Restaurant review, The Northgate, Bury St Edmunds: "I was lukewarm about this place when it opened, but it's on fire now!"
PUBLISHED: 20:00 27 August 2019
Food editor Charlotte Smith-Jarvis was invited to look at the facelift of this restaurant but was so impressed by the food she had to write about it.
I'm going to be upfront here and say the last time I was at The Northgate in Bury St Edmunds I was a little underwhelmed. I think that was almost two years ago now. There was a sense of style over substance - although I thought the cocktails were blimming marvellous.
Recently the Chestnut Group has given it a facelift, and new head chef Greig Young has been in-role for around a year, so I was lured back and invited to give it another shot.
The friend I took with me (used to fancy work lunches in London) was suitably impressed. Certainly the interior's been given an injection of zhush . General manager Michael says he felt it was previously a bit like being in the west wing of a rich aunt's country pad. And he's right, it was nearly, but not quite all there before. Whereas now there are pops of colour and fun everywhere. From a yellow birdy print wallpaper as you enter, to a specially-commissioned floral mural in the main dining room.
The bar, I thought, was pretty cool and sophisticated before, but that too's been visited by the decorating fairies, who've done a great job with colour, lighting and print, creating a sultry, almost 70s ambience with hints of mustard, large porthole mirrors, low-slung Scandi-style slouch chairs and eye-teasing flooring - the overall look eliciting a 'wow' from the pair of us.
And into the kitchen, where this summer they've installed a chef's table. Well, I say table, they can seat groups, or split the room into twos, threes and fours. There's no pop art, no tassel fringed chandeliers and no mood lighting in here where the canvas is the plates, the kitchen team the artists…or should I say apothecaries? Greig has a shelf lined with his various ferments, pickles and potions. "I hate waste," the Scott tells us, as he explains his style of food.
There are jars of mustard seeds, pickled mushrooms grown for Greig by a lady in Hadleigh, elderberries fermenting….even kombucha.
Noone else in what is now Suffolk's capital of food, can you be so close to the action in the kitchen. You can see everything, especially the nearby pastry section (yum) clearly, and despite what you might've seen on telly, there's no shouting and swearing here. Greig commands a peaceful, dare I even say, serene, brigade. Try to control your impulse (as I had to) to shout "yes chef" across the pass!
At £45 for canapes, bread, and five plates of food, with the option to add a flight of wine for £25, The Northgate has set out a very reasonably priced stall indeed, one strongly rooted in Suffolk. As the chef's menu (changing daily) was explained to us, both front of house and chefs delighted in pointing out the origins of ingredients.
And that began with the warm, fluffy homemade bread - crafted with flour from Pakefield Mill and served with a dish of luxuriously golden Fen Farm raw butter. Delish.
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Our amuse bouche arrived shortly after. A choux bun filled with Norfolk Dapple mousse. Dapple, made in north Norfolk, is a cheese I know and love, but it doesn't have the pow of, say, a West Country cheddar, and demands serving at room temperature to reveal its subtlety. Here, the mousse was just-warm, allowing the nutty, savoury notes of the cheese to breathe. Along with its pastry shell, the nibble was cloud-like, melting effortlessly in the mouth and elevated by a dot of spiced apple puree. We were mightily impressed already.
Next was the stand-out dish of the evening. Beef tartare. Nothing like that retro fine dining classic, all dense and cornichon laden. Hand chopped steak, seasoned beautifully, was tossed with home pickled mustard seeds for tang, broad beans, chive oil, and a whiff of allium from a black garlic aioli. Subtly bitter red endive leaves lay on top for textural scooping, with an additional drizzle of oil and a balsamic-style vinegar, made by Greig. Apparently he takes broad bean husks to sister restaurant the Weeping Willow, char/smokes them off and infuses them in vinegar. I mean come on, how many chefs really go to such lengths for their food these days? Here is someone who really cares about what he's doing. And the proof was in the eating. What a fabulous dish. Tender, salty, crunchy. Every mouthful was a party.
How could he possibly top that? Well he did. With plaice as milky and wibbly as freshly torn burrata, served over hollandaise-dressed warm new potatoes so diminutive they could have been picked by The Borrowers. What brought the fish alive was the bright bursts of acidity from slices of pickle, to that almost brackish slick of gherkin ketchup sat on top, under a sweet nugget of crumbed Norfolk lobster.
Next up was Blythurgh suckling pig, sat atop herby vegan black pudding, creamed corn, fresh charred corn and baby leeks, with a miso glaze. This was the only plate which, for me, didn't quite hit the mark. Everything was spot-on in the cooking, but I just felt it was overall a little too rich/sweet, however that's just down to personal taste.
We were led into the sweet section of the meal with an outstanding pre-dessert I'll remember for a long time, taking Ipswich-made bean to bar Tosier chocolate as its focal point. Neither bitter nor too sweet, this was as seductive a plate of chocolate as I've had anywhere. At the bottom an espresso kombucha caramel, bursting with floral (I swear I could taste bergamot), tobacco-like, sweet-sourness, to cut through the whipped dark chocolate, crème de cacao ice cream and cocoa nib wafer. Chocolate lovers order this!
To finish was a bowl of silky milk ice cream, featherlight white chocolate mousse concealing a compote of roasted strawberries, fresh Assington strawberries and shards of wafer and caramelised white chocolate with hibiscus petals and smoked salt. Sensational.
We shamefully couldn't quite manage the madeleines (baked in vintage French tins) with fig leaf caramel and fig puree, which came with coffee, but a nibble told me they were a bit of alright.
What more can I say? I certainly won't be writing this place off in the future and I'm already trying to plot a return. Bury is a tour de force recently and Greig can proudly slot himself into that 'Famous Five' alongside Pascal Canevet, Zack Deakins, Justin Sharpe and Lee Bye.
Without gimmicks he's managed to create a menu that is playful, true to locality, balanced, and exciting, with a little surprise in every bite. His ethos, flavours and styling had a similar vibe to Richard Bainbridge's Benedicts in Norwich. Hats off to you chef.