Review: The Secret Garden at Tuddenham Mill - ‘A fantastic re-imagining of a brilliant Suffolk restaurant’
In their first meal out since lockdown, our food reviewer Mark Heath and his wife Liz paid a visit to the new Secret Garden at Tuddenham Mill. Here’s what they made of it...
Sat under the tent in Tuddenham’s new Secret Garden, gazing out across the idyllic meadow as the sun sets, it’s easy to forget just how much has changed in the restaurant world.
Then, as your waitress approaches with a facemask on, you’re snapped back to reality - this is dining out in the ‘new normal’.
Because of Covid-19 protocols, the Mill’s lovely, relaxed dining room is currently closed - but, like so many eateries who have been forced to be creative in a bid to finally re-open their doors, Tuddenham and brilliant chef patron Lee Bye have managed to create something beautiful out of a very bad situation.
You enter the Secret Garden via a one-way path lined with wood chips, and can either sit under cover in a tent which was currently meant to be in situ at Hyde Park, or out on the grassy meadow area. 40 or so diners can be served, all at a suitable social distance.
Having sanitised our hands and been met by our face-masked server, we chose to sit under cover in, it has to be said, very comfortable and attractive surroundings. Patio heaters are on offer should they be needed, while the gently twinkling lights and candles in trees make it quite the romantic setting.
Having been married 11 years, it wasn’t romance Mrs Heath and I were after though - it was ruddy good scran.
The menus - disposable of course – offer a range of boxed offerings, from starters through to desserts. Having ordered up a large glass of Sauvignon blanc (Mrs Heath) and a bottle of Bitburger Drive (me), we settled into the usual gentle argument about who was having what. Some things stay the same!
You can choose to pay £11 for a selection box of all the starters to share, but we decided to go for a couple - the Grain Culture foccacia and Yare Valley oil, plus the Moccus salami arancini, served with English tomato chutney.
Now the fun really starts. Your food arrives in boxes - think a very, very upmarket takeaway – and you dig in.
Both starters were winners for us. The foccacia was soft and light, with a crunch to the outside, rosemary on top and a lovely saltiness, enhanced by the oil. The arancini too, was delicious - crispy and golden brown on the outside with a light and tasty filling, the salami offering salty notes while the chutney was the perfect accompaniment, bringing sweet tomato flavours to the party. Excellent.
Onto the main event then, which provoked even longer discussions than usual.I was originally torn between the ‘bertha bun’ (posh burger) and breaded lemon hake - but, having glanced at a socially-distanced table near to us enjoying one of the firebreads, went for one of those instead. From a choice of two, I plumped for the chorizo, ricotta and tomato option.
Liz, having thought long and hard about all options, eventually settled on the five-spiced Blythburgh pork belly with pak choi, noodles, chilli vinegar and spring onions.
Let’s start with hers, because mine was a bit of a drama. It maybe sounds a bit odd to say, but it was presented nicely, even though it was in a recyclable box. Well-flavoured pork belly and soft egg noodles were complimented perfectly with the slight crunch of the pak choi. It was delicious - and a good portion size too.
Now, to mine. It arrived in one of the more stylish pizza boxes you will ever encounter, topped with plenty of rocket, and I dug in. It quickly became apparent though that, in a slight advancement from being a firebread, mine was an incinerated bread. The base was pretty much charcoal.
Obviously, I complained, and the waiting staff handled it incredibly well. Many sincere apologies were offered, the offending item was whisked away and I was told it would be removed from the bill. A few minutes later, when my new firebread arrived, the waitress again offered apologies, this time from the kitchen.
They say the true test of a restaurant is how they handle complaints - and Tuddenham passed with flying colours.
Back to the food, and my second firebread effort was very tasty. Huge chunks of meaty, spicy chorizo, working well with the sweet ricotta and crunch of the rocket. It was quite hard to cut however, so I resorted to tearing. Perhaps individual pizza cutters could be offered - now that would be a posh pizza!
We also enjoyed our side of pimento fries and aioli - nicely cut french fries with a great, slighty sweet taste.
Onto desserts then, and again on the box theme, the Secret Garden offers offers you choux boxes (see what they’ve done there) priced at £4 each. We went for a pair at £7, and what a decision that was.
The first, English strawberry and meadowsweet, was delicious - classic summer flavours which one should be enjoying when sat in a tent in a meadow.
The second, Tirami-choux, was extraordinary. I’m not sure which came first, the name or the concept, but whomever thought it up deserves a warm handshake and pat on the back.
As the name suggests, it was tiramisu in a choux bun - the classic coffee taste in the cream, complete with little chunks of chocolate for added texture and flavour. It was wonderful - Liz remarked as we left that if she could have one of those every day, she’d be very happy!
And thus, our meal in the meadow was over. We departed the Secret Garden via the one-way system and went for a quick wander around Tuddenham’s beautiful grounds. A superb way to end a superb meal.
Plenty of good wine options - prosecco, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cuve, as well as gin, vodka, rum and whisky. You can get a pint of Suffolk Calvors on draught too (a favourite of mine), as well as Mosaic Pale Ale, dry hopped lager and berry cider.
For the drivers, there’s plenty of options too - San Pellegrino, the aforementioned Bitburger Drive, a non-alcoholic G&T and coke. I should also mention that the beer is served in a ‘green cup’ - a recyclable plastic cup made from plants and not oil. A nice touch.
As already covered, the Secret Garden has been done incredibly well - both shows off the beautiful grounds of the Mill and makes one feel as though you’re enjoying a special meal.
A friend of mine asked if it still felt like Tuddenham and, though it’s obviously a different experience given these odd times, I’d say it did.
Cracking, even from behind those facemasks!
The way they handled the burnt pizza incident was first class.
Important to note that toilets are still on offer here - just inside the main reception, with the usual hand-sanitising procedures etc.
Plenty of parking available at the Mill - you’ll have no problem.
From the car park, it’s a short and picturesque walk to the Secret Garden.
Given the quality of the food on offer, I’d say it was terrific value.
Starters for a fiver, mains for £15.50 and a double dessert for £7 - gastropub prices for cracking food in a wonderful setting.
I think we’d both say the Tirami-choux - what a dessert!
A fantastic re-imagining of a brilliant Suffolk restaurant - a special place.
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