Food review, The Tipi at Tuddenham Mill: 'Truly delicious'
- Credit: Simon Weir/Archant
Monday, April 12. The day of the grand unlocking. Hospitality businesses with outdoor spaces are allowed to reopen for the first time since December and - like all hungry people and food reviewers everywhere - I'm desperate to be at the head of the queue. Naturally, I've left it a bit late to get organised: my partner can't get a babysitter for her kids and the first two places I try are already fully booked.
That means I've worked my way up my list of possible restaurants to one I'd been planning to save for a special occasion: Tuddenham Mill. Chef Lee Bye is highly respected and one of his team, Harvey Thompson, was Suffolk's Young Chef of the Year in 2020. It seems I'll be reopening my year of eating-out in style. The only catch is that with Ali unavailable, I'm taking my dad instead...
It's a crisp but sunny evening as we arrive in Tuddenham - just a few miles into the countryside from the Barton Mills roundabout on the A11. It's a pretty idyllic setting. The old mill is clean and clearly well modernised, the grass is neatly mown and dotted with daffodils and there, beside the calm mill stream, is the Tipi - looking inviting, with a roaring fire and fairy lights.
Covid things first: it's masks on to walk about, sanitiser at the checking in point, then being shown to a table - though the waiting staff aren't in masks. About half of the tipi is open and it's a little nippy as we sit by one of the openings (it did snow that morning, after all). It's the first day back for the staff after a long lay-off, but you wouldn't know. They're friendly, efficient and attentive. They notice we look a bit chilly, so when a table in the more-enclosed part comes free, after we've had our starters, it's sanitised and we move there.
I say starters, but we've only gone for one. The Tipi menu is shorter and simpler than the a la carte for the main restaurant, with "sharing" nibbles as starters - though the options include both oysters and scallops. However, I've selected the arancini (£6.50) which are deliciously crispy but light balls of rice, stuffed with oozingly melted cheese. They're dusted with Parmesan and served on a moreish beetroot jam. They come impaled on sticks, but it takes a knife and fork to get the beetroot jam out with them. They're fantastic though (maybe I'm greedy) I'd say four is closer to a single portion than a sharing one.
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We relocate to the more sheltered bit of the tipi for the main courses. I can't help thinking what a fabulous venue this would be on a warm summer's night, but in April everyone still has their coats on. My father is playing the role of designated carnivore for the evening, leaving me free to have a fish dish (with my pescatarian partner, I usually have to test the meat dishes while she covers the marine options).
The lobster options looked delicious, but at £45 with sea trout and shellfish or £32 for an Oxford lobster with fries, I'm keeping things simpler. I'm tempted by the Cornish crab pappardelle, but in the end opt for the Kiln salmon. Romaine lettuce, Mrs Kirkham's cheese, anchovy, tarragon (£15).
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When it arrives, I'm initially confused, as I was expecting a single piece of salmon presented with garnish and instead I have a plate that looks a lot like a Caesar salad. What jumps out first are the anchovies and croutons - and then I realise the pale pink salmon is flaked through, coated with a dressing.
Preconceptions put to bed, I tuck in - and it's truly delicious. There's a fresh, crisp bite to the lettuce, a crunch from the croutons and a salty tang from the cheese and the anchovies. The salmon isn't lost, but it's not really the star of the show - more a delicious accent, an underlying and savoury background flavour like the hint of tarragon.
As I hadn't really grasped the nature of the dish, I was concerned (clearly unnecessarily) that the fish didn't come with chips - so I'd ordered some. I was especially attracted by the final part of the description. Fries, truffle salt, bacon mayo (£4). The fries are skinny and well seasoned but the bacon mayo is a revelation. Absolutely delicious, topped with crunchy bacon bits like salty taste bombs.
My father meanwhile has gone for the meat option. Rather than the Jersey beef patty (£16.50) he's ordered the Jersey steak, spiced ketchup, asparagus and fries (£27) and savagely ordered it well-done... the heathen. It's still a beautiful piece of meat. "The outside of it is particularly good: crispy and really tasty," he says. The accompanying asparagus is well cooked, and though I liked the ketchup, he could take or leave it. It came on such a large plate that I thought there wasn't much there for the money, but in fact it was a perfectly judged portion.
By this time the sun was down completely and we looked to dessert, which was the only let-down of the evening. The only option was gelato at £6 a pop - and while it promised a range of appealing flavours (ricotta and lemon oil, milk chocolate and macadamia, green apple and thyme, vanilla and sweet cicely) neither of us was really in the mood for ice cream. I'm sure it's delicious and a bit of playful fun on a hot summer evening, served in a cone, but as the temperature outside was well into single figures, I was craving a crumble and custard or something hot, sticky and treacly for pudding.
Despite the lack of dessert, it was an excellent meal - as it should be for £58.80 for, effectively two-and-a-half courses. I'd come in with high expectations and was not disappointed. Not only is it great to be able to eat out - even outside - but also it's great to see such a high standard of food and service from the very first night. I'd love to go back to the Tipi in warmer weather... and look forward to the full Tuddenham Mill restaurant reopening.
All our reviews are carried out independently without prior knowledge of the venue, and are the writer's honestly held opinion at the time of visiting.