A chef masterclass with Dave Wall at The Unruly Pig
You have to be curious about a restaurant called The Unruly Pig. Dave Wall certainly was when its owner, Brendan Padfield, went looking for a chef back in 2015.
Dave was quietly carving out a successful career for himself with one of the region’s most respected names in hospitality when the opportunity came knocking. It was the head chef post he’d been working towards – a brand new venture in a great location just outside Woodbridge, with a committed, passionate, enthusiastic owner, albeit one who had never owned a restaurant before.
“It was a bit of a leap of faith to be honest,” says Dave. Indeed, Brendan had only just agreed the purchase of the property at Bromeswell – formerly the renowned British Larder – hadn’t even moved in, and the interview took place at his house. But as Brendan shared his plans for an exciting new gastropub, that would be committed to good, honest food, Dave became more and more convinced that this should be his next career move.
“I liked Brendan’s vision for the place,” he says, “and it was a really good time. I’d always said I would be a head chef by the time I was 30, that was the game plan.
But I could see what a step up it was and I wanted to be as well prepared as I could be.”
In fact, Dave was more than adequately prepared. He’s something of an accidental chef, a boy from Ipswich who left college with good A-levels but no clear idea about what to do with them. So, he went travelling, first to Australia where he earned money washing pots in busy kitchens of big resort hotels. “It was the usual thing – they’d be short staffed and suddenly it’s ‘Dave get over here’, and you find yourself at the stove, doing a different job.” It didn’t take long for Dave to realise he really rather liked it. “It was busy, exciting, good fun.”
At the end of his one-year visa Dave returned home and started saving for another trip, this time to Canada. It was a formative experience, working at Whistler ski resort and at a golf club. “I wanted to stay, but to meet the residency requirements I needed formal qualifications. I found what I wanted to do - it made me become a chef.”
Back in Suffolk, Dave landed a job as commis chef at The Anchor in Nayland, with then head chef Carl Shillingford. It was a brilliant time, he says, and a very solid grounding, working to a very high standard, making everything from scratch from the inn’s kitchen garden and their own rare breed meats.
“Carl really enjoyed teaching people and I learned so much,” he says. “He encouraged me to go to London, he wanted that for me. He always says that, as a chef, you need to experience a challenging environment, to push yourself so you know you can do it.” Dave went for the ultimate in challenging environments, Gordon Ramsay Group. He worked at the now defunct Boxwood Cafe, the Savoy Grill and Claridges, before landing a dream opportunity with Bibendum in South Kensington – old school, traditional, a bastion of ingredients-led, classical French cooking. “I loved it,” says Dave. “It felt great walking in there every day. It was hard work but good progression.”
After 18 months he returned to Suffolk to set up home and family life with his wife. He joined the celebrated Le Talbooth restaurant, spending four years first as junior sous chef, then senior sous chef, a great stepping stone for a man ambitious to run his own kitchen.
The Unruly Pig is, as its name suggests, difficult to categorise. Not just a restaurant, but more than a pub. Perhaps a gastropub, but really much more individual and quirky, in all the right ways. Helping to get a new venture off the ground has given Dave a strong sense of ownership and he really cares about every aspect of the dining experience. When the British Larder departed, Brendan retained many of the team who had helped establish its excellent reputation, including Jake Maddison, chef de partie. “A terrific guy and still with us,” says Dave, who has added Karl Green as senior sous chef, formerly of Midsummer House in Cambridge and the Crown at Stoke by Nayland.
Indeed, The Unruly Pig’s
ability to attract and retain staff is one of the things Dave is most proud of, not least because they went through the harrowing experience of a catastrophic fire just a couple of months after opening. It’s difficult to have a conversation with him without the subject coming up. The blaze closed the restaurant for six months. When it reopened in December 2015, the public response to a genius ‘We’re back on our trotters’ recovery campaign packed the restaurant every day over Christmas and well into the new year. Dave and The Unruly Pig team worked long hours, day after day. “It was hard work, I wondered if we would cope,” he confesses, “but the team all pulled through. They are amazing.” theunrulypig.co.uk
The food at The Unruly Pig reflects Dave’s passion for classical Italian cooking – seasonal, with high quality ingredients at the heart of everything. “That’s where every dish starts, we don’t try to reinvent the wheel in terms of classical combinations,” he says, “but we try to put a different spin on a dish, according to what local ingredients are available.” Dave has installed an Inka grill, a ‘closed door’ charcoal grill that cooks at an incredible 400°Cplus, enhancing both the flavour and succulence of grilled meat and fish.
A la carte menus change bimonthly and the set menu changes at least daily, influenced by whatever comes in fresh from the coast or from local suppliers. Orford is a rich source of ingredients – Dave buys fish from Pinneys and bread from Pump Street Bakery (“We couldn’t make it that good!”), asparagus and rhubarb come from High House Farm. Vegetables are supplied by regional suppliers Anglia Produce, Humdinger(only three miles away) as well as Virginia Nurseries at Newbourne, which grows specialist seasonal vegetables and herbs.
LOVAGE SOUP WITH PINNEYS MACKEREL
Dave’s summery soup is sheer genius. Vivid green, smooth and delicious with the citrus-celery flavours of lovage from Virginia Nurseries, and fresh apple, it feels luxurious, yet as if it’s doing you some good. The Pinney’s mackerel is a delightful contrast, rich and smoky, and the crouton just rounds it off for texture.
Dave’s tip: The focus on making this soup taste extraordinary is to keep it very fresh and vibrant. To achieve this, firstly ensure that you have all your ingredients and equipment prepared before you begin cooking, so that your soup isn’t stewing away and losing flavour whilst you’re looking for the blender jug! Secondly cook it and cool it quickly by passing it through a fine sieve (after blending) straight into a bowl chilled over a larger bowl of ice, so that you can then reheat it when it comes to serving. It also helps if you have a good blender.
A classic seasonal summer dish, with a local twist. Dave enjoys using Pinney’s native young lobsters. At 500gms, the chicks, as they’re called, are smaller, sweeter and more tender, he believes, which enables him to use every part of the lobster. The lobster is poached and a stock made from the shells, which goes into the risotto. “This enables us to extract the full flavour from the lobster,” says Dave. The risotto also uses oyster leaf, sea aster and samphire, which can all be found on the Deben peninsula.
TOP RIGHT: Cooking roasted quailRIGHT: Dave’s oustanding presentation matches the quality of his food
ABOVE: Dave Wall, head chef at The Unruly Pig
LEFT: Roasted breast of quail
ABOVE: Lovage soup with Pinneys smoked mackerelRIGHT: Lobster risotto