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Restaurant review, The Marquis, Layham: “Wow, this place has done a complete 360”

PUBLISHED: 19:00 11 October 2017

Restaurant review, The Marquis, Layham: Tandoori squid.

Restaurant review, The Marquis, Layham: Tandoori squid.

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We return to review The Marquis in Layham near Hadleigh.

Restaurant review, The Marquis, Layham: Guinea fowl with wild mushrooms and vin jaune sauce. Restaurant review, The Marquis, Layham: Guinea fowl with wild mushrooms and vin jaune sauce.

When I visited The Marquis back in February with a group of food writers, we were positively unimpressed.

So when news spread that a new chef had come on board at the beginning of the summer, I popped along for a chat.

Tom Bushell is ex-Milsoms group, passionate and full of love for local ingredients. He is joined by a brand new serving and kitchen team.

Following my bad review at the beginning of the year I was invited back by the owner, but politely declined, choosing to return on my own steam (as is the case with all reviews).

Restaurant review, The Marquis, Layham: Patridge with black figs and brioche. Restaurant review, The Marquis, Layham: Patridge with black figs and brioche.

So it was I found myself gazing down at a very different type of menu last Thursday night. A menu that spoke volumes about the confidence of the chef.

The warm, fresh bread we were served at the start seemed an initial good omen, and it proved to set the tone for what was a really very good, well executed dinner, far removed from anything I’d eaten previously at The Marquis.

To start – an eye-catching plate of tandoori squid, accompanied by myriad garnishes and dressings.

I usually slip the tentacles onto my hubby’s plate (they’re always so chewy) but the ones served here were dainty and crisp, coated in an aromatic seasoned batter, flavoured with whole spices. The overall flavour profile was a bit like Bombay mix, which I love.

Restaurant review, The Marquis, Layham: Flaming pistachio brulee. Restaurant review, The Marquis, Layham: Flaming pistachio brulee.

Every bite brought a new texture, flavour or temperature. Cool garlicky raita, smooth spiced, slightly warm chickpea hummus, a sticky homemade mango and lime pickle with a hum of heat. More please chef!

On the other side of the table, Tom’s take on a Milsoms classic – the hoi sin duck tacos. Crunchy wontons piled high with shards of duck, crunchy cucumber, onion and pepper, and two contrasting but compatible Asian sauces.

In the middle I was won over by in-season red-legged local partridge, perched on a plate with Jackson Pollack style dashes of jus and beetroot powder.

A whole bird was broken down into succulent breast meat and rolled confit leg, livened by fresh snippets of tarragon, and wrapped in crisp pancetta. The fig puree and whole figs worked in matrimony with the game bird, never detracting from its distinctive flavour. My only criticism would be the superfluous brioche toasts. They didn’t bring anything to the party and I’d rather have seen a few latticed game chips on the plate for texture.

We ordered triple cooked fatties (chips) and curry butter carrots on the side, as it didn’t appear the main courses (mine had a couple of mushrooms on but no carbs) would be substantial enough.

But I could only manage a few of the (very good) chips and veg. My plate was more filling than it looked.

On the other side of the table my friend was less impressed with her guinea fowl, and its confit, rolled legs. She felt the bird was a bit bland, and positively hated the scratchy plate, which screeched as she tried to gather up mouthfuls of mash.

Having tried the food myself, I thought the bird was very well cooked, and while the leg meat parcels in pancetta could had done with a touch more magic (some herbs perhaps), they were executed well. Also on the plate was a soft mash, spinach and wild mushrooms, plus a tasty vin jaune sauce to tie everything together.

My dessert at The Marquis under its previous kitchen in February was dire. A shame, as it’s my favourite part of the meal. The new pastry chef has worked her magic and given the puds here the flair, drama and delight you should expect at the end of dinner. Dessert should be a talking point.

My friend’s flaming pistachio brulee came to the table still alight and she was advised to let the fire go out on its own, so the sugar on top could caramelise to perfection.

The set of the brulee almost teetered on the side of having too much gelatine, but got away with it, still being creamy and delightful, with a toothsome crunchy topping. Its partners in crime of pistachio and olive oil sponge, cubelets of dark chocolate ganache, and a tang of blood orange gel, set it off perfectly. A triumph.

My lemon and lime posset looked stunning with its alternating pastel-coloured layers and jaunty hat of sugar glass.

Soft and luscious, it slipped down a treat, and the dense, muscovado-rich pieces of gingerbread were gorgeous with it. The blackberry sorbet on top served as a visual pleasantry. It was too sweet and didn’t give over the true essence of the berries. With a bit of work on that element, this would be a truly great dessert.

And onto the cheese trolley.

We selected Cambridge Blue (spicy with a bit of bite), Lord London (pungent, lemony and ripe) and good old Suffolk Baron Bigod, which had been kept at just the right temperature under glass, enabling the centre to ooze out of its bloomy rind. There were no walnuts as listed on the menu. And what looked like a puddle of water under the grapes was actually a drizzle of divine truffle honey (don’t miss out on this, it’s exquisite with the blue cheese). Also with the cheeses were a mild spiced onion relish and a raisiny, fruity chutney, plus celery. All you could need.

A nice touch was the ‘chest’ of crackers to choose from. The charcoal variety with a squidge of Lord London was to-die-for.

Filled to the brim, we still couldn’t resist the petit fours, which I think demonstrate aptly just what a pastry section can do.

Well, they succeeded here. Like the crackers, a variety of six sweet treats was presented in a cigar-type box with the option to choose three from stawberry jellies, caramels, pralines and truffles and others.

Each was crafted perfectly, with a good crack to the tempered outer shells. A tonka bean truffle was exotic with its touch of vanilla and deep dark coating. The stick of praline was faultless. And I was surprised in the caramel cup to find both a smooth, creamy caramel, and a burst of liquid caramel. This one needed a pinch of salt to cut into the sweetness –but it was still nommy.

Coffee was spoilt a bit as the milk had been overheated, but I liked the fact it came with a big, flaky, anise scented Torta de Seville biscuit – all the more special thanks to its waxy paper wrapping.

What can I say except well done! Negative feedback has been acted on, and this restaurant has done a total 360. I can’t wait to go back with my husband for a date night.

Drink

An interesting wine list and massive selection of top end spirits were available, as well as cocktails. There was a decent selection of ‘drivers’ drinks’ too. I tried the Norfolk Elderflower and Cucumber cordial with fizzy water, which was so refreshing (there were about eight different varieties I think). And with my main course was pleasantly surprised by a glass of 2013 pinot blanc from the award-winning Essex vineyard New Hall. Tart, juicy and off-dry, the wine was ripe with the essence of gooseberries and citrus fruit, with a smooth finish. I’ll be buying that again!

Ambiance

One of the most beautiful restaurants in Suffolk. There are lounging and bar areas, and the main dining room itself, although a little bright (they could do with dimming the lights in the evening) has a cosy feel. The bucket seating and banquettes were squidgy enough to sink into comfortably. Our only gripe was the table, which was a bit wonky and needed constant adjustment during the meal despite having a bit of card wedged under the offending leg. It seemed some of the other tables had suffered a similar fate.

Service

When I visited this place the first time, service was underwhelming at best. This time our waitress was excellent. Really knowledgeable, quick and helpful. She knew the menu and made suggestions from it before we even asked.

Location

In Upper Layham, just south of Hadleigh, overlooking the fields of the Stour Valley. Lovely.

Parking

There’s a large, well-lit gravel car park to the south of the restaurant.

Toilets

Smart, simple and spotlessly clean. Loved the L’Occitane soaps and lotions, and the individual paper hand towels – it’s the little things that count.

Price

The menu errs towards the pricier end of the market, but there are bar options too priced a little lower. Altogether three courses, one glass of wine, two soft drinks, cheese, coffee petit fours was just teetering over £100.

Highlight

The tandoori squid was executed to perfection and made my mouth do a little dance.

Summary

I take no pleasure in writing bad reviews, and always print them with a heavy heart. So when I go back to re-review and find changes for the better, it’s just fantastic. The Marquis has certainly improved in its service and food offering, with the menu and ingredients reflecting the quality of the setting. It’s almost unrecognisable from my previous visit. They just need to keep up the good work.

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