Woodbridge: Restaurant owner Ugur Vata celebrates 20 years of The Galley
- Credit: Archant
The Galley is a name that has been synonymous with good food and great hospitality for 20 years.
Ugur Vata, who launched the eatery in Ipswich in 1994, first came to this country 30 years ago.
He was brought up in Izmir, Turkey, and he was hugely influenced by his mother who, he says, cooked fantastic food at home.
When Ugur arrived in Ipswich, he couldn’t speak English, so he studied the language at the then Suffolk College.
He went on to do a food technology course at Colchester Institute, and later trained in France in order to master the local cuisine.
In 1994, he set up The Galley in Ipswich and, following its success, opened a sister restaurant in Woodbridge in 2004.
While the venue in Ipswich has since closed, The Galley in Woodbridge remains one of the most successful restaurants in the town.
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And I soon find out why. On a sunny day in Woodbridge, I step into the brightly coloured building on Market Hill.
I’m warmly welcomed by manager Saul, and then by Ugur himself. Straight away, I discover that he is passionate about supporting local food and drink producers, when he offers me a locally made Charsfield apple juice.
Before we sit down to chat, Ugur takes me on a tour of the building. First, we head down the wooden steps to the cellar.
This unique room houses a long line of tables and chairs and Ugur explains that it’s used by groups for private dining. Along the walls, there are countless bottles of wine – with an ambient temperature of 15C, the cellar is an ideal place to store it.
“I’m a sommelier and know almost all of my wine producers,” he says.
This Wednesday, Ugur will be hosting a wine and dine evening. Neil Courtier from Grape Sense will be talking about the selection of wines, while Ugur’s team will come up with a four-course dinner to compliment them.
It’s apt that Ugur should have chosen this building in Woodbridge – he tells me that the building was once a brewhouse during the time of the Napoleonic War.
There’s a nod to the town’s maritime heritage here – one of the huge exposed beams is a piece of wood from a ship.
The cellar was recently overhauled. Paint on the beams was meticulously brushed off, and the wood was then treated by a company from Felixstowe.
Along with his love of food, Ugur is passionate about art, and the walls of The Galley are dotted with pieces by local artists, many of whom are his friends.
Back in the restaurant, and at the top of the stairs on the first floor, there’s a familiar figure in a frame – the Queen, painted from a photograph by Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy, who famously produced a portrait of the monarch in 2002.
Chinwe, who was a friend of Ugur’s, passed away in 2012.
Between the two windows at the front of the building, is a large, abstract painting. “Do you recognise this artist?” he asks.
I say that it looks like a Picasso. “You’re right,” says Ugur, going on to explain that it’s one of 500 lithographs.
He also has plans to put up his Salvador Dali porcelain plates in the private dining room upstairs.
Ugur said: “Customers experience my taste as soon as they enter the door. We feed your eyes before your belly.”
After a tour of the historic building, admiring the collection of art on the walls, we sit at one of the oak tables to enjoy lunch.
The menu is a work of art in itself – The Galley commissioned Dale Devereux Barker to design the cover. I recognise the style from similar artwork which hangs on the walls of the restaurant.
Inside, I’m spoilt for choice. There’s a nice selection of starters, mains and desserts, plus further choices on the specials menu.
On both menus, you’ll find French cuisine with a Turkish twist.
I don’t eat meat, but there is plenty of choice here for vegetarians and seafood lovers.
The Turkish-style mezze sounds mouthwatering and is ideal for vegetarians – a mixture of seven or eight dishes served with pitta bread.
Some of the mezze dishes they’re serving at the moment include Home Farm organic beetroot in garlic yoghurt, butter beans in tahini sauce, cauliflower fritters and new potato salad with herbs and paprika.
The restaurant also serves pasha – a speciality of Ugur’s mother – which is a paste made with walnuts, tahini, chilli, garlic and olive oil.
It’s a dip which was served spread on bread as a snack when he was a child.
I finally decide on the grilled cod fillet set over mash and glazed with herb and garlic butter and lemon.
While we wait for our food to be served, Ugur tells me more about where he sources his ingredients.
“Our beef – Aberdeen Angus – comes from Scotland,” he says. “We use Suffolk pork and chicken, Gressingham duck, British lamb and fish from Felixstowe and Orford.
“We can name all of our suppliers, and have pride in them. This really is a place for food lovers.”
Meat dishes on the menu currently include chargrilled Turkish style chicken kebabs with cracked wheat, peppers and tomato on the main menu and pan-fried Gressingham duck breast served with green peppercorn sauce on the specials menu.
Manager Saul brings up our lunch, and it smells delicious. Ugur has ordered the simple Greek salad as well as some feta cheese and herb filo parcels, accompanied by olive paste, which he urges me to try.
The long parcels are crispy on the outside, combining well with the soft, tangy, filling.
The cod is cooked to perfection, as is the mash. I even notice the dressing on the fresh salad. A house dressing made from a range of ingredients including mayonnaise and honey, Ugur tells me.
I’m intrigued by a delicious, sweet sauce drizzled over the plate, which I soon find out is pomegranate molasses.
When it comes to choosing a dessert, I have difficulty narrowing down my selections, so ask Ugur for his help.
He advises I go for the classic rum baba with Chantilly cream and flaked almonds, and it doesn’t disappoint.
The light sponge, dotted with sultanas, is nicely soaked with the sweet rum and sugar syrup.
I try a spoonful of Ugur’s baked yoghurt served with caramel, which is also delicious.
Ugur is the perfect host and offers me tea or coffee to finish the meal. The tea is again brought up by Saul, who is from The Gambia and has been manager here for eight years.
“We have a United Nations of staff here,” says Ugur and goes on to explain that he has two Turkish chefs, plus one who is from Bulgaria and another from Afghanistan. In front of house, staff are English, Irish and Spanish.
Food, Ugur says, is the international language. It is certainly one he and the team are fluent in at The Galley.