Willow Tree Farm Shop & Cafe: 'A lovely blend of upmarket and informal'

Willow Tree Farm Shop & Cafe, Long Melford, Suffolk

Set back from the A1092 between Long Melford and Cavendish, Willow Tree Farm Shop & Cafe is a little gem - Credit: Simon Weir/Archant

Sometimes, you can stumble over little gems entirely by accident. Admittedly, back in the summer, my partner Ali and I had stopped at the Willow Tree Farm Shop & Cafe for a surprisingly good milkshake, but we hadn't eaten. This particular Sunday, as I was getting peckish when we went through the picture-postcard village of Cavendish, I suggested stopping there for a quick snack.

"You know, what I really fancy is a roast dinner," Ali noted, as we walked across the car park (separated from the A1092 to Long Melford by a sound-absorbing conifer hedge). There's still some reassuring Covid discipline in place: sanitiser, a request for masks when moving around... and  a young chap checking if we'd booked. I always take it as a good omen when we get the last free table.

"You're in luck," I told Ali. "They do a Sunday roast." More to the point, as well as beef and pork courses, there was the necessary vegetarian option for her. So much for a quick snack. Though the full menu ranges from soup and salad and sandwiches to breakfasts, so the options were there too. 

Willow Tree Farm Shop and Cafe soup

Excellent cream of celeriac soup with truffle oil and a nicely made fresh bread roll - Credit: Simon Weir/Archant

We decide to do the fixed-price Sunday menu, at £27 for three courses. Ali starts with the soup of the day, a cream of celeriac with truffle oil, served with a bread roll. The texture of the soup is perfect - silky smooth, without lumps or grittiness - and the flavour manages to be be both delicate yet somehow hearty at the same time (no doubt the drizzle of truffle oil helps it). Very clever. 

Willow Tree Farm Shop and Cafe chicken Bites

Chicken bites with satay were good... but the star of the plate was the crisp salad - Credit: Simon Weir/Archant

I've opted for the starter of chicken bites with a satay sauce, which come with a crunchy and fresh salad. They're tasty but there are only three of them - and though I know it's almost a culinary law, to serve things in trios, it does seem like a slightly small portion. Nice flavours, though the satay is neither as spicy nor as nutty as I'd hoped - for me the star of the plate is actually the salad, which is delicious. 

Willow Tree Farm Shop and Cafe pork loin

Gigantic, perfectly made Yorkshire pudding overshadows excellent crackling on the pork loin - Credit: Simon Weir/Archant

The conservative starter sizes make a bit more sense when the main courses arrive... as they are generous to say the least. I've opted for the pork loin, which comes with some of the finest crackling I've ever had. There is a bit of unrendered white fat on the edge of the meat, easily trimmed off (just a pity it wasn't trimmed off in the kitchen). The meat itself is perfectly tender and genuinely tasty. 

Willow Tree Farm Shop and Cafe gravy

A brace of gravies: rich pork on the left; delicate mushroom for the vegetarian roads on the right - Credit: Simon Weir/Archant

The accompaniments are superb as well. The plate is dominated by a giant Yorkshire pudding, which is crisp and tasty. It conceals well-roasted potatoes, a good selection of veg and there's even a nicely made cauliflower cheese. I have a glossy and flavour-packed pork gravy, while Ali has a mushroom gravy for her vegetarian roast. 

Willow Tree Farm Shop and Cafe nut roast

Delicious nut roast - hiding under the Yorkshire Pudding - is a high-quality vegetarian option - Credit: Simon Weir/Archant

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Ali's plate is virtually identical to mine, except the pork has been replaced by a nut roast. I'm impressed by the mouthful I pinch, but I'm no expert. How is it? "It's one of the nicest I've had," she confirms. "It's not soggy or dry, the flavour is good and it does work really well with the rest of the veg on the plate."

The best measure I can give you of the portion sizes is that I left a potato, a bit of the Yorkshire and some of the veg - partly because we'd already committed to having a pud, so I needed to save space, but mostly because these are comfortingly big servings. 

Willow Tree Farm Shop and Cafe blackberry trifle

My idea of heaven: Blackberry Trifle. Good sponge and custard, not too much cream and loads of delicious blackberries - Credit: Simon Weir/Archant

So, a deep breath and a check of the pudding options. Frankly, they all look pretty appealing, but I focus on two of my favourite words being put together: 'trifle' and 'blackberry'. And if a blackberry trifle sounds heavenly, it doesn't do justice to the reality: a rich, creamy and sweet delight that avoided being sickly. Served in an individual dish, it's a good-sized portion, too. 

Willow Tree Farm Shop and Cafe lemon roulade

Lemon meringue roulade divided opinion: my partner thought it a touch too sweet; I thought it was perfect... - Credit: Simon Weir/Archant

Ali has gone for the lemon meringue roulade, looking for something sharp and citrus to cleanse the palette. The lemon element delivers on that front - tasting nicely fresh, without a hint of air-freshener (as is always the risk with lemon puddings). However, she finds the delicately rolled meringue a touch too sweet, but - having more of a sweet tooth - I think it's fantastic.  

That's largely my verdict on the entire unexpected experience: fantastic. We'd arrived looking for a light snack, but found instead a full restaurant-standard meal served in an atmosphere that's a lovely blend of the informal and upmarket, with a light and modern dining area inside the unpretentious wooden building. And it was great value too. With a mineral water apiece, our bill was £58. Definitely not light-snack territory, but does reflect the quality of the cooking. I'm very glad we stumbled across it.

willowtreefarmshop.co.uk


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