Review: Sampling the fare at The Woolpack, Ipswich - a finalist in the Suffolk Food and Drink Awards 2016
Nicola Warren tucks into good quality food at the Woolpack, Ipswich
On Wednesday evening, my friend Carol and I enjoyed a really pleasant evening at the Woolpack in Ipswich.
We visited the pub, which is just over the road from Christchurch Park in Ipswich, for dinner after a busy couple of days at work.
In hindsight, perhaps we should have got there a bit earlier and had a walk round the park before embarking on a three-course meal, but there’s always next time…
When we arrived at the pub, recently a finalist in the pub of the year category in the Suffolk Food and Drink Awards, there were lots of people enjoying a drink in the sun.
But, with a slight chill in the air by then, we headed inside the traditional pub, which dates back to the 1600s.
There’s no need to book a table here, so we got some drinks from the bar – half an Adnams for Carol and a soft drink for me, chose a table in the restaurant area and perused the menus.
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Starters on the main menu ranged in price from £3 to £8, and included garlic or cheesy ciabatta and chicken satay skewers and salad.
There were further choices on the specials board, such as tomato and chilli soup with fresh bread and mackerel pate accompanied by crostini and salad.
We finally settled on two choices from the main menu – box baked camembert, onion jam and crudites for me and the whole king prawns, garlic and chilli butter and chargrilled ciabatta for Carol.
It took a little deliberation to choose our main dishes too, as there were lots of meals to suit all tastes available, costing up to £15. Dishes on the main menu included sweet potato and chickpea chilli, sour cream and seasoned rice, beer battered haddock, chips and mushy peas and braised shin of beef with bubble and squeak, bacon and caramelised onions.
The specials of the day offered options such as aubergine, tomato and mozzarella melt with salad, tuna steak salad with potatoes and sirloin steak with garlic butter, chips and salad.
There were also a selection of salads to choose from, plus a range of side dishes.
Eventually I chose the fish pie with vegetables from the specials board and Carol went for the confit duck, sweet potato mash and purple sprouting broccoli from the main menu.
While we waited for our starters, we chatted away, soaking up the laid-back atmosphere.
We didn’t have to wait long for our dishes, which were both pleasing on the eye and the palate and made us go “wow”.
On Carol’s serving board, there was a bowl of four gigantic prawns, smothered in garlic and chilli butter and sprinkled with parsley, served with a wedge of lemon, plus six thick slices of chargrilled ciabatta.
This was helpfully accompanied by a finger bowl of water and lemon, plus a spare bowl for the prawn shells.
Carol gladly tucked in, saying the king prawns were succulent, and the drizzling of butter was nice and hot from the chilli. She said she could take a little more garlic, but thoroughly enjoyed it, mopping up the leftover butter with the generous hunks of bread.
Meanwhile, I was tucking into the camembert, which was served with carrot and celery sticks, crostini, freshly sliced apple and onion jam.
This generous dish was really tasty, and I topped the crisp crostini with the rich, gooey cheese and sweet, sticky jam.
We both agreed that these generous portions would make good lunches and the prawns could serve as a dinner with the addition of a side order.
After just enough time for our starters to go down, our mains arrived, brought out by one of our attentive, friendly and knowledgeable servers.
It was another “wow” moment for both of us. My fish pie was packed with smoked salmon, smoked haddock and coley – used instead of cod as it’s more sustainable – in a creamy sauce, with a boiled egg and topped with mashed potato, melted cheese, cracked black pepper and a sprinkling of parsley.
This was accompanied by buttered vegetables – green beans, carrots, courgette, peas and cabbage.
I really enjoyed this dish, with the smoky flavour coming through the creamy sauce from the fish.
The egg was perfectly cooked, with a just firm yolk, and the mash was smooth and creamy. The cheese on top gave it an extra saltiness, but this was balanced out by the cracked black pepper and parsley.
I could have done with a little less butter on the vegetables, or perhaps a bit more black pepper in the dish overall, as it was verging on being a little too salty, but that really was my only criticism of the dish.
Carol, meanwhile, got a hit of black pepper from the smooth sweet potato mash which accompanied her duck dish.
The meat on the huge duck leg just fell off the bone, and went perfectly with the red wine jus.
And the purple sprouting broccoli was al dente and the ideal accompaniment.
We’d been really impressed by the food so far, which was of a far higher standard than we’d expected for a pub.
And you don’t just have to take my word for it. We got chatting to a fellow diner, Steve, who lives near Woodbridge, who also waxed lyrical about the food on offer here.
“The food is excellent. I come here once a week,” he explained. “For a pub, it’s really good food. It’s as good as a lot of the restaurants, I would say.”
We both agreed with him. And that was before we’d even tried the desserts.
Final dishes cost from £5 to £7, and on the night we visited included apple crumble and custard, mixed ice cream and local cheeses.
For Carol, though, it had to be the Bakewell tart with strawberry ice cream. And for me? The espresso pannacotta with shortbread biscuit.
I was a little hesitant at ordering the pannacotta as, though I love coffee-flavoured treats, I’m not a coffee drinker, so I’d hoped it wouldn’t be too strong.
But I needn’t have feared. This delicately flavoured, creamy, just set, dessert was sublime. It was served with two crisp, buttery shortbread biscuits too. All I can really say is “mmm”.
Carol, too, was in homemade dessert heaven. Crisp, thick pastry was topped with a generous layer of raspberry jam and frangipane. She hadn’t expected the strawberry ice cream to go with it as well as it did and she savoured every last crumb of the dish.
I think after sampling the sweets, I wouldn’t just say it’s as good as some restaurants in the town, I’d say the food here was even better than many of them.
Soon it was time to leave and we reluctantly got up from our table in the corner of the restaurant and headed home, but we’re certain we’ll be back at the Woolpack soon. See you there, Steve!