Food review: 'The seafood here's worth travelling for'

A prawn and crayfish salad at The Sorrel Horse, Shottisham

A prawn and crayfish salad at The Sorrel Horse, Shottisham - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

In Suffolk all roads (well, most) lead to the pub. 

We are a county of thatched inns and tile-floored ale houses, and one of the great pleasures of driving around in the ‘sticks’ is happening upon a village local. Somewhere to rest up after a lengthy walk with the dog, or to hunker down after a long week. 

The Sorrel Horse in Shottisham, found along winding country lanes not far out of Woodbridge, is one such destination. And after a chilly day of snow flurries, the inn beckoned with a promise of real ales, fine wines and homemade fare. 

It’s a while since I was in this neck of the woods. We used to visit regularly when I was a child and my aunt, uncle and cousins lived at Hollesley. Shingle Street’s wild, moody beach within reach for walks and fossil hunting. 

The Sorrel Horse in Shottisham is under new ownership PIcture: CHARLOTTE BOND

The dining room at The Sorrel Horse - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Inside The Sorrel Horse at Shottisham

Inside The Sorrel Horse at Shottisham - Credit: Charlotte Bond

The community pub was taken on by Rebecca Murland and Clement Sigaut of Smashing Wines last summer, and the couple have worked tirelessly to transform it into a place that embraces, rather than alienates, local people, while becoming a destination for food lovers at the same time. 

A sloping sun trap garden with a pony paddock (should you wish to arrive on horseback) can be found at the back , with a shepherd’s hut bar (open in warm weather) and a barn serving pizza takeaways during the week, with plans for a wine shop on the horizon. 

Like many Suffolk pubs, the loos can be found outside of the main building. I take a peek. Nice and clean. Plenty of lighting - I've come a cropper miss-stepping in quite a few pub car parks, so this is an essential piece of information for me! 

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We enter through the bar, where happy dogs jostle for space amongst their owners, lazing on the stone floor, greedily waiting for one of the nearby children to drop something from a plate. 

The pub door had buffered the noise from within – released as we walk in. The pleasant buzz of banter. A sound sorely missed in lockdown days. “Aah, this is nice isn’t it?” I say to my husband, who’s already following his nose into the dining room, split from the bar by a huge inglenook fireplace. 

It’s not the biggest pub in Suffolk, but the dining area feels quite spacious, with decent intervals between the tables. The décor is neutral...scrubbed wood with a lick of light paint here and there...fresh flowers in vases. 

Rebecca and Clement command the room with manager Cameron. Clement regaling customers with stories of wine, and beer-lover Cameron detailing the latest brews to tables nearby. “He’s really into his beer,” Rebecca tells me. 

Mr J is won over by a pint of Kings from The Mighty Oak Brewery. It’s lightly malty, with a hint of citrus and a lingering bitterness. 

I’m indecisive. I need to know what I’m eating before I order wine, but I note the quality of the list – being wine sellers, of course it’s going to be good. 

The offering is concise, with a leaning to Old World and biodynamic varieties, and with most bottles available by the glass, at prices starting around the £5 mark. 

Glancing at the food menu, there’s lots of seafood (something the pub prides itself on), and a European feel. Offerings include freshly shucked oysters (£1 each on Fridays), a goats’ cheese salad, smoked haddock fish cakes, a fish ploughman’s, moules frites, pan-fried sea trout, and duck confit. 

Crab gratin at The Sorrel Horse Shottisham

Crab gratin - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Everything’s right up our street. I can’t choose, so ask Rebecca for help. Which doesn’t really help at all because she likes everything! 

In the end, Mr J goes for a good old classic. Prawn and crayfish cocktail. Though not of the limp, watery variety you often find. The seafood are plump, fresh and firm, bound in a lightly sweet and not too rich sauce, on top of crisp salad. With a squeeze of lemon and a mop of bread, he’s happy as Larry. 

I’ve been drawn to the crab gratin. When the sun’s out past 6pm, crab or prawns are my go-to dish, evoking memories of holidays by the seaside. 

It’s a surprising start. Rather than being folded into a bechamel, the sweet white crab meat has been stirred into a thick sauce of potato, spiked with garlicky hits of spring onion, and a hint of fresh ginger. The whole thing has been smothered in cheese and grilled, so you get those burnished, almost caramelised bits on top. It’s gorgeous. I sweep up every morsel with bread, trying to work out how to make it at home. 

On the side I’d chosen a glass of Cremant de Bourgogne. Sadly cremant is a rarity in pubs and restaurants, often considered the ‘ugly sister’ of prosecco alongside cava. But it’s absolutely worth trying. Especially when it’s this good, with pear drops on the nose, opening into a mouthful of fresh green apple, nectarine, honey and malted biscuit. Excellent with the crab. 

Slow-cooked shoulder of lamb at The Sorrel Horse Shottisham

Slow-cooked shoulder of lamb - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Halibut with asparagus, new potatoes and salsa verde 

Halibut with asparagus, new potatoes and salsa verde - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Our main courses arrive quickly after. On the other side of the table is a meaty halibut steak, seasoned well, and paired with crisp, tiny new potatoes, tender asparagus and salsa verde. 

Just the kind of food we want to eat in the garden on a bright day, we agree. It’s cooked well, the fish flaking densely under the push of a fork. 

I’m lured by the slow-cooked shoulder of lamb – we rarely cook red meat at home these days so it often speaks to me when we’re out. 

I’m expecting a messy arrangement of shredded meat, but the chef has somehow managed to elevate this humble dish with some elegant presentation. The lamb has been cooked to the point of melting, and then reassembled into a kind of terrine, which has been given a spell in the oven, rendering its centre soft, and edges crunchy. It tastes of the essence of lamb, and isn’t overpowered by a salty, tangy, herbal swirl of salsa verde. 

“I’m stealing this idea for Easter Sunday,” I tell my husband.  

Alongside the lamb are Mediterranean roast potatoes, sliced and seasoned with herbs, and pencil-thin charred asparagus, which brings a nuttiness to the plate. 

It’s all delicious. 

Creme brulee at the Sorrel Horse Shottisham

Creme brulee - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Baked vanilla cheesecake at The Sorrel Horse Shottisham

Baked vanilla cheesecake - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Clement woos me with two red wines to match the lamb. The biodynamic Cotes du Rhone is off-dry, floral and fruity. But I prefer the 2009 Bordeaux – all vanilla, almond and cherry on the nose. It tastes like liquid Black Forest gateau, with a hint of violet. 

When it comes to pudding, as with the rest of the meal, they’ve kept it simple. There’s no foam, gel, powder or any other frippery. 

The two layered baked vanilla cheesecake is a good example, set on a thick biscuit base that puts a smile on my husband’s face. 

But my own dessert, a crème brulee, falls a little short of the mark for me. It’s ever so slightly curdled, and has been topped with brown sugar which, although delicately thin and crunchy, overpowers any hints of vanilla in the cream. 

At around £30 per person for three courses, The Sorrel Horse is definitely somewhere we’ll seek out again – but we won’t leave it so long this time. 

Simple plates, cooked well, and with a generous warm welcome. Lovely.