Food review, The Bull Inn, Woodbridge: ‘Stop walking by – go and eat here!’
- Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis
I have to confess, The Bull Inn, on Woodbridge’s Market Hill, is somewhere I’ve never thought to visit before. It kind of ‘blends in’ to the landscape of this part of town. I’m distracted by the fashion and lifestyle shops. Glittery things in windows.
So I was very interested to see what goes on behind the rather plain façade of this 16th century hotel and restaurant this week.
It was taken over in 2019, just before Covid hit, by couple Sarah and David Clarke, who spent the majority of lockdown giving the property a bit of love. A new kitchen was put in, making way for a new front bar. Plaster was ripped away, revealing 500-year-old beams and wood carvings. A new dining area was created, decorated with bespoke wallpaper designed specifically for the room.
David, a wine aficionado, has laid down a vast collection in the enormous wine cellar (with more wine dinners to come).
And three months ago new head chef Ethan Baker joined the team, followed by sous James (Jim) previously a private chef at Suffolk’s Wilderness Reserve.
Ethan is settling in Suffolk having travelled the world working in top flight hotels and chalets in the French Alps, at the five-star Fitzwilliam in Dublin, and for world leaders on luxury yachts.
He brings with him a talent for classically-based cooking, with nods to his globetrotting experiences.
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So dramatic has been the change at this eatery (with rooms above) that the kitchen has gone from serving 10 customers per week, to around 70 to 100 every day, and rising as word spreads.
As we arrived we were told Ethan wasn’t in...Jim was at the stoves. But I always think the sign of a tightly run kitchen is how service goes when the big boss isn’t around. How would the evening pan out?
While we spent an age deciding what to order, we settled on a pint of malty, biscuitty Nightingale Ale from Lowestoft’s Green Jack for him, and a Puglian Nero de Troia 2018 for me. It’s worth noting that choosing wine is made quite easy at The Bull. David has curated the list by grape variety so you can go straight for what you know. But if you’re more adventurous like I am, there’s also a list of ‘something different’ to try.
My glass was layered and complex, bringing cranberry and plum on the nose, bursting into damson on the first sip, and slipping into coffee and toasted hazelnuts.
A match made in heaven for my starter – chosen from the fine dining side of the menu – of tender, tarragon-infused shredded venison croquette, bound in a crisp breadcrumb coating, with sharp pickled walnuts, dressed winter leaves, hazelnut rapeseed oil mayonnaise, crushed hazelnuts and charred onion petals. My plate was wiped (almost licked) clean. An accomplished piece of cooking.
From the bar menu, Mr J chose a ‘snack’ to start of pig in blanket sausage roll. It. Was. Huge. Flaky pastry was filled with a crumbly, well-seasoned pork farce, freckled with herbs and grain mustard and wrapped in smoky bacon. If you’re popping into the new bar area, I can’t think of anything better to devour with a pint.
I stuck with the fine dining list for my main course, choosing whole baked plaice with preserved lemon persillade, slow-cooked duck fat carrot and lardon medley, and winter leaves.
The plaice just melted away from the bone. It could not have been more perfectly handled. So succulent and soft. I think the persillade got a little lost in translation. Usually it’s a combo of loads of parsley with garlic and olive oil. The Bull’s version is almost a salsa of preserved lemon, capers and shallots. But, as Shakespeare famously wrote, ‘what is in a name’? The dressing gave a welcome pop of sharpness and life to the dish. I thought the garnish of carrots with bacon sounded a tad odd, I certainly hadn’t encountered it before, but it worked so well I might just nick the idea for Christmas. The sweetness of the veg, and savoury notes of the bacon riffed off the rest of the ingredients on the plate.
I had to lure my husband away from the, incredible-sounding, Bull burger (with slow cooked smoked brisket, onion jam, cheese and Hillfarm mayo) from the bar menu. But he was more than happy with his buttermilk fried chicken Caesar salad – in fact he won’t flipping shut up about it!
The chicken pieces were so light and plentiful, the dressing nicely balanced, and the salad leaves crisp. They didn’t skimp on the Parmesan. And it was nice to see a few salty anchovies thrown in for good measure.
On the side we shared a bowl of irresistible truffle and Parmesan fries, which had to be prised from my hands so I could leave room for pud.
While we waited, I sampled David’s suggestion of a glass of F Series Riesling from New Zealand. Straight off the bat it’s quite different to many other dessert varieties. No acetone notes on the nose that typify this type of wine. On tasting, it floods the mouth with bold Seville orange marmalade and just a hint of honeysuckle, leaving a lingering, bittersweet citrus finish.
Like the Nero before it, this was also a very good match for what I was about to eat – an oozing, molten chocolate fondant that collapsed into a gooey puddle under my spoon. It could have done with a touch of salt to lift the chocolate, and the listed brandy butter was missing, but a good dessert nonetheless, served with decent ice cream and white chocolate rubble.
Mr J rarely has room for dessert, but I’m so greedy I always make him order one, knowing I could probably find room for a little extra.
He wolfed down a petite affogato of chocolate ice cream, toasted hazelnuts, coffee and Irish liqueur – sadly there was nothing left for me to try.
All in all, this is really good eating. The kitchen clearly know their stuff. And every plate was delicious and generous. You can’t ask for more than that can you?
I’d say it’s well worth adding to your ‘must visit’ list.
Food is served every day, and includes a brand-new breakfast menu, which is quite unique. As well as a full English, you can expect eggy fried crumpets with sweet chilli jam, coriander, fried egg and crispy onions, and spiced sweet potato pancake stack with golden syrup and yoghurt. Yum.
Book at bullinnwoodbridge.co.uk