Far from being just a boozer with an elevated food menu, this year’s winner of the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list deserves to be recognised as “a damn good restaurant,” says the Telegraph’s food critic, William Sitwell.
The Unruly Pig, located on the outskirts of Suffolk’s picturesque port town Woodbridge, has regained its 2022 title, having been nudged out of first place by the Parkers Arms in Lancashire last year. And with praise pouring in over recent years from the Taste of England Awards, National Restaurants Awards and the Good Food Guide, the establishment has cemented itself as a gourmet destination – not just in Suffolk, but among the best in the country.
After scaling the ranks of the annual Top 50 list since entering as a newcomer in 2017 (it won the ‘highest climber’ accolade in 2021, reaching the 10th spot), the pub has remained true to its humble intentions, serving up “seriously good, unfussy food” in its signature “Britalian” style – led by chef-patron Dave Wall and head chef Karl Green. Parsley soup with smoked eel and garlic crostini, Iberico pork with mash and honey-spiked swede, and custard tart served with blood orange and rhubarb sorbet have all been rolled out from the award-winning kitchen.
Even its seven-course ‘Be Unruly’ tasting menu (available alongside a £32.50 three-course lunch) offers excellent value at £75 per head – especially when reduced to an astonishing £49 on Thursdays.
But despite the Unruly Pig’s success, Suffolk failed to produce any other entry on the 2024 list, a far cry from its five-count tally in 2022. Claiming second and third place respectively this year were The Cornish Arms in Tavistock and Paul Ainsworth’s The Mariners in Rock, bagging the South West’s culinary scene glowing reviews.
The Top 50 remains densely populated by London gastropubs (eight are on the list, maintaining last year’s tally, with Highgate’s Red Lion & Sun securing sixth place), but Kent put in the strongest show among the rest of the counties.
Taking fourth and fifth places were the Fordwich Arms in Canterbury (which also won Daniel Smith the 2024 Chef of the Year award) and the Sportsman in Seasalter, while the Bridge Arms, also in Canterbury, took the gong for highest new entry. The Dog at Wingham and The Kentish Hare also waved the flag for Kent.
The Top 50 list recognises the talent and work ethic of members of the gastropub industry, with votes cast by a 350-member academy made up of industry experts – from food writers to top chefs and restaurateurs.
As for this year’s winner, where during a visit in 2020 William Sitwell found that “warm professionalism simmers at every turn,” its fortunes have not always been straightforward. Just two months after opening in April 2015, the Unruly Pig’s kitchen and food-prep area, as well as the private dining room, were destroyed in a fire, accounting for roughly 30 per cent of the building.
Its owners were determined to rebuild the place as soon as possible and reopened in December of that year, producing a pub that has truly risen from the ashes – a fate shared by the eighth-place Star Inn in Harome, North Yorkshire, which in 2021 burned to the ground but reopened the following year to continued acclaim. A special recognition award was given to chef-owner Andrew Pern in the 2024 announcement.
In conclusion, the voting panel for the Top 50 Gastropub awards judged that “the Unruly Pig is leading the way when it comes to providing an incredible gastropub experience, both in terms of the levels of its service and the high quality and consistent standards of its food.”