Suffolk’s best restaurant serves up a lovely bit of squirrel
- Credit: Edward Spreull
The Leaping Hare restaurant at Wyken Vineyard in Stanton (near Bury St Edmunds) has put its menu where its mouth is with its most recent ‘heat at home’ offering.
The eatery, named Best Restaurant in Suffolk at the 2020 Eat Suffolk Food and Drink Awards, launched its collection service over Valentine’s weekend with a rather traditional feast, before concocting Wyken Wild at Home, which has included squirrel and muntjac shot on the estate.
It’s all part of a drive by the restaurant’s new owner/operator Sam Carlisle (whose parents originally conceived the vineyard, shop and restaurant), to push the ethos at the heart of Wyken – celebrating hyper-local, ethical and, most of all, delicious ingredients.
Wyken Wild at Home is limited to just 100 covers a time, priced at £35 per person, with the next boxes available on April 3 and 10, and with online ordering opening on March 22 at wykenvineyards.co.uk
An undercover area, the Moonshine Café, has also sprung up in this phase of the national lockdown, with the installation of a permanent wood-fired pizza oven and al fresco dining spot with fire heaters and chimneys – all set for April 12, when diners can once again eat outside. Pizza (a new menu is coming soon), is currently available during Wyken Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.
Wyken Wild at Home will be available on selected dates until indoor dining is permitted after May 17.
“Our wild menu is an opportunity to be a bit more adventurous,” says Sam. “We were confident it should be a set menu that really tells the story of the dishes, rather than having the distraction of lots of options like you’d get with a full menu.
“We completely went for it. Our canape was a squirrel croquette [Sam shot the squirrels himself on the estate], the starter was wild pigeon carpaccio, for the main there was muntjac bourguinon, and pudding was a sea buckthorn posset and curd.
“I have to say, it was really interesting. At Wyken we’re lucky to have our farm with things we either grow or rear, like lamb, but we also have this wild produce in abundance - those meats that require controlling for the rest of the wildlife to thrive. That’s something I personally am interested in. In order to have woodland that’s biodiverse, and to have balance, we have to eat animals like deer. I think it’s one of the most environmentally-friendly things you can do – to eat the right meat.”
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Although squirrel isn’t likely to be the star feature of every heat at home menu, Sam says the meals that follow, and menus being conjured for indoor dining at the Leaping Hare once it re-opens, will explore the boundaries of what the restaurant can offer even further, connecting diners to the landscape they’re eating in like never before.
“Wyken’s always been about sustainability and local eating,” explains Sam. “We want to move with that and feel a greater connection with the farm. We’ve always served venison from the woodlands, and raised lamb, but the farm has grown. Our crops include wheat, barley and potatoes. We want to incorporate those into our menu, but also cover crops. This is something we do in farming to stop soil erosion and improve soil health. After, say, wheat is grown, a mixed cover is grown which can be grazed, or left to mulch and decay. But those cover crops can include delicious legumes or leaves we can hand-harvest quite easily in quantities the kitchen can use.
“It’s that cycle that’s positively influencing the world around us, and providing really authentic delicious food.”
Sam says he can’t wait to open the doors to the Leaping Hare once again in late spring. “The vaccine is a huge game changer. We are very hopeful. And although it’s been a devastating time for hospitality, there have been opportunities to do things like Wyken Wild at Home and pizza, that have enabled us to think about our vision for the next few years.”