Gallery: New Waterfront restaurant, Grand Central, to bring a taste of America to Ipswich
The opening of new Ipswich restaurant Grand Central - at the former Quayside on the Waterfront - is just days away.
There was much speculation as to what would become of the former Quayside premises before the building and an adjoining unit were taken on by family-run TLC Inns, which operates several pubs and restaurants in East Anglia.
The new eaterie will be the fourth launched by the chain in the region.The much-anticipated re-opening of the former Quayside restaurant at Ipswich Waterfront is due to take place, we can finally reveal it will open shortly as a Grand Central, which promises to bring the ultimate American dining experience to The Waterfront.
The American-style bar and grill will be one of the largest eateries in Ipswich, seating 280 people across themed dining and bar areas, which have been designed with customers’ needs in mind.
Leading the team is ultra-passionate general manager James Thornton who, despite having worked a 100-hour week in the run-up to the opening when talking to our reporter Charlotte Smith-Jarvis, spoke with glowing enthusiasm about the project. He says he loves everything about Grand Central, and feels like he is part of a large extended family.
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With an American soundtrack playing in the background, walking around the restaurant you can’t fail to be impressed by what’s been achieved. At every turn there’s something interesting to look at – be it the bar, emblazoned with the names of several of the cocktails, the graffiti wall art, or the quirky stickers and signs.
James leads me to the Worldwide Shipping area, which is where he envisages families dining. Tables and booths mostly seat six, with sockets at the end of booths for charging those smart phones, games consoles and Ipads that children tend to take with them these days. A more ‘old school’ way to keep them occupied is to ask for a box of table Jenga to play while waiting for your food.
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Stand out features of this area are the silver effect booth tiling, the really unusual cargo box style ceiling and (from the outside) the New York skyline sticker that wraps the glass.
“We tried to think of all the things we want when we eat out,” says James of the concept. “We are one of the top independent restaurant groups now. Being smaller we are able to do all the little touches that make a difference.”
Upstairs, Broadway, consists mostly of tables for two, illuminated by stage lighting and with views over the bar.
This leads into Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Bridge (ideal for parties).
Check out the skyline wall features and coloured mood lighting.
Completing the restaurant is Hell’s Kitchen, which is available for party and corporate hire and has its own bar.
And onto the food. The menu has been developed and pored over by the team to ensure it’s as authentic as possible, including American grill and Tex Mex staples while incorporating new trends from across the pond.
“Our main ethos,” beams James, “is fast fresh food. There are a lot of American branded restaurants, and they are good at what they do but, for us it’s about being as authentic as we can be. We’ve worked really hard on menu development – we’re all foodies and all passionate about this style of food.”
Flours have been imported from America for that true taste, it took six months to source the perfect cornbread supplier, and Grand Central is the only restaurant in the UK to use a very special imported Southern fried seasoning.
Everything (apart from the puddings, which have, again, been carefully chosen), is made on the premises with plenty of choice for those with allergies. Much of the menu can be prepared gluten-free, for example, and James says the gluten-free brioche buns are just as good as the regular ones.
“We want everyone to enjoy our food. For us, it’s about giving value on the plate. It’s not just about the price you pay - it’s about the presentation and the taste. We try to make what we do the highest quality it can be so everyone can have a great experience.”
The majority of the menu is big, burly portions (as you’d expect) but there’s also a weekly changing specials menu with lighter bites.
In the morning, from 8.30am to 11.30am, pop by for breakfast or brunch – be it an English breakfast with a twist, a glazed bagel filled with bacon, egg and Italian cheese, pancakes or waffles.
James’ favourite is the Ben Franklin eggs, comprising toasted English muffins topped with sweet honey roasted ham, tomato and wilted spinach, poached eggs, hollandaise, chives and spring onion.
“We were conscious we didn’t have a healthier option on the menu so we’ve also introduced Hippy Chow. It’s granola, berries, honey and frozen yoghurt. It’s very refreshing and the response has been amazing. The builders love it.”
The main menu is an American food-lover’s dream.
Start with nachos, garlic mushrooms, or whitebait (Jack Sprats) served as you’ve never had them before.
Prawns are battered and coated in coconut and a touch of icing sugar before being plated up with sweet mango salsa.
Then there are the classic potato skins, buffalo wings and sharing platters.
For something a bit out of the ordinary, try out the Bloomingdale Onion – rarely seen in the UK.
A specialist cutter divides a large onion into ‘petals’. It is then coated in a fragrant secret imported Southern seasoning, deep fried until crispy and served with a lip-smacking sauce.
James wants Grand Central to become THE place in Ipswich for burgers.
The kitchen worked closely with a butcher in Saffron Walden to develop the perfect patty, which is hand pressed at the restaurant to retain that open texture that ensures the ultimate bite.
As, standard burgers are served with salad (no mayo) and seasoned fries. Or be more adventurous with the Smokehouse (with grilled peppers and onions, melted cheese and barbecue sauce) or Juicy Lucy, which encases mozzarella, Monterey Jack and chopped bacon within two beef patties.
Then there are the steaks, available in multiple ways, ultra slow-cooked ribs, and half roast chicken, slow-cooked, gently glazed and crisped under the salamander.
On the Tex Mex side quesadillas are stuffed with spring onions, red onions, cheese, pulled pork, chicken and bacon or vegetables and warmed on the flattop.
Tacos can be filled with battered Ba Ha fish, chilli or pulled pork.
And the fajitas come sizzling on a skillet to your table with all the trimmings. American street snacks suck as Philly cheesesteak are found in the Broadway menu, alongside the amazing sounding Bronx Dog, piled with pulled pork, fajita mix and bacon.
If you’re feeling especially hungry you could look to the Dude Food section of the menu with its meat feast platter, burger tower or 15ins hot dog.
Or, for something lighter, head to Wisteria Lane for chicken skewers, salads and more.
There are loads of sides to add-on, from slaws to mac and cheese.
And puddings range from cookie dough cheesecake to a tower of rice crispy cakes, ice cream and chocolate sauce (which I secretly cannot wait to try out).
Smaller plates for different ages of children are available too, priced accordingly.
With a well-stocked bar, Grand Central looks set to make a mark on the evening drinks market in Ipswich too.
On draught are Peroni, Budweiser, Pilsner Urquell, Rekorderlig strawberry and lime cider and Adnams Jack Brand, which is citrusy and light.
Regular craft bottled beers include Brooklyn Lager, Corona and Blue Moon, with weekly changing guest bottles. At the launch, these include Goose Island Honkers, Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada Porter.
Cocktails are at the heart of the venue too, and will change throughout the year.
Lots of favourites are on the list, alongside house creations including:
The Rufus:: Designed by and named after the assistant manager and made up of cranberry juice, raspberry vodka and midori.
American Beauty: Sparkling wine topped with rose wine, peach syrup and a cherry.
The Birthday Cake: Amaretto, cranberry juice, vanilla and strawberry syrups and sprinkles around the outside.
For drivers and younger diners there’s freshly squeezed lemonade, iced tea, thick ice cream milkshakes and several mocktails.
And the wine list has been well thought out too.
Grand Central looks set to make quite an impact on the eating out scene in the area. Look out for details of the opening on Facebook and follow the restaurant on Twitter @gcIpswich.