The confluence of science and art is a beautiful thing. You witness it in music of course; the wonder of a musician merging training and talent. I love it when it’s manifested in hospitality. Staff trained in service but delivering it with a natural talent. It’s the sort of thing that envelops the customer and draws one in sagely and beautifully.
I bang on about this because it’s in abundance at The Unruly Pig in Suffolk, a proud display of the culinary journey this country has made in the past half-century. Back in 1962, the writer Bernard Levin delivered a devastating monologue on the state of Britain’s culinary culture. The word ‘disgusting’, he said, best described the country’s hotel and restaurant scene. ‘There are other words that might be pressed into service in emergency: lazy, inefficient, dishonest, dirty, complacent, exorbitant, but disgusting just about sums it up.’
It’s worth reminding ourselves of how far we have travelled. And The Unruly Pig is a joyous reminder. Indeed our lunch made me want to drag every unhelpful, sulky waiter or waitress there to show them how it’s done; that confluence of science and art. Warm professionalism simmers at every turn as you are led into your booth, cooked for and served.
This is why we eat out, I muttered under my breath as we settled in and I accepted a negroni in this 16th-century inn, a few minutes’ drive from Woodbridge. You can’t get this at home, neither would you want it. It’s why restaurants exist, to take us out of our lives. To nestle into comfortable surroundings and have someone else do the washing up. This is why the hospitality industry must be saved. I don’t want restaurant-style food at home; it’s as stupid an idea as rhetorical speeches on Zoom or hiring a professional to decorate your Christmas tree.
Opposite me, my son Walter looked at his ‘Piglet’s menu’. I say ‘looked’; he’s two. The menu offers inspired dishes including prawn and broccoli risotto, accompanied by crayons so children can draw pigs on the reverse. While Walter cleaned the plate, his artistry shows room for improvement.
Us grown-ups shared some warm and enticing arancini, flecks of Parmesan melting on top, and then a slice of focaccia, heaving with gooey burrata and pesto with extra pine nuts, before I devoured an impeccable duck-liver parfait. Any remaining idea that this is just an old pub quickly dissipates when the food arrives. The duck liver, for example, comes sparse and bald on grey ceramic; a brioche roll, a curvature of small peach slices, a small pool of chutney and the ovoid parfait with a few grains of salt. The largesse of flavour manifests itself and perfects the ratio of plate to food. It’s just fabulous.
My pal Andrew and I opted to share the chateaubriand, which emerged as a cargo of charred and pink beef strips on a brown board, with hispi cabbage and a groaning plate of macaroni cheese with chorizo and ’nduja. The achingly trendy board ‘plate’ annoyed me at first. Why must a decent Suffolk gaff get swept up in a Hackney hipster plague? But the food on it was delicious. Rich and tasty, and refreshed with sprightly tops of salad onions. My wife Emily loved her dish of freshly made rigatoni, al dente and flecked with chilli and garlic, and proving The Unruly Pig covers all bases.
There’s a decent wine list too, and we quaffed marvellous Argentinian malbec, Matias Riccitelli.
As Covid shifts attention away from London-centric dining, The Unruly Pig is a standard-bearer for the new normal. Seriously good, unfussy food, fine service, a nod to fashion and a firm grasp of how hospitality can and should be.
It often gets flagged as a gastropub, the legacy of the inns that served our criss-crossing coach routes of the mid-18th century. But it’s just a damn good restaurant.
This review was originally published in 2020