The Suffolk pub where you can ‘park’ your horse and eat oysters all day
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
A fun fact about country pubs. Did you know, several in East Anglia have spots where you can tether your horse – you know, if you just happen to be out for a trot and fancy a pint?
But the (aptly named in this case) Sorrel Horse in Shottisham further, with a paddock set aside for any visiting four-hooved friends.
It’s just one of many wonderful quirks of this lovely country inn, which is fast becoming known for its excellent seafood and wine offering.
Other notable features are a ‘secret’ shepherd’s hut bar at the back of the beer garden, the pizza oven (it’s pizza night on Thursdays), and the almost free-flowing supply of freshly shucked oysters. They’re not a weekend treat at The Sorrel Horse. You can eat them any day of the week, and on Fridays between 5pm and 6pm, it’s ‘oyster happy hour’ when the bivalves are just £1 a pop.
A wine shop is on the cards for the pub (just over six miles from Woodbridge) too. Hardly surprising given that it’s being run by couple Rebecca Murland and Clement Sigaut who until recently (it’s now wholesale and online) operated Smashing Wines in Woodbridge.
The pair took over the pub last summer, running it on behalf of the community with chef Edwidge Wella and manager Cameron Blackwood-Hugh.
They’ve completely refreshed the interior, have brought their specialist touch to the wine menu, and have worked hard to create a food menu which they think sets the pub apart.
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“It’s very foodie,” says Rebecca. “It has more of a restaurant feel to it and we’re already attracting people who love good seafood, which is what we’re steering towards.
“We closed our shop just before lockdown, and the reason we took on the pub is because we used to supply The Sorrel Horse with wine. Gary (who used to operate the business) was one of our customers. We were chatting one day and he said he wanted to move on so we thought, why not take a pub on in a pandemic,” Rebecca laughs. “We actually had a really good summer last year. We can’t complain. And because we took the pub on when no one could eat inside, it meant we could really look at the interior and put our mark on it.”
Before Smashing Wines, Rebecca worked with her sister over at Kin Knives in Rendlesham for seven years, then taking on a role in marketing for Jamie Oliver, with a move to France in the mix before her return to Suffolk.
Frenchman Clement has always worked in the food industry, whether as a chef, selling caviar, or selling wine.
At Smashing Wines the couple’s focus was purely on excellent quality natural wines – which now feature heavily at The Sorrell Horse, where you can find out more about the process behind natural wine, sample a few glasses and (hopefully later in 2022) buy bottles to take home.
The wine list is complemented by real ales from Woodfordes and Marstons.
As for food, besides oysters, there is a definite slant towards the sea.
“There are some great pubs around here but a lot of them have the same offering, things like crispy pork belly, so we were determined to do something different.” says Rebecca. “There are some amazing seafood businesses in the area, but Woodbridge doesn’t have a seafood restaurant. We wanted to capture a gap in the market. There is something for everyone, but fish and shellfish are what we want to shine a light on.
“We get a lot of fish from Mike at A Passion for Seafood or Sam Cole near Lowestoft. We cannot wait for lobsters to come back into season. We had them on all last summer. Everyone told us we’d never sell lobsters in a little pub in the middle of nowhere but we were calling Mike up constantly saying we needed more!"
Meat is sourced from Salter & King butchers, and vegetables are as local as possible, with the same menu running through lunch and dinner, and Rebecca adding they “don’t do sandwiches”. But there may be soup in the daytime. “We recently had on cullen skink which is really really popular. It was my dad’s favourite and I have so many memories of eating it in Scotland. Clement is not a fan of soup...but even he likes it!”
This also isn’t the place to go if you’re after a traditional Sunday lunch. “So many pubs make a roast. But, maybe because Clement didn’t grow up on them, we decided not to do that. We do have things like confit duck leg with mashed potato, or slow-cooked lamb shoulder. There’s always a ‘meat and three veg’ option, but what we prefer to do, what we love to do, is big seafood platters in the summer!”
Hit dishes that have featured at the pub include crab gratin, scallop ceviche, and moules frites made with Brancaster mussels.
“We have amazing burgers made by Salter & King,” adds Rebecca, “and we recently used Emmett’s ham for our ham, egg and chips. It was delicious. Chips, crispy duck egg, and beautiful slices of their ham.”
British steak with shallot butter, is another winner.
As for desserts. “We recently had warm ginger sponge with butterscotch sauce, it’s a classic. Our best seller last summer was the tiramisu. And the choux buns with salted caramel ice cream. I loved that.”
This week, March 2 to 6, following hot on the heels of successful Greek pop-up dining with chef Maria Elia, Clement will be heading up the kitchen for five lunch and evening services, hosting his own pop-up French menu.
“The Greek pop-up was so popular,” says Rebecca. “We only did that with Maria because our head chef was going away and we thought it would be fun to do something different. Our customers loved it – and locals have already been booking tables for the French menu.
“Clement has a friend in London who will bring up French produce, supplemented by our local suppliers. Le Bistro De Clement will have a full a la carte menu, and we’ll add specials over the weekend.”
Dishes include frog legs in garlic butter, coquilles st jacques, moules frites, tartiflette, confit duck parmentier, tarte aux pommes, mousse au chocolate...and a platter of French cheeses.
“We’ve been so pleased with the response so far,” says Rebecca. “All the locals have been so keen to support us! We’re really looking forward to it.”
Booking information can be found at The Sorrel Horse website. The pub is open Wednesday to Sunday.