Review, The Lion, East Bergholt: ‘Just what this part of Suffolk needed’
- Credit: Archant
I’ll probably get mobbed for this, but south Suffolk is a bit wanting for really good places to eat. I’m not alone in my thoughts, having had the conversation with quite a few people.
So, I was hoping, no praying, as we travelled 20 minutes from home to East Bergholt, that the food at The Lion would hit the mark.
Bought by Jonathan Peachey three years ago in a rescue bid (it’s his local), no expense has been spared in the renovation of the property, which can be found in what I think is the most beautiful part of the village, just a short walk from Flatford.
The outside is smart and inviting (clock a look at the cottage to the right which is utterly gorgeous and like something out of a film set), and as you step within, that feeling continues.
It's bright and simply, but sophisticatedly, decorated. I wanted to smuggle one of the pastel-upholstered chairs home.
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If the weather continues to be good, it’s worth noting there is a large garden at the back, with a terrace and lawn – all meticulously manicured. General manager James Barber (who many will know from his cheffing years) points out the car park – handy if you want a spot of lunch and a walk nearby.
I also meet head chef Ashley. But we’ve crossed paths before. I was impressed by the small bites/tapas menu he put together at Arlington’s in Ipswich while the kitchen there was under his command.
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The menu at The Lion is at the upper end of the price scale when it comes to pub food, but it’s clear to see that, like the décor, thought and time has been put into choosing the highest quality suppliers and producers, from a local butcher for prime Red Poll beef, to Promotion Wines nearby for drinks.
Sat in one of the three dining rooms, we started with nibbles and a glass of prosecco for me, and non-alcoholic Pimms for Mr J.
To begin, warm, properly fluffy bread (£5) with a light, crisp crumb. Freshly baked, and served with whipped garlic and herb butter. It was a generous portion and I could have, quite frankly, eaten that all night. There were also almost Marmite-y soy roasted seeds (£5) and a huge pot of garlic stuffed olives (£5).
And onto the starters. As guided by chef, I chose the scallops (£16.50), served on the shell, with plump prawns, and sizzling in a bath of garlic and chilli. Not only did these look pretty as a picture, but the shellfish was soft and tender, and the aromas delicate enough as not to overpower. The chilli was judged just right too – a creeping, underlying heat. For me, this was the last word in luxury. One of the best starters I’ve had for a while.
It was served with Bacchus from Suffolk’s Lavenham Brook vineyard – all floral, with hints of passion flower and gooseberry.
On the other side of the table was beef carpaccio (£9). Literally as thin as paper, which is quite a skill, allowing the meat to melt on the warmth of the tongue. I felt it could have been lifted by a touch more seasoning, but there was texture and body in droves from a salad of fig, fennel and watercress.
With it, a smoky, tobacco and chocolate rich Chilean Merlot.
Sticking with the seafood theme, I had to order the lobster Thermidor (£28 for a half and £50 for a whole), sourced from the east coast.
The beast arrived on the shell under a rich, gratinated sauce- each piece of lobster cooked just-so, and with just enough of that sauce to compliment, rather than overtake the flavour of the main ingredient. It was a joy.
On the side was the most enormous vat of chips I’ve ever seen. They’re James’ recipe. Potatoes are baked in their skins, cooled, then cut and fried. Imagine if a chunky chip made a baby with a roastie. There, you’ve got it. The only superlative I can think of is ‘immense’.
The dish also came with a caper berry, fennel, mixed leaf and sundried tomato salad. All the elements were prime, but I felt it was a bit much for the lobster as an accompaniment. A very simple green salad, lightly dressed would definitely suffice.
With this I had a glass of Chateau rose – all strawberries and cream, with a touch of lemon, and the perfect match.
Steaks are a big deal at The Lion. They go-all out, serving the best Red Poll fillet (£35), with a rocket salad, more of those marvellous chips, and roasted baby tomatoes. Fillet can be an uninteresting cut, but this was well matured, with a big whack of beefy flavour. It was served, as we’d ordered, medium, and had been rested properly. A good ingredient, handled with care.
We ordered peppercorn sauce on the side. Silky. Not too fiery. And flipping heck it was good soaked up with those chips!
An interesting Malbec was paired with the steak, giving over loads of ripe berries and vanilla.
We couldn’t decide on dessert, so had a platter of a bit of everything (yes, I know it’s indulgent but it had been a hard week). Desserts are priced at £6 to £12. If you’re full, but crave something sweet, there are smooth homemade cubes of clotted cream fudge and Champagne truffles. Or select a bowl of Panache ice cream – made just down the road.
So, what was on this platter of dreams?
A couple of ice creams from the aforementioned Panache. White chocolate and honeycomb, and black treacle, which is hands-down the best ice cream I think I’ve eaten in a few years now. They told me after it’s vegan too! The treacle was offset by an almost too-daring amount of salt, but boy does that combination work. They are selling in some shops now, including Suffolk Food Hall, so go buy a tub.
The apple and sultana tart (also vegan) was autumn in a mouthful. Bramley apple, dried fruit and a good dose of cinnamon doing just the trick for this time of year. My only comment is the pastry was a bit soft...likely from being warmed up.
I never ever order cheesecake. My palate can always detect the cheese. But, as ever, to review I put my personal preferences aside, and got stuck in. Ashley...or Ashley’s pastry chef...well done, you’ve transformed me. This ensemble was so moreish. The fluffiest white chocolate centre (a hard flavour to get across), and a zippy topping of tropical fruit jelly.
Equally excellent was the chocolate fondant, which delivered everything it’s meant to. A crisp shell, cutting open to unleash a molten, gooey cocoa puddle. Expertly done.
My raspberry allergy meant I couldn’t try the ‘peach melba’ of vanilla panna cotta topped with peach and raspberry, with a biscotti and raspberry choux bun – but there were no complaints on the other side of the table.
We had two dessert wines with puds. My favourite was a glass of noble rot - slightly more bitter than you’d expect, bursting with grapefruit marmalade and thread of rose. Very interesting.
You bet your bottom dollar we’ll be coming back to The Lion. Maybe for the night, as they’re in the process of adding five rooms before the year is out.
This is simple, well-conceived, brasserie-style food, made by a team with passion for the ingredients they use.
A shout out to the knowledgeable, friendly front-of-house team too, who knew the menu inside out and were able to guide diners well through service (we were eavesdropping).
Can I just say, the pub has possibly the glitziest loos I’ve found in Suffolk. Want to know why? Book a table. Thelioneastbergholt.co.uk