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Restaurant review - The Leaping Hare, Wyken Vineyards: ‘Fine dining with Suffolk produce at its heart’

PUBLISHED: 15:07 20 August 2018 | UPDATED: 16:50 20 August 2018

The Leaping Hare restaurant at Wyken Vineyards in Stanton, near Bury St Edmunds. Picture: MARK HEATH

The Leaping Hare restaurant at Wyken Vineyards in Stanton, near Bury St Edmunds. Picture: MARK HEATH

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Mark Heath and his wife Liz visited the Leaping Hare restaurant near Stanton in West Suffolk for a Friday lunch.

Mark's scallops starter at the Leaping Hare - perfectly cooked. Picture: MARK HEATHMark's scallops starter at the Leaping Hare - perfectly cooked. Picture: MARK HEATH

Food

Set deep in the West Suffolk countryside, at the renowned Wyken Vineyards, sits the Leaping Hare restaurant.

We visited the lovely eatery, housed inside a 400-year-old barn on a Friday lunchtime, and it was rammed – booking certainly recommended!

While the restaurant – a fixture in the Good Food Guide for 20 years and a Bib Gourmand in the Michelin Guide – lays claim to most of the barn, there is also a cafe if you fancy a lighter bite.

Not the case for us though, Liz had even run 10 miles that morning to make space for a hearty lunch – and that’s what we intended to have!

And so to business. The menu was small and perfectly formed - changed daily to reflect the best of what’s available – while the wine list, as you’d expect of a restaurant based at a vineyard, was bristling with their own offerings.

Liz's mozarella starter at the Leaping Hare - needs refining. Picture: LIZ HEATHLiz's mozarella starter at the Leaping Hare - needs refining. Picture: LIZ HEATH

After some guidance from our excellent waitress, we plumped for a carafe of full-bodied red – it’s always great to see a carafe of wine as an option on any menu when one of your party is driving.

While we mulled our choices, we were also treated to some of the most wonderful bread I’ve ever had anywhere – homemade sea salt and rosemary focaccia, with oil, freshly baked that morning.

Good bread, of course, is to be expected - but what was a surprise was that, after we’d gobbled the first offering and were lamenting the empty basket, we were promptly asked if we’d like some more! Fantastic, and very rare, that you get a second bite at the bread. Big thumbs up.

Soon our starters had arrived. I went for the seared scallops with apple, olive and crisp parma ham. Classic combinations, done well - perfectly cooked scallops, the sweetness of which was nicely coupled with the tang of the apple and saltiness of the olive. And the ham, crisped into a ball, was superb.

While I was more than happy with my choice, I’m afraid Liz wasn’t quite as impressed with hers – Mozzarella, sweet and sour cherry tomatoes and pine nuts. While the tomatoes provided a delicious blend of contrasting flavours, there was way too much cheese than the dish merited, making it rather too rich. A dish in need of some refining for me.

That said, any disappointment we felt about that was soon forgotten when our mains arrived.

Mark's pork main at the Leaping Hare - superb. Picture: MARK HEATHMark's pork main at the Leaping Hare - superb. Picture: MARK HEATH

After some deliberation, I decided not to opt for the Ribeye of Angus beef, reasoning that I often plump for steak and a better test of our hosts would be to pick something that wouldn’t normally rev my engine.

Thus, I ordered the Dingley Dell pork fillet and belly, served with new potatoes, carrot and a red pepper romesco. Were I to rank my meats in order of preference, pork – bacon aside, I’m not a fool – would sit firmly at the bottom.

This dish made me question those rankings. The fillet was soft and cooked expertly, while the belly – so often fatty and unappetising – was rendered to a point where it could all be enjoyed – and the flavours were tremendous.

The several different forms of carrot provided a freshness and crunch, while the romesco complemented the dish adroitly.

But as impressed as I was with my main, Liz was even more taken with hers – the five spice Creedy Carver duck with mash croquettes and roast fennel.

Simply put, I think this is the sexiest duck dish I’ve ever seen – it looked absolutely extraordinary. You eat with your eyes first, and I was shooting very envious looks at my dining partner as she tucked in.

Liz's duck main at the Leaping Hare - a very sexy dish! Picture: LIZ HEATHLiz's duck main at the Leaping Hare - a very sexy dish! Picture: LIZ HEATH

It tasted just as good as it looked too – Liz, something of a duck conosseur, confirmed it was up there with the best she’s ever had.

She would usually remove the fat from duck as it can so often be undercooked and an unpleasant texture, but this was perfectly rendered and had a delicious five spice coating on the skin that you wouldn’t have wanted to cut off.

The duck itself was superbly cooked and pink in the middle, with delicious accompaniments – excellent croquettes, and the roast fennel complemented the flavours well. We stopped short of licking our plates, just.

After such cracking and fulsome mains we steeled ourselves to tackle a final course – putting ourselves out for you as ever, dear reader – with me going for the Wyken summer pudding with clotted cream and mint, and Liz the dark chocolate ganache with coconut curd, mango, chilli and lime.

My pudding was delicious, packed with a range of fruit and given extra richness by the cream. Perhaps a little on the large side, but that’s picking hairs.

Liz’s was again presented superbly. Taste-wise, the richness of the ganache was counteracted by the cold fruity mango sorbet, while delicate meringue bites added extra texture.

Mark's summer pudding desert at the Leaping Hare - delicious, but filling! Picture: MARK HEATHMark's summer pudding desert at the Leaping Hare - delicious, but filling! Picture: MARK HEATH

And so our meal was finished - a fine way to spend a Friday afternoon. We finished off the trip with a visit to the shop which joins the restaurant - which proved another fine way to spend some money!

Drinks

As previously mentioned, the wine list was humming with homegrown tipples.

Bacchus, a dry white, is a past winner of English Wine of the Year, while Madeline Angevine and Wyken Sunrise are also to be lauded.

The vineyard also produces its own beer - Good Dog Ale, which boasts the excellent slogan ‘Makes you want to sit and stay.’

Liz's chocolate ganache desert at the Leaping Hare - rich and delicious! Picture: LIZ HEATHLiz's chocolate ganache desert at the Leaping Hare - rich and delicious! Picture: LIZ HEATH

Provenance

A buzzword in the culinary community, the Leaping Hare menu boasts a lovely touch – a star system to indicate how local the produce is.

One star means the main ingredients are produced in Suffolk and Norfolk, while two means said ingredients are either born, raised or produced at Wyken, or within five miles of the estate.

A cracking idea.

Setting

Beautiful, if a bit off the beaten track.

The dining room in the old barn is full of character and table spacing means that you don’t feel as though you’re forced to listen in to other folks’ conversations.

Walking out to be faced with a grazing alpaca in a field was also a bonus!

Parking

As one approaches, you start to fear that parking is very limited indeed.

That’s unfounded though - there is a very large and well-kept car park to the rear of the restaurant.

Price

Very reasonable starters - my scallops were the most expensive offering at £9.95.

Mains-wise, my pork was £16.95 and worth every penny, while we both would have probably paid more than the £19.95 the duck was offered for!

Highlight

Have I mentioned how good the duck was?

My pork was superb, but that duck was simply exceptional – both in the presentation and the eating.

Summary

Fine dining with Suffolk produce at its heart in a classic countryside setting. If you’re looking for something out of town with a sprinkling of something special, this is the place.

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