Age: Older than the hills. Really. 509, at the last count. But while the building goes waaaay back, it’s only been a food pub (on and off) for about 40 years. My dad, who lives nearby, reckons it was one of the first foodie places in this part of East Anglia.
Previous incarnation: Guildhall. In fact, you’re dining on ecclesiastical grounds here. But more recently – well, in the 1990s – it was run by ‘Hotel Inspector’ Ruth Watson and her husband David. Current chef-owner Paul Yaxley bought it in 2002, by which time it needed a bit of TLC – and in the last sixteen years has turned it into the total dining destination it is today.
Where exactly? In Fressingfield, a gorgeous village to walk around either pre- or post-prandially, with an ancient 14th century church perched at the top of the sloping bucolic churchyard and handsome houses in the valley beyond. Take a stroll around and gawp at the timber-framed cottages and comely Georgian piles.
So what goes on there? Yaxley has made this a pub that’s busy every service – at least every time we’ve eaten there, anyway, on many different days and times, from midweek lunches to weekends. It’s partly down to the excellent set lunch menu, currently £17.95 for two courses.
What should I eat? Over the years, every meal has impressed. On our last visit over Easter, the only slight disappointment was a particularly beautiful plate (featured pic, see top) of chicken terrine with quail’s eggs, pickled mushrooms, a wild garlic puree, crunchy crackling and vivid (but rather bland) beetroot sponge: it just didn’t reach the hoped-for heights. But the other starter, a quite loose crab risotto, was a minuscule flavour bomb, the white meat lifted by notes of lime, coriander and chilli.
The mains? Flawless and witty reworkings of pub classics, such as fish and chips and gammon and pineapple. A just-opaque tamarind-marinated hake fillet – some of the best I’ve tasted – came with garlic and green pea chutney, turmeric spiced potatoes, tomato and cumin and basil sauce. Meanwhile, medallions of rosy pork sat on a plate artfully scattered with compressed pineapple, salsify, beetroot, mille feuille potatoes and whorls of smoky red pepper puree. Dessert (an additional £5) riffed on rhubarb two-ways: a smooth mousse sparred with a tangy sorbet, zesty apple compote, a swirl bittersweet orange gel and the crunch of hazelnut and ginger crumble.
The interior: discuss. There are four areas, the building’s antiquity evident in beams, wood-panelling and fireplaces. The central dining room is probably the best one to book, although on our recent Saturday visit was noisily rammed with extended families and tiny children. With our elderly Jack Russell in tow, we generally prefer to eat at a corner table in the calmer confines of the cosy bar. There’s a further dining room on the ground floor and another upstairs, both carpeted and more sedate. Leaded windows – medieval? – look out onto the churchyard. On the other side is a village pond and terrace for warmer times.
And what do I drink? A selection of beers, or chalked up wines-by-the-glass at reasonable prices. We enjoy the Provence rose in the summer on the terrace (at around £25 a bottle). This time a decent Montepulciano-Sangiovese worked with our food choices (£25).
What’s the service like? Pleasant – but the staff are busy and it shows sometimes, with waitresses rushing around trying to keep on top of it all. It’s not a place to be in a hurry; but if you are, you can speed things up as you leave by paying at the bar.
Where can I stay? With family living nearby, I’ve never lodged in Fressingfield itself, but the 16th century yeoman’s farmhouse Priory House is within walking distance of the pub, with reasonably priced rooms (£80) if you want to make a weekend of it. And, being Suffolk, there’ll be all manner of Airbnb and other holiday cottages in the vicinity (there’s a list here).
What else is near? There’s another boozer in the village, the Swan Inn, for burgers and the like, should you want a lighter meal or another drink option. We can also recommend the glorious lake walk around what’s locally called Ocean Pit. Worth a visit too are Wingfield, Eye and and the attractive town of Harleston, which boasts a striking tower, independent boutiques and cafes as well as the Cornucopia, a two-floor 1940s vintage emporium at the Corn Exchange, with tea rooms and pub onsite too.