Review, The King's Head, Dullingham: The best meal we’ve had in a very long time'
- Credit: Simon Weir/Archant
The run-up to Christmas. Time to pause, look back over the year that’s been and maybe indulge yourself – or your loved ones. Which in my case meant taking my partner to the King’s Head in Dullingham, just outside Newmarket. We’d been here for a memorable meal once before. So long ago it feels like it could have been in the Victorian days – but was in fact just pre-Covid.
It’s an attractive, traditional-looking pub, with plenty of parking, just off the B1061 as you come into the village. Inside it’s all warm wood and low lighting: very welcoming. As we settle in to peruse the menu – which clearly has some seasonal nods – we’re given some bread, to go with a quenelle of butter, which I mention only because it’s notably delicious.
For a starter, Ali has opted for the cauliflower and smoked Applewood tart (£9). It arrives looking truly delicate, with its Applewood cheese beignet, quince gel and a smoked almond granola adding some extra texture. “This pastry is so fine,” she coos, clearly enraptured. “The pickled cauliflower is genius and the beignet is delicious.” It’s fair to say it’s a massive hit.
My starter of roast goose breast with sauteed wild mushrooms, a chestnut crumb, port reduction and clementine gel (£9) is equally delicious, The goose isn’t too gamey and it’s perfectly cooked. The gel adds a zing to cut through the rich sauce and the chestnuts surprise me by how much they bring to the party, with a lovely crunch of texture as well as their nutty flavour.
But it’s the tasty and well-prepped mushrooms that take centre stage – largely because I’m having to eke out the goose as there are only two small slices.. I thought chefs were meant to serve things in threes? That would have balanced things better. It is a good starter, but it feels more like a mushroom dish with accompanying goose…
I have only two slices of Suffolk venison wellington (£30) for my main but I don’t mind here as they’re so generous. They are also impressively perfectly cooked, with the pasty holding nicely around the mushroom duxelles and the meat melt-in-the-mouth tender and pinkly rare without any suggesting that it’s under. It’s an impressive bit of cooking to get that so right.
The accompanying baby vegetables a la Grecque (lightly pickled) are tender and packed with flavour, while the black garlic and pomme puree is smooth, tasty and surprisingly hearty. It’s all bound together by a delicious sauce that lifts it to the next level – it’s a fabulous main course.
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Ali has gone for the poached halibut with sea vegetables and langoustine, with a tomato and orange beurre blanc (£28). The fish and langoustine are perfectly cooked and packed with flavour. The samphire brings a delicious tang to the dish, though as it’s late in the year one or two pieces are tougher than ideal, with the stringiness of an elderly runner bean.
The star of the plate, though, is the sauce (which is quite an achievement when the fish is so good) – it’s a truly dazzling, silky, savoury delight. It’s so delicious that, once the fish is finished, we flag down a waitress for a bit more of that superb bread to mop it up with and to hell with whether that’s 'good manners': it would be criminal to leave a sauce this good on the plate.
As it’s December, there is a traditional Christmas pudding on the dessert menu, but I foolishly opt for the chocolate and almond Yule log (£8) that comes with a honeycomb ice cream. There’s nothing wrong with it – it’s tasty enough – but unlike the savoury dishes I feel it’s a bit uninspired. The ice-cream is nice enough, but I’d like more of hit of honey from it. When I see the Christmas pud heading to another table, I know I made the wrong choice…
Ali has definitely made a better selection, with the panettone pain perdu (£8) which comes with caramelised clementine, a granola and an orange blossom ice cream. It’s properly rich and indulgent, with the texture just on the right side of stodgy and the flavour balancing nicely with the subtle ice cream and more powerful zing of the clementine.
Overall, it is a great meal. It’s exactly right for a treat after making it through another tough year with Covid: a proper celebration of good food and good cooking. “That’s the best meal we’ve had in a very long time,” Ali says and I agree. Though it should be: our bill, with a pint of bitter shandy, two glasses of white wine and a bottle of water, was £116. That’s special occasion money, in my book. But then, the quality of the cooking has made our visit to the King’s Head in Dullingham into a special occasion. When you need a treat in the New Year, it should be high on your list of places to visit.
The King’s Head, 1 Stetchworth Road, Dullingham, Newmarket, CB8 9UJ
Tel: 01638 507702
We pay for all our meals and restaurants do not know when they are being reviewed.