Restaurant review, The Kings Arms, Haughley: ‘The pub deserves to be showered with awards’
- Credit: Archant
Out food and drink editor was blown away by the service and flavour-packed food at this country pub near Stowmarket.
“Ooh I can smell bacon,” I smiled at Mr J, gripping his arm in the car park of The King’s Arms, Haughley like a giddy school girl.
“Have you got your face mask?” He glared, prompting me to totter back ungainly in heels for my very unflattering blue ‘emergency’ mask, which looks like it’s been fashioned from the gusset of a pair of tights. On the way I spied a couple of muntjacs scuttering across the garden – presumably away from the kitchen!
Outside the pub (a finalist in the Eat Suffolk Awards 2020 for Outstanding Front of House, and in 2019 for Chef of the Year), is clear guidance on Covid-19 procedures – nice to see they’re taking it seriously.
On entering, the floor is clearly marked out in a one-way system, staff are decked out in fabric masks (less intimidating than those PPE visors, I feel) and you’re asked to check-in with the NHS app or write down your details. Unhandily my husband had managed to delete said app from his phone so we spent the first few minutes of date night trying to pin it down.
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And then. Relax. Not hard to do in this place, which we last visited probably around four years ago, not long after Lucy and Grant took the village local on.
Soft ambient anglepoise lighting, flickering tealights and fairylights set a cosy, romantic tone to the restaurant, soporific tones of grey throughout bring a sense of calm, and the dining chairs are forgivingly squidgy. There’s a feeling of warmth, like you’re eating in a friend’s dining room (albeit a friend with a large house!).
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There was a problem when our waitress handed over the menu...we couldn’t decide what we wanted. Grant and his kitchen team have conjured an autumnal offering of epic proportions – bursting with seasonal vegetables, game, truffle, cheese.
So we did what any self-respecting foodies would and over-ordered.
While waiting, a half pint of Greene King’s new pale ale, Ice Breaker, arrived for Mr J. Fresh on the nose with guava, mango and pineapple, and with a pleasingly crisp, citrussy, malty finish, it was similar to Adnams Mosaic.
Lucy selected for me a glass of Ad Hoc chardonnay from the list she’s drawn up with Ed from merchant Hallgarten Druitt. And very nice it was too, differing from the buttery, sometimes oaky characteristics of this varietal, leading with blackcurrant leaf and bursts of sherbetty pink grapefruit.
An ideal partner for our starters.
To begin, one of the best homemade breads we’ve tried in any restaurant. The whopper of a pain de campagne, was warm, perfectly proved, light and fluffy, with a thin, crackly crust and silky quenelle of whipped salted butter.
Tender partridge breast was seared and topped with salted, puffed pearl barley, served with a creamy, rich Dorset Blue Vinney barley risotto. Slivers of fresh pear livened the plate and stopped it from being claggy.
A pair of playful blue corn tortillas were topped with squid ink battered sustainable pollock, over cured red cabbage slaw with chilli, and a sharp grapefruit gel. Pops of crushed coriander seed brought the tacos alive with an oomph of citrus. I perhaps just wanted a bit more of that gel on there.
The starter that really revved our engines was a naughty but nice bowl of Westcombe cheddar custard, inspired we think by Richard Bainbridge’s Wells Alpine soup at Benedicts in Norwich (somewhere Lucy admits is one of their favourite places to eat). You really could taste the complexity and maturity of the cheese throughout, countered by molten confit shallots, sharp pickled cubes of ratte potato, and halved roasted ratte potatoes. Absolutely wonderful.
Adjusting waistbands it was time for our mains – mine accompanied by an Australian shiraz, again chosen by Lucy. Laced with hints of vanilla and tobacco on the nose, and with a velvety blend of vanilla, Victoria plum, violet and cocoa nib on tasting, it was a synergistic match with my venison loin.
Cooked sous vide, and finished over live fire on a Japanese barbecue, the loin had been rolled in seasoning and juniper, with a sprinkle of crushed, sweetened cocoa nibs over the top of the loin, bringing beautiful chocolate flavours through on my palate. I hate it when chefs chuck raw cocoa nibs on a plate – too bitter.
Shredded, braised red cabbage and pickled blackberries kept every bite interesting. And the layered Pommes Anna, were moreish.
Mr Jarvis declared his pink-centered beef fillet with sticky, luscious confit beef shin “to-die-for”. And I couldn’t disagree. Served with creamed kale and Jerusalem artichokes, it was perfection. In particular the saucing was very good. Striking a balance when making red meat sauces can be tricky, with many erring on the side of being too rich. The jus on each of our plates was lip-smacklingly savoury, deeply flavoured and impeccably seasoned. I’m not ashamed to admit I ran my finger over our plates to polish the sauce off – although Mr Jarvis was ashamed to witness my faux pas.
We also sampled a small bowl of handmade agnolotti pasta (like little sweeties) filled with bosky mushroom and truffle puree, served with golden seared wild mushrooms, celeriac puree and truffle confit egg yolk, which was ethereally light in texture, and dreamy in the mouth, countered by a hay stack of straw potatoes.
Sides of cauliflower cheese with truffle crumbs and ingenious baby carrots with carrot top chimmichurri are a must.
The little space reserved in our tummies for pud, was sated by the heaven that was hazelnut praline chocolate cremeaux (a moussy custard), taken to elevated heights of chicness with chocolate hazelnut crumb, coffee sponge and viscous, smoky espresso caramel.
The only falling point of the meal, we felt, was the honey parfait with whisky crème anglaise, orange and whisky sauce, honey oat clusters and ginger. While the cooking and textures were spot-on, we failed to pick up the honey or the whisky. A bolster of both would make this a dessert to relish.
You’d think we couldn’t fit anything else in...but you’d be wrong. We stuck around for a mocha and hot chocolate (there was the option of white or dark) and both were well worth adding on to the end of the meal, each topped with a frothy crema, and the chocolate in particular being rich, thick and decadent.
When we stood up to leave I had chocolate and sauce down my top – the sign of a good meal. No, make that a great meal where flavour was king. I urge you to eat here.
There’s plenty of free parking at the back of the pub.
Seamless, genuinely friendly and chatty. Many of the customers knew the staff by name and vice versa – clearly people in the area love their local.
There is a small step into the main dining room, and a couple of steps down to the bar side, but there is a level dining area too – if you have mobility issues let them know when you book.
Some of the best-smelling in Suffolk. The rhubarb-scented Noble Isle toiletries were gorgeous – I’ve already ordered some for my bathroom at home. There’s plenty of space in the ladies’, including a baby changing area complete with wipes and nappy bags.
Three courses without wine is approximately £30 to £35 per person.
There were many, but I’m going to say the venison, seeing as we’re coming into prime game season, with more game dishes coming to the pub soon. The texture, flavours and techniques used to prepare this dish were faultless.
I truly hope Lucy and Grant re-enter our food and drink awards in the future and that guide books give them the recognition they deserve. The quality of food, drink and service was impeccable and we could taste the care and love taken in every bite.
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Charlotte was invited to dine at this restaurant. All our reviews however are not influenced and are an honest account of our visit.