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Restaurant review, The Cookhouse, Wherstead: “It could have been so much better”

PUBLISHED: 11:58 27 September 2017 | UPDATED: 10:01 09 October 2017

Restaurant review, The Cookhouse, Wherstead. The kids' burgers were pretty disappointing.

Restaurant review, The Cookhouse, Wherstead. The kids' burgers were pretty disappointing.

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The food and ambiance didn’t match the beautiful setting of The Cookhouse at Suffolk Food Hall, says Charlotte Smith-Jarvis.

Restaurant review, The Cookhouse, Wherstead. The gnocchi needed the acidity of tomato or sharp saltiness of proper Parmesan to season them.Restaurant review, The Cookhouse, Wherstead. The gnocchi needed the acidity of tomato or sharp saltiness of proper Parmesan to season them.

I visited Suffolk Food Hall a few times over the summer - for tea and cakes, picnic shopping and the like. And I couldn’t fail to notice signs for Family Friday at The Cookhouse, with the promise of good value family meals, games and more.

So I recently trundled over there with hubby and kids (9 and 11) in tow.

I began with Baron Bigod and Bramfield bacon croquettes. They were lukewarm so sent back to the kitchen. On return (hot this time) they were crisp and oozingly lava-like inside, packing a punch - Baron Bigod is not a wallflower kind of cheese. However I really couldn’t taste any bacon. They should left it out and kept these as a perfectly nice veggie option. The star on the plate was the red onion and cranberry relish which, with its flecks of fresh thyme, gave life to the dish.

Mr Jarvis’ Lowestoft smoked salmon and crayfish salad was bright and crisp, with a refreshing dressing that balanced out the deep smoked notes of the fish. It was a generous size and could easily have worked as a main course too.

Restaurant review, The Cookhouse, Wherstead. The croquettes were tasty but didn't need bacon in them.Restaurant review, The Cookhouse, Wherstead. The croquettes were tasty but didn't need bacon in them.

Unfortunately our son’s garlic bread was a bit too charred. And our daughter’s platter of homemade bread and butter consisted of solid, dried-out rolls and very hard, fridge cold butter.

MORE: Restaurant review, The Froize, Chillesford: “Don’t miss out on the homemade pie here!”

Restaurant review, The Cookhouse, Wherstead. A decent smoked fish salad was substantial and tasty.Restaurant review, The Cookhouse, Wherstead. A decent smoked fish salad was substantial and tasty.

A main course of fish and chips was almost there but didn’t quite match other versions we’ve had elsewhere. There was no denying the saline freshness of the fish and crispness of the batter, but for a place that prides itself on being a foodie destination, it was disappointing to see oven chips on the plate. The mushy peas, while tumbled with fresh mint, lacked any kind of seasoning.

Being a gnocchi lover, I was interested to see how well the kitchen here could make them. They arrived tossed in pesto with roasted vegetables, but missing the tomato stated on the menu. Without the sharp bite of tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes, the flavour profile of the potato dumplings was flat - especially factoring in that the cheese used on top wasn’t proper Parmesan, but a vegetarian imposter failing to bring any robust saltiness to the plate. The gnocchi themselves lacked body and were a tad on the mushy side – I’d say the kitchen were lucky they didn’t disintegrate in the pan.

Perhaps most disappointing of all were the children’s burgers and fries, especially as this place prides itself on burgers. A full size bun had been oddly cut out around the edges to accommodate the thick, solid patty. The meat had been overworked. It would be better to flatten out the same quantity of burger meat to fit the bun, and cook it for less time. The burgers were thrown on the plate with frozen thin fries.

We didn’t stick around for pudding.

Drinks

There is a small and concise selection of drinks available including some locally produced options. It was nice that a glass of wine, half a pint or soft drink were included in the family meal deal.

Ambiance

The location is superb. But I’m sorry to report that the restaurant itself was soulless (the manager later told me it’s only really busy at lunch time). The huge room, with its river views, was occupied only by us and a couple of other tables – more needs to be done to remove the restaurant from its previous stigma of being too pricey. On a positive note, the children loved that there were board games to play.

Service

The serving team were accommodating and nice, and able to answer questions. They were geared up for families. And the Italian manager took my feedback really well and was keen to rectify any mistakes.

Price

A family of four on Friday can eat three courses for just over £50 which isn’t bad going.

Toilets

Spotlessly clean and functional.

Highlight

The fish salad was the best part of the meal, however it was more of an assembly job really and didn’t demonstrate what the kitchen could be capable of.

Summary

I really wanted to like the experience here, but left feeling disappointed. There is so much potential. Fantastic location, great waiting staff, excellent ingredients to use, but the food (particularly the children’s options) didn’t match our expectations. It really is a shame, as with some tweaks (better children’s food, attention to detail, upping the ante by making homemade chips, checking seasoning) this could be a very attractive family dining offering.

Russ Haddow of Suffolk Food Hall said: “Thank you very much for your feedback. It’s good have these points highlighted, particularly as the team is working really hard to promote greater evening trade with our Family Friday offering, and so match our lunchtime atmosphere. In order to do so there are certainly things we need to address, particularly the children’s offering, and we’re pleased that the autumn menu has been designed with these points and others this in mind. We do indeed pride ourselves on our burger, so we will work hard to make sure, whether kids or adults, we do it justice as we have the quality of meat via the farm and the butchers.

It is pleasing that your family enjoyed the games, and the value was recognised (n.b. the £50 per family includes complimentary drink). We must now work hard to realise the potential and deliver what we want to provide.

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