Our food reviewer Mark Heath and wife Liz spent the night at the Bull Freehouse in Troston to check out their new rooms and tasting menu. Here's what they made of it...


It's the key ingredient to most things in life, but especially when it comes to good food and hospitality.

And we found it in ruddy great dollops at the upwardly-mobile Bull Freehouse in Troston. Which in turn makes me passionate about telling you about it.

Ipswich Star: The Bull Freehouse in TrostonThe Bull Freehouse in Troston (Image: Mark Heath)
First things first, as ever. Key details. The Bull was bought by foodie friends Ben Davenport and Sam Darling - more on them shortly - back in October 2020.

They've since added and opened seven new 'ultra-luxe' rooms in their Pear Tree Inn guesthouse less than a minute's walk from the pub.

And, earlier this month, well-known Suffolk culinary talent Sam Sturman took over as head chef, with the aim of elevating the already good food offering into the elite tier.

All of those elements mixed together pulled us back for a nosy last Friday night, as Sam showcased his new tasting menu.

We rocked up at about half four, in need of refreshment before inspecting our quarters for the night. A quick pint of Amstel in the bar was just the ticket, and made an excellent first impression.

Ipswich Star: The bar area at The Bull Freehouse in TrostonThe bar area at The Bull Freehouse in Troston (Image: Newsquest)
The Bull is small, but perfectly formed. The bar area at the front of pub is a space in which you instantly feel at home - all wooden beams, soft lighting and the smell of smoke from the fire. It's a quintessential country pub.

I particularly liked the seating at the bar itself - normally one would only consider sitting at the bar as a last resort if a place was packed and you were particularly parched, but at the Bull they've made it a spacious and even luxurious experience, with comfy seating and a widened bar. Lovely stuff.

Pints supped, it was off to our lodgings. We were quartered in their D'Anjou Suite (£285/night) a two-floor space in the former farmer's cottage dating back to the 1760's.

Ipswich Star: The lounge area in our suite at The Bull Freehouse - mind your head!The lounge area in our suite at The Bull Freehouse - mind your head! (Image: Mark Heath)
That history is immediately apparent, with plenty of old beams and exposed brickwork, plus a low ceiling in the lounge area - folks were smaller back in the 18th century, after all.

Now, if you're going to advertise rooms as 'ultra-luxe' you'd best be pulling out some fancy stops, and I'm pleased to report they are here.

A statement copper bath - I think the biggest and comfiest tub in which I've ever bathed - plus his and hers sinks, a huge rainfall shower, smart TV, log-burner in the lounge and beautiful plush bed upstairs.

Ipswich Star: Our bathroom at The Bull Freehouse - what an incredible bath!Our bathroom at The Bull Freehouse - what an incredible bath! (Image: Mark Heath)
Plus little luxury touches which really make a difference - a Dyson hairdryer, Bang & Olufsen speaker, exclusive hand-made Suffolk soaps and spotless Smeg appliances.

Speaking to Sam and Ben about the rooms later, their passion for the project was obvious - they designed and sourced everything themselves, using Suffolk businesses wherever possible and even having those showpiece baths brought over from India. That eye for detail and desire for perfection is compelling, and contagious.

Ipswich Star: Our bedroom at The Bull FreehouseOur bedroom at The Bull Freehouse (Image: Mark Heath)
Which is a perfect segue into the second part of this story, the food.

The Bull's restaurant at the back of the pub is, like the bar, diminutive. That makes it feel cosy, and the open kitchen is a nice touch too - especially for foodie nerds like us who like to watch the chefs at work.

We were there for the seven course winter tasting menu (£85pp) and, because you only live once, we opted for the paired wine flight (£55pp) too.  

Ipswich Star: Our snacks at The Bull Freehouse - a bit more than snacks!Our snacks at The Bull Freehouse - a bit more than snacks! (Image: Liz Heath)
First up, snacks for the table. Calling them 'snacks' is an understatement akin to calling a Ferrari a 'car' - technically true, but goodness me, there's a bit more to it than that.

There was a pomme souffle with Colchester rock oyster, cucumber and caviar, a beetroot and goats cheese pani puri and our two favourites - a super meaty crispy ham hock and piccalilli bite plus a rather lovely suckling pig taco with avocado and salsa matcha.

Ipswich Star: Our potato and parmesan veloute with sage and onion loaf at The Bull FreehouseOur potato and parmesan veloute with sage and onion loaf at The Bull Freehouse (Image: Liz Heath)
Next up, our first course proper - potato and parmesan veloute, glazed turkey, crispy potatoes and chives, served with a sage and onion loaf and chicken butter.

This had posh chicken soup vibes - all warming and comforting, with great texture from the potatoes and fantastic flavours throughout. The loaf was delicious too, especially when slathered in the salty, rich butter. 

Ipswich Star: The venison tartare dish at The Bull Freehouse - very cleverThe venison tartare dish at The Bull Freehouse - very clever (Image: Liz Heath)
Venison tartare with BBQ sprouts and black garlic was next on the table, and very clever it was too. The gentle smokiness of the sprout leaves worked incredibly well with the small spots of garlic and the delicate meat.

A note here, too, for a wonderful wine pairing - the Famille Hugel Gewurztraminer was an absolute flavour bomb which complemented the dish superbly.    

Ipswich Star: Our monkfish course - sensational cauliflowerOur monkfish course - sensational cauliflower (Image: Liz Heath)
Monkfish cooked on the bone followed, served with roast chicken cream, cauliflower and agretti - a samphire-esque sea shrub also known as Russian thistle. I learned while eating!

Super-meaty monkfish is always a winner, teamed here with a curried cream and some sensational charred cauliflower which really lifted the dish.

Ipswich Star: The wild duck dish at The Bull Freehouse - very sexy!The wild duck dish at The Bull Freehouse - very sexy! (Image: Liz Heath)
The fish was followed by another crowd pleaser - glazed wild duck, shot locally, with cabbage, wild mushrooms and crispy kale.

Duck done well is a super sexy dish, and this had Liz purring. The duck was cooked rarer than some may enjoy - and indeed one spot of mine was a little too rare - but the skin was still rendered sufficiently and it ate beautifully, with a cracking salty jus and the added texture of those sides.

Ipswich Star: Our hazelnut and clotted cream parfait - pretty as a picture Our hazelnut and clotted cream parfait - pretty as a picture (Image: Liz Heath)
Onto to desserts. The hazelnut and clotted cream parfait, teamed with a Baileys cremeux and topped with some fancy chocolate work, looked fantastic.

It was a joy to eat too, all creamy and indulgent, while the paired wine - a Felsina Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico sourced from Bury's excellent Vino Gusto - was the perfect choice. Like drinking a sweet sherry.

Ipswich Star: Our final course, the mango and passionfruit tartletOur final course, the mango and passionfruit tartlet (Image: Liz Heath)
The night finished with a mango and passionfruit tartlet, served with coconut ice cream and lime - a refreshing, light end to a great evening of eating.

We duly retired to our lodgings, fired-up the log-burner, poured a single malt and jumped in the aforementioned bath. Ultra-luxe indeed!

Ipswich Star: A single malt and a log-burner post dinner - ultra-luxe indeed!A single malt and a log-burner post dinner - ultra-luxe indeed! (Image: Liz Heath)
Before we departed, there was one more meal - the always important breakfast, so often a key indicator of the overall quality of a place.

We were greeted by quite the spread - a buffet table offering pastries, fruit, cereals, meats and fruit juices, plus the option to craft yourself a Bucks Fizz, which is terribly civilised.

There's an extensive menu too, from which Liz had poached eggs on toast and I plumped for pancakes with crispy bacon, fruit compote and maple syrup. Both were excellent.

Ipswich Star: My pancake breakfast at The Bull FreehouseMy pancake breakfast at The Bull Freehouse (Image: Mark Heath)
And excellent is how I'd describe our whole experience at the Bull. It's expensive, yes, but the entire offering, from the rooms to the food, is top tier.

You don't have to have the tasting menu of course - part of the charm of the Bull is that you'd be equally welcome and at home having a burger and a pint in the bar as you would treating yourself to what we enjoyed.

The rooms, too, don't have to break the bank - they start at £145.

What most stands out about the Bull though, is the word with which I started this piece. Passion.

Ipswich Star: The rooms are finished to a very high quality at The Bull FreehouseThe rooms are finished to a very high quality at The Bull Freehouse (Image: Mark Heath)
It runs through everything they do, be it Sam and Ben happily chatting to locals in the bar or explaining to me in detail why they wanted a specific toilet roll holder in a room, to chef Sam's absorbing, ambitious menus.

People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.  

With passion driving the process, the Bull is on the charge.