Review, Watson & Walpole, Framlingham: ‘Outrageously good food’
- Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis
Italian food has a knack of being enduringly, effortlessly good. Even the most frugal of ingredients can be elevated in a matter of minutes to heavenly status.
Take the humble peach, for example. After an Italian feast you may be offered one to finish your meal. Headily fragrant and firm, but ripe enough to smoosh slightly under the thumb, it arrives in a bowl of water, with a paper napkin to mop the juices from your chin. It will be one of the most sensuous desserts of your life. It will ruin you for all other peaches (but especially the tinned variety).
Can you imagine the abject horror if a restaurant here followed suit for pud? It would definitely end up as a one-star review on Tripadvisor, or as red top clickbait: ‘Dessert was a bit of fruit swimming in water’.
Yet in Italy, it feels so beautifully right.
That ethos, of simplicity, no faff, no smoke and mirrors, is what carries through Ruth and David Watson, and Rob Walpole’s neighbourhood Italian joint, Watson & Walpole in Framlingham, which opened almost two years ago.
It is...effortless. But that’s not to say without effort. Pasta is mindfully rolled and cut in the ‘pasta room’ daily. The very best ingredients, be they local, British, or Italian, have been sourced. The wine list (all Italian) has been carefully considered. There’s not a greasy lasagne or Hawaiian pizza in sight.
I visit with friends on a busy, sunny Saturday lunchtime. Framlingham has burst alive with daytrippers in sunhats and shades – many of them making a Mecca up to the Castle on the Hill.
- 1 Fuel protests: Twelve miles of queues reported on A12
- 2 Macauley Bonne: Town is not a closed book... I've got unfinished business
- 3 Suffolk's first blue badge prosecution for Haverhill woman
- 4 Road closed and person trapped in car after crash
- 5 Man in 40s stabbed at town centre multi-storey car park
- 6 Go-ahead given for 40 new homes in Suffolk village
- 7 7 of the prettiest cafes in Suffolk
- 8 Protests against soaring fuel prices planned for Monday
- 9 Dobra signs for Cook's Chesterfield after Ipswich departure
- 10 Suspected drink driver arrested after three cars damaged in crash
We manage to snatch a window seat for people watching (there are some very fancy dogs in Fram), and the place is abuzz with chatter, filled with a mishmash of folk – from a well-behaved baby sleeping in a pram while its parents enjoy a quiet bite, to groups of families and friends.
Décor is sedate but modern. No frippery or flash artwork to detract from the food and drink.
The menu’s explained to us by our excellent, extremely knowledgeable server, who points out a handy glossary of ingredients and dishes at the bottom, and reels off all kinds of information at the drop of a pin – how various items are cooked, where an ingredient’s come from, what we might like according to our tastes, which wines might go best.
Water is delivered and topped up without us even noticing – like magic.
Despite it being the middle of the day, not Aperitivo time, we kick off with prosecco, and Day-Glo, bittersweet Aperol spritz to ignite our tastebuds. And it works, because we plump on going the whole hog, sharing antipasti, primi, secondi and dolce. A procession of food.
My veggie friend Debs, who (like many of my vegetarian mates) has found veg options lacking of late, due to the fashion status of veganism (“no, I don’t want vegan cheese”), raves as she pauses over her separate meat-free menu, boasting plenty of unique, satisfying-sounding plates.
She begins with panzanella. A sweet, sweet tumble of tomatoes, ripped bread, basil and fruity, peridot-coloured olive oil, with a saline whack of crushed black olives. She does a giddy little chair dance with her fork.
The rest of us dive into the remaining three plates, divvying them up.
Green friggitelli peppers have been fried and served with San Daniele ham and coccoli – fried pizza dough that, topped with Parmesan, is like a savoury doughnut.
There is charred octopus – the best any of us has had – so tender, like a firm scallop, with flavoursome edges anointed by fire. It’s arranged over al dente Judion beans, with preserved lemon and palate-livening pops of gremolata.
Now, let me tell you about the baccala mantecato...though my words will never amply do this justice. A recipe hailing originally from Venice, salt cod is whipped with olive oil, a hint of garlic and here (our waiter tells us) a touch of anchovy. It becomes a kind of ethereal, airy mousse, which at Watson & Walpole they’ve piped onto a smoky crostini, swiped with aromatic Amalfi lemon.
Who knows what other diners made of the sounds coming from our table!
As we take a little break, wine arrives. For me, the sometimes sneered at Sicilian Nero D’Avola, which I actually like a lot. This one’s an easy drinker, bursting with morello cherry jam, blackcurrant and just a nip of liquorice.
Debbie’s Verdicchio di Matelica is buttery, almost creamy with vanilla, finishing with a bright citrus tang. They’re poured at the table. A nice touch.
Primi arrive swiftly, with Debs declaring her gnocchi “amazing” between bites. And they are. Light, melt-in-the-mouth pillows of potato, bound in a wild nettle salsa and finished with a dusting of salted ricotta.
My god the Westcombe ricotta-filled tortelli are stunners. The trio of handmade pasta are dainty, but pack a punch, with lemon running through the ricotta, and a sweet pea puree bringing the whole thing together. Our waiter points out the addition of rocket flowers which are, he assures us, there for flavour, not decoration.
Our pizza of mortadella and preserved globe artichokes, is tempered by mascarpone, and has a toothsome, wood-fired crust.
And my friend Sarah adores the homemade tagliatelle alla ragu Bolognese, which can only be described as ‘silky’. I see from my notes I’ve said it’s “like eating a silk negligee” - something, I must add, I’ve never done.
The ragu’s savoury sauce clings to the ribbons of pasta, adding flavour and body, without drowning it, and there’s not a sad, sorry-looking lump of sour tinned tomato to be found.
Out next come hot plates for our secondi, and pots of moistened napkins for wiping our food-smeared fingers.
Debs is ecstatic over her completely ungreasy fritto misto – a medley of potatoes, peppers, globe artichokes and asparagus finely coated in batter with aioli and a wedge of lemon. Sunshine food on a plate.
My mate Joel plays ‘dad’, cutting up and sharing the other main courses for the rest of us.
There is yielding, wood-fired mackerel fillet, atop the same panzanella Debs had at the start of the meal.
A bolshy beef short rib is cooked until it’s sticky, almost Marmitey and ‘phwoar’, served up with potatoes turned in ‘nduja sausage, fired asparagus and a creamy-textured Etruscan salsa of sundried tomatoes, chilli and pepper to give the whole thing a lift.
Half a Norfolk lobster completes the picture, and despite being ready to attack the claw, wielding the ‘cracker’, Joel doesn’t have to put in any hard work, as most of it’s been done for us already.
I would say this is probably the only slight negative of the meal, with the lobster being a tad overcooked. It’s nonetheless delicious, having been coated in a spiced salsa rossa and crumbs, served with rocket and aioli. And we’d forgive anything after trying the highly addictive courgette fries, which are salty, sweet and perfectly crunchy. You MUST order these.
When Watson & Walpole first opened, the dessert menu was purposefully short – an affogato, some gelato, some cheese.
Today, it’s been expanded, which is a plus-point for the sweet-toothed like myself.
Debs and Sarah choose still-crisp cannoli, with lemon and sugar macerated strawberries, which they go absolutely bonkers for.
I’m more than happy with my choice of chocolate and honeycomb gelato with a chewy almond biscuit.
While Joel dives into a dinky pot of slushy coffee gelato, with a shot of 10-year-old brandy to slug in, and the same cookie as me (though he couldn’t resist an aragastine pastry on the side, oozing a chocolate hazelnut filling).
If, like us, you find it impossible to pick a pud, do as we did...and share an extra one.
It would’ve been rude to trundle home without at least sampling the tiramisu, which is dosed out into a bowl, tableside, from a weighty earthenware dish.
Damn, what a pudding it is too. Light as air creamy layers, enough booze to smack you round the chops, and a whisper of coffee and cocoa. This is a dessert to make the heart sing.
The bill comes to just under £250 for four of us including four courses each, an extra pud, drinks and service (added automatically). So, it’s not cheap then. But, blimey, if you eat here, you will eat well, you will eat generously, you may even want to weep a little at how flipping delicious everything is.
I can’t praise it highly enough. In fact, it’s firming in my top five places to eat right now in Suffolk...no, actually, make that my top three.
Watson & Watpole is at 3 Church Street, Framlingham. It's open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Watsonandwalpole.com
Our reviews are carried out independently without a venue’s prior knowledge and we pay for our meals. All views are our own.