Suffolk – the coast with the most
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Buzz is not a familiar sensation on the resolutely understated Suffolk coast. But in late October when thirtysomething friends Will Orrock, his fiancé Cassidy Hughes and chef Harry McKenzie opened the Greyhound Inn in Pettistree – a tiny village so off the radar that even locals would need to think long and hard to place it – there was a palpable frisson of excitement. It was a long-held dream for Orrock, who had spent the past decade in advertising, and McKenzie, who left a seven-year stint at The River Café. Over the summer they did up the interior – opening up the bar, giving the place a chic paint job and decorating with pictures and mismatched furniture, much of which was sourced by Hughes, an interior designer, at local auction houses. And they toured the county visiting the regenerative farms and producers who shared their back-to-basics mindset.
“When you’re doing this kind of food it’s like wearing your heart on your sleeve. Doing it differently almost service by service,” says McKenzie, whose daily menu plucks the very best of what’s on offer locally, often informed by morning chats with suppliers in his kitchen, and then deftly ramps up the flavours. Earthy celeriac – grown at nearby Fellows Farm – a handful of saffron milkcap mushrooms and braised kale, or baked cod with mussel butter sauce and celery are both utterly delicious. So too is an extraordinary chocolate tart made with Pump Street’s 85 per cent Ecuador chocolate and topped with salt and cocoa nibs. The wine list, put together by George de Vos, takes a similar approach to the food, choosing small vineyards that are committed to sustainability. Despite the quietest of launches, Keira Knightley was one of the first diners through the door.
The trio are part of a new wave of entrepreneurs and young chefs who have moved to the county, injecting new life into the food scene while collaborating with the superlative farms and producers on their doorstep. Bread at the Greyhound Inn is made up the road at Alexander and Emily Aitchison’s new Acre Farm bakery, where everything is baked in a wood-fired oven imported from Germany. They’ve planted 1,500 nut trees and 400 fruit trees across 11 hectares of their wider farm to supply fruit and nuts too (Emily also runs The Food Hub cookery school at Kenton Hall Estate). Raw milk, Bungay butter, cheeses and curd come from Jonny Crickmore’s Fen Farm Dairy, where the herd grazes in the Waveney Valley. Locally caught seafood arrives from artisan fish merchant Mike Warner (his store, A Passion for Seafood, is at Grange Farm, Hasketon) and meat from craft butcher Gerard King of Salter & King, who works with farms to produce slow-grown meat that’s totally unique to the area, such as the grass-fed Lincoln Red cattle that graze on lush meadows in Iken. Organic produce is grown by Fellows – a 70-acre farm and market garden owned by E5 Bakehouse, and by Maple Farm, owned by the visionary farmer and serial entrepreneur William Kendall – both of whom are spearheading agroforestry, growing heritage grain crops and milling their own flour.
Over in Aldeburgh, restaurateur George Pell opened the buzzy L’Escargot Sur-Mer – a sister to his Soho outpost – in the summer of 2020. That pandemic pop-up has expanded to become The Suffolk, with a 60-cover restaurant, Sur-Mer, a bar, a roof terrace overlooking the beach, private dining rooms and six cosy bedrooms in a handsome building that originally housed a 17th-century inn. The menu focuses closely on seafood from the heritage coast, with sublime oysters – grown by Bill Pinney at Butley Creek – lobster bisque and roast fillet of halibut with champagne and Avruga caviar sauce. As well as working closely with the inshore fisherman who sell their catch from picturesque huts along the beach and the best local farms, head chef James Jay works with small-scale local growers too, often to order. With writer and gardener Tilly Gathorne-Hardy, he’s scouring heritage seed lists and planning crops for the kitchen at the walled garden of the nearby Glemham Estate. Gathorne-Hardy’s mother-in-law, Caroline, Countess of Cranbrook, is a longtime campaigner for local producers and co-founded the not-for-profit Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival almost two decades ago.
Alice Norman, formerly head chef at Mayfair’s Emilia, has also set up in her native Suffolk. She got in touch with Maple Farm’s William Kendall, who, by chance, was setting up a small kitchen. He offered her space, and in the spring of 2021 Pinch was born. She began with restaurant-calibre meals in a box to eat at home – think pappardelle and wild boar ragù with an asparagus and sea-herb butter – before launching her café, where creations have included cakes such as crullers (deep-fried rings of choux pastry glazed with Suffolk-inspired toppings) or chouffles topped with St Jude’s cow’s curd. She’s currently perfecting her gelato flavours with new equipment imported from Bologna, in readiness for summer.
At Walnut Tree Farm, a short drive up the A12 in Thorington, Joey O’Hare and Katy Taylor have formed Husk – a supper club in a converted cowshed where groups eat around a huge, live-edge oak table cut from one of the farm’s 350-year-old, storm-felled oaks. Guests arrive to seasonal drinks such as a Quince Sour or Orchard Gimlet made with cordials and syrups from the farm’s fruit trees, while dinner might include Sutton Hoo chicken terrine en croûte with tarragon sauce and herb and verjus salad, or walnut-blackened venison fillet, hunter’s ragu, cauliflower purée and Thorington green sauce made with plum olives and parsley.
Ballymaloe-trained O’Hare has developed a kitchen garden, as well as a flock of birds, so that vegetables, herbs and eggs are produced on the homestead and biodynamic wines are sourced from small producers. This June they are adding four guest rooms with additional rooms to follow in two converted grain silos.
There’s a strong sense of community, not only between cooks and growers but among locals too. At The Canteen in Southwold, owned by The Old Hospital, head chef Nicola Hordern, who was formerly head chef at the departed Darsham Nurseries, also champions local and sustainable ingredients – braised hogget, chickpeas and wild-garlic borani might be followed by orange-blossom custard, apricot preserve and almond tuile, or lemon ice cream and ricciarelli – and cordials and liqueurs are made in-house. On one Sunday each month, community lunches allow guests to pay what they can afford or receive a free meal that is funded by a “pay-it-forward” scheme.
Similarly at the Greyhound in Pettistree, the team plans to organise community days where excess ingredients – such as the senseless glut of birds that end up in landfill during the shooting season – are transformed into pies that locals can pick up or customers can buy. “A pub should be at the heart of the community,” says Orrock. “And we should use our skills to help with that as much as possible.”