Everyone loves a good gastropub - and most struggled during the pandemic. All the more reason, then, to celebrate the ones who have emerged even better.
The prestigious Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs awards were held in Manchester this week, and while four of the top five pubs are to be found in the north, the overall winner was The Unruly Pig in Woodbridge, Suffolk - the highest climber from last year’s list.
The “Estrella Damm” Top 50 Gastropub Awards are an industry gold standard, voted for by leading food and hospitality experts.
These include gastropub operators (who can’t vote for their own pubs), food writers, development managers and executive chefs and pub guide editors.
The votes are counted across six regions, and this year, Suffolk has come up trumps.
"The Unruly Pig serves filling and well-crafted pub food in an environment that reflects the personalities of the people behind the stunning venue," said Estrella Damm.
"Owner Brendan Padfield is a force of nature, being witty, charismatic and ultimately passionate about the pub he founded following a 36-year career in law."
Head chef Dave Wall has helped to turn the pub into a "stunning phenomenon", and the venue was also listed in last year's Michelin Guide in 2021 as one of the top six food pubs in the east of England.
So what makes it such a winner?
The British-Italian influenced menus change monthly, and meat, fish and vegetables are seasonal and locally sourced wherever possible. The pub also offers vegan and 'free from' menus, with gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and vegetarian options always available.
For drinkers, there are more than 60 wines available by the glass, along with home-made cordials for non-drinkers.
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Its success is even more impressive, after a traumatic opening.
Just three months after its launch, in April 2015, a huge fire wiped out parts of the 16th century building. It was closed for six months - but owner Brendan Padfield used the time to redesign areas to make it more 'welcoming and accessible.'
Now, there's an airy, beamed dining room with red leather seating, scrubbed tables, cosy log-burners and Persian carpets.
Sample menus include chicken and duck liver parfait with plum, ginger, sourdough brioche, halibut with creamed leeks, ham hock, and seaweed potatoes, saddle of hare with caramelised celeriac, Cropwell Bishop and pear, while puddings - always a gastro pub win - feature Calvados pannacotta with blackberry granita, salted caramel tart honeycomb with Madagascan vanilla ice cream and warm chocolate mousse.
OK, we're sold.
The pub has won numerous accolades and awards - and it's easy to see why it pipped a very worthy bunch to the post this year.
The rest of the top five featured The Parker's Arms in Clitheroe, a historic country pub serving 'modern British classics', such as charcoal smoked Lancs beetroot, labneh-soused Lancs turnips, summer radish za'atar and charcoal baked sourdough flatbread and 'pork and black pudding turnover.'
In third place is The Star Inn, York, a thatched pub in a 'quaint Yorkshire village', with sample dishes including "partridge with juniper-creamed Brussel sprouts, pine-smoked Alsace bacon, smoked beets and clementine with Port wine juices" and "baked sherried fig frangipane with toasted marzipan, candied clementine and figgy toffee ice cream."
Another Yorkshire pub, The Angel at Hetton, came fourth, with a Michelin star and a highly exotic menu featuring "Loire valley rabbit loin and merguez, salsify, trompette and poached pear" and "Tahitian vanilla cheesecake with salted granola, buttermilk, roasted beetroot puree and yogurt."
In fifth place was a Lancashire pub, The Freemasons at Wiswell, which is rooted in the local community, whilst serving "roast loin and kofta of Nidderdale lamb with BBQ gem lettuce, miso aubergine, mint and yoghurt", and "butter-poached native lobster tail with crispy claw wontons, wild blueberry, coastal herbs and black pepper sauce."
Who's for a long walk and lunch at a country gastropub?
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