‘I think we sell one of the best Sunday roasts in Suffolk,’ says landlord
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
“When I used to drive past the pub, I thought only a mad man would take it on,” laughs Matt Goodwin, landlord and chef of The Queen’s Head at Blyford near Halesworth.
Unbeknownst to Matt at the time...he would go on to be ‘that man’, but says he wouldn’t change a thing, and is loving running his own kitchen for the first time in over 20 years.
A kitchen that puts a laser focus on the seasons, local...and even homegrown produce, with a menu that has a refreshingly low carbon footprint, supporting small farms and food businesses in the surrounding area.
“She’s a beautiful 15th century thatched pub,” Matt says of the property. “The building really looks like a chocolate box property on the outside and inside we’ve got a big inglenook fireplace which roars in winter when it very much becomes a cosy retreat. In the summer we’re blessed with large gardens.”
Matt took on the pub four years ago, saying his first year was exceptional, but that times have been tougher post-lockdown (a period during which he opened a village shop on the premises and offered takeaways).
“I used to come here before I took it over,” Matt reveals the reason he decided to take the plunge. “It’s the grounds that really got me. The idea of growing your own vegetables and connecting with your produce. I’d been used to working for hotels and pubs and in some of them you’re quite restrictive in what you can do.
“This is my first kitchen of my own – and it means I can just really be me and not worry about being tied to suppliers.
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“Also, I’ve got two little children Living on site here has provided a really nice place for them to be.”
Matt’s vision was to make “proper pub food”, getting away from the “cliches” of what, exactly, that should be. “If you’re on the other side of the A12,” he says, “you almost have to cater to the tourist trade, which could flood you in summer but means you have to do your best to survive in winter. I wanted this place to be somewhere people want to go all-year-round.”
His immense-sounding roast lunch (served both lunchtimes and evenings on Sundays) has certainly grabbed diners’ attentions both in and out of the high season.
“It’s what we’re known best for. We get so booked up for it in advance. It’s something I developed quite carefully. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but what we do is focus on the veg.
“Of course, there’s always lovely meat. We’ve just had on fantastic sirloin of beef from Clarke’s of Bramfield. But that came with roast tahini cauliflower, carrots in caraway and honey, freshly-made Yorkshire pudding, and our signature sauteed greens. We stir-fry them rather than boiling or steaming, in a little garlic butter and ginger, so they start to soften. Then we finish with a bit of dill vinegar to really get them going.”
There are roasties too. And a proper stock gravy. Vegans/vegetarians are well catered for with their own Sunday option (usually the house falafels) and with a proper homemade vegetable gravy. “We do that exactly the same way as a meat stock, but without meat. We caramelise down cauliflower and onions and blitz them up to make a base. Sometimes I think it’s better than the meat gravy!”
Matt prides the pub on two things: the closeness of his suppliers, and the fact he makes practically everything from scratch – including all the sauces, pickles, chutneys and dips.
He works regularly with Wangford Farm, Clarke’s of Bramfield, Wightman fishing, Charlie’s Leaves, Greengrow Cooperative, Sunday Charcuterie, Fen Farm and Hodmedod’s.
In season, these are supplemented by ingredients he’s carefully grown himself in the pub garden. “This pub’s always been quite well known for growing its own but had lost its way a bit.” Matt says. “The previous tenants had done a big field to fork thing so I wanted to try and get that back on track.
“I uncovered the beds, discovered what they were doing, and reinstated those beds. We don’t grow masses and masses, but there’s potatoes, and peas, a lot of radishes, beetroots, Florence fennel, artichokes. Also, we only grow naturally without any pesticides or fertilisers – apart from horse muck! And we’re using the no-dig method which is better for the soil.”
An all-day menu runs through lunch and dinner – often with a light special in the afternoon.
“I always try to come up with new things, but being mindful of the classics too,” says Matt of the current options, going on to mention one of his favourite starters of grilled goats’ cheese over a Penny Bun baguette with a homegrown oregano dressing and local leaves.
“Another one I really like is our mushy pea and miso croquette, made with Hodmedod’s English-grown marrowfats. They come with a trio of homemade dips and deep-fried kohlrabi leaves which I do in a crispy seaweed style.”
As far as possible, Matt adds, he tries to make all the starters vegetarian.
Onto the main courses, and one of the things he loves best is the pizza. “I’m a massive pizza fan. I’d eat pizza every day if I had to. I’m not trying to be the next pizza pub, we just do one type – the classic margherita. It's our dough we’ve slowly produced over 24 hours, an amazing San Marzano sauce, fior di latte mozzarella, our own pesto and you have the choice of adding Sunday Charcuterie’s ‘nduja or proper pepperoni.”
While health and safety prevents a wood-fired oven going into the petite kitchen, all pizzas are made on a special Italian pizza-cooking conveyor belt – a piece of kit Matt picked up in Italy.
“It gets to 320C so you still get that flavour. We’re really proud of the pizzas.”
There are different burgers, on rotation. Currently including the Big Sticky, which sees local steak mince seasoned with garlic and ginger, topped with crisp streaky bacon, Gruyere cheese, and Matt’s own red pepper ketchup and burger sauce.
The Hot Mutha Clucker marinates chicken thighs in harissa and natural yoghurt with orange for a spell, before they’re cooked on the chargrill, and pan finished with sweet chilli sauce.
“All the burgers come on Penny Bun buns with Charlie’s leaves and our pickles,” Matt adds.
Seafood lovers will find a salad of locally smoked salmon and crevettes, with leaves, homegrown veg, new potatoes and herby homemade mayonnaise, a dish of sauteed new potatoes with greens and turbot, and Norwegian line-caught fish and chips with Matt’s mushy peas, tartare sauce and red pepper ketchup.
And vegetarians are very well looked after. “I am so proud of our veggie flatbread,” beams the chef. “We’ve had it on the menu for quite some time as it’s so popular. It’s our go-to vegetarian dish. We make our own flatbreads, load them with salads, halloumi, polenta fries and chilli dressing, with our very soft Middle Eastern-style falafels. They’re delicious.”
Desserts change regularly, and tend to be simple. Baked apple topped with crumble and homemade custard. Strawberry Eton mess with homemade meringues and local or home-grown berries. “And at the moment we’ve got a chocolate croissant bread and butter pudding. On Saturday mornings we sell Penny Bun Bakehouse stuff. Anything leftover we save, freeze and use in dishes later on. So we’ve got their chocolate croissants, we’ve turned into pudding.
“And we always have on a chocolate brownie – everyone loves chocolate.”
The idea of freezing, reusing, and zero waste is high on the foodie agenda at the moment, especially in the current climate of rising food prices. But it is, says Matt, part of the ethos of ‘proper’ cooking, which is where his heart lies.
“We’ve lost so many processes in restaurants these days. I’ve always worked in kitchens where Wednesday was ‘stock day’, Thursday was used for making pickles. If there was a glut from a producer, you’d buy it in and use it.
“I’m trying here to bring back the old ways of cooking because that’s how you impart flavour. You won’t find any line cooking or sous vide. Just heat, pans and heart. That’s what I want to bring to the table.”
The Queen’s Head at Blyford is open for food 12noon to 7pm Wednesday to Thursday and from 12noon to 7.30 or 8pm Fridays to Sundays, with longer opening hours expected in high summer.
Find out more at queensheadblyford.co.uk