10 Suffolk pubs and restaurants reopening from May 17
- Credit: Ella Wilkinson
As we approach Monday, May 17, we’re getting ever closer to another step towards normality.
Next Monday is the day the government has confirmed all pubs and restaurants across England can reopen their doors and allow customers to sit inside once again.
While many establishments have been open since Monday April 12 and serving customers in an outdoor-only capacity, others have had to wait an extra five weeks before welcoming back customers.
Some venues simply lacked the necessary outdoor seating that allowed them to open early, while others made the decision to wait until they could open at full capacity once again.
A number of pubs and restaurants explain how they’ve been coping during these tumultuous 14 months, what the future holds for them as they get back on their feet – and how important this upcoming week is for them.
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Maison Bleue, Bury St Edmunds
If it’s exquisite dining you’re after, then Maison Bleue is your go-to for some of Suffolk’s finest French cuisine. The award-winning restaurant is run by husband and wife Pascal and Karine Canevet – and the two cannot wait to open their doors again after being closed for 14 months.
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“It was very scary actually - but like any other business that had to stop trading, you just do what you need to do,” explains Karine.
Not content to rest on their laurels, the duo began offering a takeaway service, and also experimented with a new business idea. “We knew we couldn’t be in the position of having to close the business and not bring in any revenue, so during lockdown we created a new brand called Léa.”
Prepared by Pascal, Léa is a range of fresh, seasonal French dishes served in glass jars that are designed to be reheated and eaten straight from the pot. “There were some positives that came out of lockdown, as it meant we tried something we may not have done otherwise,” she adds.
Ahead of next week’s grand reopening, a lot of planning has gone on behind the scenes - including a menu overhaul and a refurbishment of the restaurant’s exterior and interior.
“We’re very excited to open – we just can’t wait. The chefs have been working on new recipes using seasonal produce, so there will be quite a lot of asparagus dishes, and king scallops too. We also had a wine tasting session with all of our team ahead of next week.”
Karine adds that bookings ahead of May 17 have been hectic – with the restaurant fully booked for the next month. “The next Saturday we have available is in the beginning of August,” she says.
Chefs' Whites, Ipswich
Over in Ipswich is Chefs' Whites – Suffolk New College’s very own on-campus restaurant. Run by head of hospitality Mike Mulvihill, its aim is to prepare the college’s hospitality and catering students for employment upon course completion.
With the restaurant mostly closed for the majority of lockdown, Mike and his students are finally gearing up for their big launch. “I actually joined Suffolk New College in March last year, and the plans we originally had we have had to postpone, so we’ve been working slowly but surely on the relaunch.”
The restaurant – whose name comes from the jackets adorning the eatery’s walls – will be opening its doors on Wednesday, May 19 , hosting a selection of themed evenings that will show off the student’s fine culinary skills and expertise.
“We’ve got ‘Best of British’ on May 19, ‘Mexican Street Food’ on Thursday, May 20, ‘An Indian Banquet’ on May 26 and ‘From Paris with Love’ on May 27. Then after those events, we will be open for lunch Tuesdays to Fridays and we’ll be going full on until the end of June as unfortunately we’ve got the summer break,” he explains.
Dishes to expect include fish and triple cooked chips, paneer tikka masala, tacos, chicken bhuna, moules mariniére, and crème brûlée.
“My level three students who designed the menus have been working with the level one and two students, practising food and drink service as we’ve not really had the chance to have real customers in yet. We had a little stint during Christmas but that’s about it,” Mike adds.
With its first event fully booked, Mike is feeling incredibly optimistic about the future of hospitality in Suffolk, and the potential of his students who will finally get to experience running a real-life restaurant.
“We’re really looking forward to the buzz of hospitality once the doors are open. We really have to make this as real as we can, and put them under pressure so they get the knowledge and skills they need to walk into any job they like – be it a Michelin-starred restaurant, or a care home.”
Briarbank Brewery, Ipswich
Beer fanatics rejoice, as a staple of Ipswich’s drinks scene will be throwing open its doors next week after being closed for well over a year. Fore Street’s Briarbank Brewery will reopen on Wednesday, May 19, and will be open Wednesdays to Sundays.
“We’re very excited,” says head brewer Rob Pyke. “We’ve been closed for coming up to 14 months now, so it feels a bit strange to finally be reopening, but it’s been a long time coming.”
Rob and the team contemplated opening the outside area back in April, but decided to wait in order to give customers the brewery’s full experience once the inside could open. “It’s been difficult to see everyone go back to the pubs and enjoy themselves while we’ve still had our doors closed, but it’s given us those extra few weeks to see how everything is happening, and how to prepare for it.”
During the first lockdown, the brewery sold takeout beer from its hatch in order to use up all of its stock – something which helped keep the business afloat in the meantime. “If we didn’t have the trade from our regulars and people further afield, we may not be where we are today. The support we’ve had over the last year has been great, but we’re really looking forward to having everyone back in the bar.”
Briarbank will be serving its entire range of beer, brewed at its own on-site microbrewery, including a selection of stouts, porters and IPAs. “Depending on how things go, we’re going to bring back our seasonals and specials too,” Rob adds.
Alongside locally-brewed beers, customers will also be able to enjoy freshly-prepared dishes such as Briankbank beer-battered fish and chips, the Isaacs’ burger, and a selection of pasta mains. The brewery will be running on a first-come, first-served basis, so booking ahead is not required.
Three Wise Monkeys, Ipswich
Specialising in slow-cooked American-inspired dishes and proudly serving over 30 different beers, Three Wise Monkeys is gearing up for its grand reopening.
“We’ve put lots of work in, both internally and externally, using the time to ensure that when we reopen, our locals and guests return to a really great experience that has impeccable standards and brings lots of taste and flavour to their occasion,” explains general manager Sean Watkins.
Like many businesses across Suffolk, the team at Three Wise Monkeys offered its customers a takeaway service which proved to be hugely successful – but nothing compares to the ambiance that comes with dining out.
“The takeaway added another string to our bow,” adds restaurant manager Sean Watkins. “It helped us support our staff not covered by furlough, and it also provided our core customers with a link to experience Three Wise Monkeys at home. However, it reaffirmed how much we enjoy and miss the face-to-face interaction and atmosphere of a busy venue.”
Customer favourites such as burgers, pulled pork buns, loaded fries, glazed wings and brisket will all be returning to the menu – alongside some new additions. “My aims for the menu are to be more diverse and appealing to a wider range of people, adding and upgrading current vegan dishes alongside more seafood to the menu,” says newly-appointed executive chef Richard Whittington.
“In the run up to reopening, we’ve been treating local customers to complimentary al fresco taster dining experiences on our two small outdoor tables. We have also been in town sampling, and the feedback has been fantastic. We’ve got a great spread of bookings across all of our offerings from brunch, to our Gin Bar or our drinks parties,” adds restaurant manager Aaron MacFarlane.
As lockdown restrictions continue to ease over the coming weeks, customers will soon also be able to enjoy the venue’s popular taster nights, monthly quizzes, and club nights (permitting social distancing restrictions lift on Monday, June 21).
Three Wise Monkeys Tap House will be open seven days a week from 11am until 11pm, its Smokehouse restaurant will be open between 11am and 9pm, and its Gin bar will be open Friday and Saturday from 5pm until close.
Bookings are required, and a £5 deposit per person will be taken which will then be refunded against the bill. Customers who download the Monkey app will also be able to redeem one free drink for a limited time only.
The Sweffling White Horse, Sweffling
Just a stone’s throw away from Saxmundham is traditional ale pub, The Sweffling White Horse.
Explaining how difficult lockdown has been, landlady Marie Smith says: “There’s so much more to the job than serving beer. Folks need social contact and a safe place to let off steam, chew the fat and have a good laugh. I invented a word a few years back, to describe the sound of a busy, happy pub - ‘pubbub’ - which means a chaotic and happy din caused by a crowd of people in a pub. We all miss our pubbub, and I can't believe it's been over 13 months since we last opened our doors.”
But with a grand reopening on the horizon, staff have been busy redesigning the beer garden and getting the campsite ready in anticipation for the week commencing May 17.
“Lockdown has been an opportunity to reassess what makes this place special, and what folk value most from their experience. It turns out it's all about the friendliness - so we're really going to focus on that going forward.”
After opening an outdoor live music venue back in December, Marie cannot wait to put on a show once again. “We sadly only managed two live music sessions before the following lockdown arrived - but those two sessions were a clear indication of how things will be when we reopen.
“Personally though, I'm really looking forward to the lifting of all restrictions in June, so we can open the pub building itself. While social distancing is in place, our building is just too small. Knowing how keen folks are to come visit, this would mean turning a lot of people away or restricting people's drinking time - neither of which we want to do. Early on in the pandemic, one regular said to me, ‘I don't want to come to the Sweffling White Horse until it's the Sweffling White Horse again’, and this is true for me, too. Things will return to normal, and when they do, we'll have our lovely, cosy, friendly pub back.”
The Ship Inn, Levington
After opening in December 2019, one pub has unfortunately been shut longer than it’s been open due to the ongoing pandemic. The Ship Inn in Levington is gearing up to reopen on Monday May 17, and general manager Katy Blake is especially excited for customers to experience its new menu and expansive outdoor terrace.
“We’ve been working really hard on some ideas on what to do with our enormous beer garden, which is very exciting as many do not even know it exists,” she says.
“With the garden, we’re looking at making it more family-friendly, so customers will be able to enjoy amazing food and drink while knowing their children are playing safely.”
Dishes on The Ship’s long-awaited summer menu include tandoori skewers, beetroot and apple cured salmon, and baked seabass filets with asparagus. These will be served alongside a range of beers, wines, spirits and soft drinks.
With her pub’s reopening just around the corner, Katy hopes people support their locals this summer, in order to help Suffolk get back on its feet. “I think we used pubs and restaurants without the real understanding of how they are the backbone to so many occasions - from a catch up with friends to major milestones, be them happy or sad. I hope customers will support the small businesses and not fall back on the big franchises and chains,” she says.
The Great House, Lavenham
With Monday May 17 meaning hotels are among the establishment that can reopen their doors, The Great House Hotel and Restaurant in Lavenham is due to welcome back customers for both dining out and overnight stays.
Its head chef Swann Auffray has been working closely with local suppliers in the run-up to its grand reopening, and cannot wait to serve customers once again. “We’re very excited – impatient, I would say,” he says.
During lockdown, the restaurant offered its loyal clientele the chance to enjoy fine dining at home with its Chef’s Table at Home takeaway service – something that it will continue to offer for the time being. But the staff are eagerly awaiting customers who are ready to dine out again this month. “We’ve had a lot of bookings for the month already, and we’re very much looking forward to it,” adds Swann.
Customers can expect a variety of seasonal dishes on offer at The Great House over the coming weeks, such as cod marinated with olive and basil and a number of French-inspired dishes. “We’re also going to do an asparagus starter, as it’s in season and we missed it last year so we’re excited to be able to use it this year,” adds Swann.
The Orwell Hotel, Felixstowe
Another hotel restaurant that is gearing up for customers ahead of next week is The Orwell Hotel, with general manager Laura Horne anticipating an influx of visitors thanks to the county’s coastal location and people turning to staycations this year. “We think it’s testament to people noticing Suffolk in a different light now,” she says.
Explaining why the hotel decided to wait until indoor dining could resume, Laura says: “We chose not to open up the outside space as it’s quite small, and we’d require a lot of staff to come back to facilitate what could be a small operation - so we decided to stay shut until May when we can open the whole hotel and bring back everyone in one go.”
Those extra few weeks have given the kitchen team ample opportunity to work on a new menu ahead of its reopening, focusing on local produce and fresh food. “All of our suppliers are local, and that’s always reflected through our menu.
“This year ahead looks pretty positive, with lots of afternoon tea and restaurant bookings, and we’ve got lots of guests already booked in for summer staycations. Suffolk has done well in promoting itself over this lockdown, so that’s great to see,” she adds.
Adnams pubs, various locations across Suffolk
With a number of pubs and hotels under its wing, historic Suffolk brewer Adnams is ready to open the rest of its venues over the coming week, ahead of what looks to be a hectic summer for the hospitality trade.
The three remaining venues it is ready to reopen are The Sole Bay Inn in Southwold, The Plough in Wangford, and The Crown in Southwold.
“This is predominately because these three don’t have outside spaces,” explains Nick Attfield, director of properties, events, tours and experiences. “We completely closed our pubs during lockdown, as we felt it was the right and appropriate thing for us to do – we put all but five of us onto furlough.”
Delighted at the prospect of reopening the rest of his venues, he is excited for customers to experience the new range of food and drinks that will be on offer across his pubs and hotels.
“We’ve just released our new Mexican gin, which will be in all of venues, and there will also be seasonal brews as we’ve always done. In terms of the menu, I hope it’s going to be a lovely, warm summer, and I think people will want food that reflects that.”
Dishes available across its menus include chargrilled Blythburgh pork chop, pan-fried chalk stream trout, Cromer crab, and Adnams Ghost Ship battered cod and chips.
“All of our dishes play on comfort, nostalgia and happier times,” he adds.
“I think a lot of the reason people come to the coast is to enjoy fresh air and space, and all of those things we have in abundance here in Suffolk. The occupancy rates on our rooms are very high – we have very few rooms left until mid-October, so the staycation is going to play a huge part in getting Suffolk back on its feet this summer.”
Pea Porridge, Bury St Edmunds
Following a historic win for Suffolk, Pea Porridge in Bury St Edmunds was awarded the county’s first Michelin Star in 40 years – and can finally celebrate with customers as of next week.
“We were chomping at the bit to open our doors once we got our award – it's the biggest accolade we’ve achieved,” says owner Justin Sharp.
With bookings available from Wednesday May 19, the team at the Cannon Street restaurant have been busy, with Justin using lockdown as a chance to rethink his menu. “We went on a fresh route, with a new focus in the kitchen, and opted for more Moorish flavours from places such as the Middle East and North African countries.”
Justin’s menu overhaul most certainly paid off, as the restaurant was awarded the gong back in January earlier this year. He hopes this brings swathes of customers to Suffolk, and really puts the county on the foodie map. He says: “I’m sure it will attract a new clientele, as well as our hordes of regulars and locals who have been supporting us for 11 years now.”
In regards to the future of hospitality here in the county, he adds: “It’s only positives ahead – and with staycations being a big thing this summer, that’ll really help. We’ve all got to do our bit to entice more and more people to sample what makes our county so great.”