Could this pub be the hottest new place to eat in Suffolk?
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
I have to admit, despite having lived in Suffolk most of my life, until a couple of weeks ago I’d never heard of Troston.
With less than 1,000 residents at the last census, the village’s claim to fame has long been its pretty parish church, the walls cast with rare mediaeval wall paintings. But it appears that’s set to change, with the only other major premises of note, The Bull Freehouse, having opened recently to rave reviews.
Behind the bar are mates Ben Davenport and Sam Darling, who come with a wealth of experience in the industry. As well as having managed a Michelin starred pub, Ben has been director of hospitality at the Somerleyton Estate, and was responsible for the turning around of food operations at The Oaksmere. Sam is a former protégé of Ben’s, and the duo have worked together for the best part of a decade – even travelling around Europe on a kind of ‘Grand Tour’ pre-Covid.
“When we got back we really wanted to do something for ourselves,” says Ben. “We didn’t want to work for other people anymore.”
The hunt was on for premises. And when the foodies stumbled upon The Bull (which had been shut for three years) last autumn, a mission began to create what they hope will become a real destination venue, with the full trifactor – excellent food, brilliant beer, and first-rate service. “But we’re a pub,” Ben is keen to point out. “We don’t want to be pretentious. We’re not a pub masquerading as a restaurant. If you want to come in for a pint and a packet of crisps or a Scotch egg, great. But if you want a bottle of Pommery and a five-course tasting menu, we can do that too.”
Transforming The Bull really can be described as a labour of love. Ben and Sam spent much of the winter caked in mud digging out space for a raised kitchen garden, already planted with berries and seedlings.
And remodelling the interior came with its challenges too. “It was literally like a ghost pub,” Ben explains. “The guy that had it had closed it down and left everything in place. There were three-year-old packets of crisps, three-year-old bottles of coke in the cellar, dust caking everything. We ripped it apart, and now I think we’ve got a really nice country pub vibe going on that reflects the area we’re in.”
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Head chef Ian, Ben’s former chef at The Oaksmere, has had great fun working with the pair conjuring up a menu that puts seasonality, sustainability and flavour at its heart.
Casual patrons can happily sit in the garden (large, with a stretch tent and other seating areas dotted about) with a wild rabbit pie atop homemade ketchup, or vegetarian arancini with Sicilian-style raisin and caper puree alongside a glass of wine from the “very interesting, super cool wine list”.
Otherwise, what have proven popular to start with are the sharing platters. One a charcuterie board complete with homemade ham hock and pig’s head terrine. Another taking seafood to the next level, with Earl Grey tea and whisky cured wild stone bass, ceviche of prawns, hot smoked salmon, dressed Cromer crab and Hawaiian-style swordfish poke – all with the kitchen’s own sourdough.
“For the main courses at the moment we have an absolutely banging seafood linguine with squid ink pasta, lemongrass and coconut. Obviously there’s a burger, pressed in-house with Gruyere cheese and a really smart seasonal vegetable slaw which elevates it nicely. And we do steak, but without all the usual trimmings. Ours is 30-day aged and comes with tender stem broccoli, bacon and a leek and potato gratin. It’s going down really well. So is the lentil rendang – we've been selling lots of that.”
In addition to puds for the sweet-toothed (think chocolate pithivier with chocolate soil and white chocolate ice cream, or mango bavarois with tropical salsa, blackcurrant gel, melon sorbet and sesame tuile) cheese is high on the agenda.
“We love cheese here and our menu will change every week. Front of house write up the cheese menu, as they should, and we temper the cheese. It’s not cold when it comes to the table – what's the point in that? We have a piece of marble in the kitchen and all our cheeses come out onto there before service so they’re with customers at the right temperature.”
The current offerings are Welsh blue Perl Las, washed rind Maida Vale, nutty, savoury Old Winchester and nettle wrapped Cornish Yarg.
What about Sundays?
“Our customers are going to get a proper Sunday roast experience. Extra jugs of gravy come to the table as standard. If you want more Yorkshires, just ask. The beef is a good cut of sirloin, cooked properly, and pink at the middle, with the fat rendered down. Pork belly comes with crunchy crackling. And we have staff front of house who really care. Sunday is a very valuable day for people and we will bend over backwards to make sure they have a good experience.”
Ben almost forgets to mention, while in raptures over the menu, the fact there’s a microbrewery on site.
“Oh yes! We’ve been brewing a lot! In brewing there’s a term – that whatever liquid you brew your beer from, the name of that liquid is liquor. So...we’ve called ours Bull Liquor. It’s a great golden ale with pronounced bitterness and it’s quite malty and sits at 4%. We’ll slowly grow that offering. We can brew around 450 litres at a time and we put a lot of effort and money into making that happen because it’s a real string to our bow, to be a little pub that brews its own beer too.”
Alongside the beer and “kickass wine list”, Ben says there are over 120 spirits behind the bar, from Bombay Sapphire to rare and unusual bottles he believes you’re unlikely to find anywhere else locally. “Think Port barrel aged gin from France – we have the only remaining bottle. There are lots we’ve picked up over the years and saved for ‘when we have our own place’.”
Bookings are filling up for the new venture, which Ben and Sam hope will be the first in a string of pubs in the future. The Bull is closed on Mondays, open for drinks only on Tuesdays and serves lunch and dinner Wednesday to Saturday (12noon to 4pm Sundays).
Ben says: “We’re just north of Ixworth and half a mile south of RAF Honington. The Ampton Estate is right on our doorstep with huge lake you can walk all the way around, with a footbridge across is. We’re ideally placed for lots of walks and cycling. And we’re dog-friendly too.”