Award-winning chef re-opening Suffolk pub with ‘proper carvery’  

Chris and Hayley Lee of the Bildeston Crown at their new pub The Three Kings in Fornham

Chef Chris and wife Hayley Lee, owners of award-winning Bildeston Crown pub, have taken on The Three Kings in Fornham - Credit: Charlotte Bond

As the hospitality industry emerges from one of the darkest periods in its history, it’s been great to witness the extraordinary resilience of the people working within it. Every day there seems to be a new food or drink venture opening in Suffolk. And that includes familiar faces Chris and Hayley Lee of the award-winning Bildeston Crown, who have taken on Greene King pub The Three Kings at Fornham near Bury St Edmunds, with plans to open mid-summer. 

Over lockdown, despite being shut most of the time, the Bildeston Crown has, says Chris, done a roaring trade in takeaways – especially Sunday lunches – and even launched an al fresco courtyard and cocktails menu of simple, classic dishes. 

But, Chris adds, they wanted something new to get their teeth into long before Covid-19 reared its ugly head, and taking on The Three Kings (which they will operate alongside the Crown) has been a year-long process. 

“The two tenants who were in the Kings before lockdown decided not to renew their lease. We’ve always liked the pub and we have friends living in the village, so for us this was a chance to bring it back into the community which has been missing it,” says Chris. 

The front of The Three Kings pub in Fornham

The Three Kings at Fornham is undergoing refurbishment and should reopen this summer - Credit: Charlotte Bond

“It’s a challenge, especially with recruitment at the moment, but we’ll get around that. There have been many times we’ve sat up at two in the morning thinking ‘what are we doing?’, but not having everything in place at the start shouldn’t stop you doing what you believe in. And I’m so glad we’re taking this on. The local interest has been amazing. People are coming in and they’re really interested in what we’re doing.” 

The pub, which seats up to 100, has five different rooms to drink or dine in, including a conservatory, plus an outdoor terrace at the front. 

Phases two and three will include renovating the back courtyard, and looking at the nine onsite bedrooms. For now though it’s all about preparing for opening, with Chris and Hayley getting stuck into renovating and redecorating alongside friends and family. 

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Once complete, the pub should open from Tuesday to Sunday, serving good quality, but affordable, food, alongside a wine list from Hallgarten Druitt and beers sourced via Greene King.  

The pub sign of The Three Kings at Fornham in Suffolk

The Three Kings at Fornham has been taken over by Chris and Hayley Lee of The Bildeston Crown - Credit: Charlotte Bond

“I want to bring proper food back here,” reveals Chris. “It won’t be fancy or expensive. Just classics done well but with a bit of a Chris Lee/Crown twist. So we’ll play a little with perceptions of classic dishes. Shepherd’s pie we might serve with a little smoked potato on top in a Kilner jar as a starter. Steak and kidney pudding could be steak with a kidney pudding. Ham, egg and chips will be braised collar of ham with pineapple confit. It won’t be a massive menu. Maybe five or six things for each course. And we might bring a couple of dishes from the Crown too, like the lobster Caesar.” 

A lobster Caesar salad from The Bildeston Crown

The Three Kings menu may include some favourite dishes from The Bildeston Crown including Chris Lee's popular lobster Caesar - Credit: Archant

It’s fair to say a carvery has never been part of Chris’ offering, but with a serving station already in place at The Three Kings, he’s looking forward to creating what he hopes will be one of the finest carvery offerings in Suffolk.  

“We don’t want to be doing four or five different meats. We will start off selling regular roasts on Sundays, and when we bring in the carvery it will be classic beef, with another option like chicken or lamb. Then six or seven amazing veg, duck or beef fat roast potatoes, and to the side we might have a cool cabinet and put starters in there. I don’t know one person who doesn’t love a good carvery, but that’s the point, it’s got to be good. I want the beef to be pink. If we have chicken or turkey, it has to be moist. There will be real gravy too. My fantastic butcher cooks beef for his shop in vac pac bags and keeps the juices for me for gravy – we make our stock every other day. I’m hoping it will be an amazing offering and people will come and love it. 

“It’s a new year, a new time and we think we’ve got a good plan. It's a challenge but we are really really looking forward to this, and it’s because of the staff we’ve got at the Crown that we’re able to have this opportunity. Without the amazing staff we have we couldn’t think about it. The BIldeston Crown will always be my baby, but let’s bring on the next challenge.”