and beers made just down the road in Edwardstone. Real ale drinkers would really like the traditional vibe of the dog-friendly bar area for a pint after a walk in the surrounding countryside.

Service

The waitress who served us was in charge of dining and the bar but nothing was too much trouble and she made us feel really welcome and at home.

Ambiance

On a busy Sunday lunch service I reckon The Fleece absolutely buzzes. It was so quiet when we went you could hear a pin drop, but we made our own fun and liked having a visit from the pub cat Parsnip, who sat under the table, nuzzling our feet without begging for food – she’s obviously well-trained!

Parking

You have to park on-street, which can be a bit tricky if it’s busy, but we’ve never struggled to park in Boxford most times we’ve been.

Price

I did feel the price of the burger was a little steep considering its presentation and elements. Had it have come with decent chips, and a proper hunk of stilton (or really nice stilton sauce) and in a fresh, bouncy bun, I’d have been more than happy. But I’ve eaten much better burgers for less in other pubs. The pie was priced about right at just over a tenner. But I felt the starters and desserts were a little over the odds when I compare them to other places I’ve eaten in the county. It was nearly £70 for two starters, mains and desserts with a couple of soft drinks and beers.

Highlight

The calamari without a doubt. It couldn’t have been bettered and the fiery sauce, despite numbing my mouth, had a fantastic flavour.

Summary

We’ll come back to sample Sunday lunch here as I suspect a few things weren’t quite right in the kitchen on the day we visited. It appeared they’d run out of ingredients and were ‘making do’. That said, I’d like to see a much smaller menu here. It’s unsustainable to try and be all things to all people, and they’d be better off doing a handful of classic dishes really well.

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