Shak­ing things up a bit

Din­ing at The North­gate, Bury St Ed­munds

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE -

The Hun­gar­ian Tokaji is the ob­vi­ous pair­ing, the wine’s lay­ers of dried fruit and honey and its spark of acid­ity pre­dictably per­fect with a le­mon tart – but how much more off-beat and un­ex­pected is bar man­ager Lewis Dowl­ing’s ice-cold fig leaf pisco sour with its froth of egg white and puck­er­ing lime juice tem­pered by a bar­be­cued fig caramel. It fizzes and en­livens and fresh­ens, changes things up, cuts like a ra­zor through the sweet­ness of the tart. As head chef Greig Young says, as he fleet­ingly ig­nites the fig leaves on Lewis’ serv­ing tray: “It’s a bit of fun isn’t it?”

That phrase crops up a lot talk­ing to Greig. Set­tled into his new post at The North­gate in Bury St Ed­munds hav­ing moved from the Chest­nut Group’s sis­ter prop­erty in Moul­ton, The Pack­horse Inn, Greig is de­ter­mined to in­ject “a bit of fun”. He wants to “break down bar­ri­ers, not be ex­clu­sive” and to build the rep­u­ta­tion of this restau­rant with rooms as a place for “good food and drink, noth­ing pre­ten­tious”. He’s work­ing with Lewis to shake up the re­la­tion­ship be­tween bar and kitchen too. Why not pair cock­tails with food rather than wine? Why not flip things round and have cus­tomers choose their cock­tail first, and have the kitchen sug­gest a dish that com­ple­ments it?

The idea is a work in progress, so for now I book a seat at the Chef’s Ta­ble for a bit of fun. And it is fun. I find my­self zon­ing out of con­ver­sa­tions about who’s done what to whom on Love Is­land, or pend­ing GCSE re­sults, or the grind­ing sum­mer hol­i­day ‘why won’t you take me to Ikea’ re­frain, pre­fer­ring to lis­ten in to the kitchen chat and ob­serve how Greig leads his team with a gen­tle com­mand that gets re­sponse. It’s a good-hu­moured, calm place, and re­mains so even when checks are on for the ta­ble of 11 on the ter­race.

We have the Taste of East Anglia menu, a seven-course (bread and a pre-dessert make it nine) homage to lo­cal, each course ti­tled ac­cord­ing to the pre­cise lo­ca­tion of the key in­gre­di­ent. I’m told it is go­ing down well, and this Wednes­day evening snap­shot sug­gests that’s true. Eight of the 10 Chef’s Ta­ble seats are booked and guests are hav­ing ei­ther the seven-course or four-course menu. They could have gone à la carte, or at lunchtime cho­sen from the set menu (£16 for two cour­ses, £19 for three), or from the sep­a­rate list of sal­ads and sand­wiches. They could have eaten in the newly bright­ened din­ing room, in the bar, or al fresco.

We scrape salty, home­made but­ter onto sour­dough baked with Pak­en­ham flour. The daily loaf has been made to­day

by ap­pren­tice chef, Mor­raine Pep­per. It’s nutty, tangy, and we eat more than we per­haps should. We romp through the early cour­ses. A tart­let of Fen Farm Baron Bigod cheese (this is the Bun­gay course), with sliv­ers of raw turnip, is a mem­o­rable mouth­ful of sweet-salty cheese and pep­pery turnip that folds de­li­ciously into egg-en­riched pas­try. Greig calls the Elve­den course “just a posh po­tato salad”. The ter­rine is any­thing but. The nat­u­ral sweet­ness of waxy Suf­folk Peer po­ta­toes is a foil for smoky black gar­lic purée and the kick of pick­led mus­tard seeds. A translu­cent sliver of pick­led shal­lot cov­ers a frag­ile quail’s egg, and a dust­ing of cep pow­der fin­ishes things off. It’s har­mo­nious, pretty, creative.

By the time we reach the East Coast course the pace stead­ies, and we linger over a stand­out mack­erel dish. The skin is ra­zorscored edge to edge to pre­vent curl­ing, and the is fil­let cured briefly be­fore be­ing seared on one side, just long enough to crisp the skin. The ac­com­pa­ny­ing flavours – fresh pars­ley purée, poached goose­ber­ries, a tzatzik­i­like yo­ghurt with cu­cum­ber and ap­ple – make this a mas­ter­class in balanc­ing tem­per­a­ture and flavour. Yum. A dense, coar­se­cut Cum­ber­land sausage of wild rab­bit from Den­ham Es­tate fol­lows. A sus­pi­cion of fen­nel peps up the mild-flavoured meat, and lay­ers of cured lardo run through it and over it like a blan­ket of juici­ness. Vivid­green peas and broad beans give fresh­ness and colour. Chefs hud­dle round the plate at the pass. This dish has made the cut after three months de­vel­op­ment

and it’s worth an In­sta­gram post.

Vege­tar­ian, and even ve­gan, black pud­ding is not that new, but I was born a meat-lov­ing Lan­cas­trian and I find this the most oxy­moronic of dishes. The rich slice, dark against ten­der ar­ti­choke hearts, roast ap­ple purée, pick­led mus­tard seeds and a sweet-sour As­pall gas­trique, looks like the real thing and is heady with the flavours you’d ex­pect of mace, co­rian­der, fen­nel and tiny crunchy cubes of raw ap­ple. But it is made of black rice rather than pig’s blood. It’s brave, fits the zeit­geist (four of Greig’s à la carte starters are plant-based), and is the sort of Marmite dish that will get peo­ple talk­ing.

We quickly re­vert to meat. Quail – a brace from Fak­en­ham – are roasted whole in hay. I first meet them dur­ing their nine­minute rest at the pass (after nine min­utes in the oven). Greig ig­nites their bed briefly, for just long enough to get a ‘wow’ and for a waft of smok­i­ness to curl round the birds, be­fore carv­ing. The flesh is juicily ten­der, a joy to eat along­side the silki­est, sweet­est car­rot purée and but­ter-rich roasted car­rots. How re­fresh­ing for th­ese two sim­ple accompaniments to be deemed suf­fi­cient – a pile of mash and pool of gravy could be de­li­cious in an­other con­text, but here would add noth­ing.

Greig or one of the team brings each dish out, ex­plains it briefly, chats a bit. It breaks down bar­ri­ers, he says, and he en­joys con­nect­ing like this. “It’s eas­ier to cook for peo­ple, and to be cooked for, if ev­ery­one is re­laxed,” he says. So true.

The meal fin­ishes with a flour­ish. A choco­late ‘cigar’, the finest tu­ile curled into a canolo that is packed with the deep flavours of black for­est gateau, is a play­ful nod to a clas­sic. It’s bit­ter and sweet, the core of but­ter­milk ice cream sur­prises, and the pre­served cher­ries have a zippy sharp­ness. We eat it with our hands of course, and it col­lapses de­li­ciously, a pre­lude to a se­duc­tive le­mon tart that is rich with the yolks of Rat­tles­den duck eggs, wob­bles lan­guidly in its crisp pas­try case

. . . and that is so much fun to eat along­side Lewis’ bar­be­cued fig leaf pisco sour.

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LEFT: The Taste of East Anglia menu is an homage to lo­cal pro­duce

ABOVE: Greig leads his team with good­hu­mour and calm­ness

Fen Farm Baron Bigod cheese tart­let with sliv­ers of raw turnip

A ter­rine of waxy Suf­folk Peer po­ta­toes, black gar­lic puree and quails egg, and cep pow­der

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