Tara Smyth and James Santillo are putting local produce front and centre at this historic Suffolk pub. Emma Lake reports
With staycations expected to boom in the coming months, Tara Smyth and James Santillo are optimistic that their historic Suffolk pub on the edge of the broads will soon be filled with holidaymakers.
The pair took over the Duke's Head on the 5,000-acre Somerleyton Estate, on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk, in March 2018 and have since been making the most of the abundance of surrounding farmland to develop a proposition that delights both the summer tourists pouring in from the waterways and a loyal band of locals.
Front of house manager Smyth says: "Owning a pub was always the plan, but we'd never really known what kind of place we wanted. When Lord Somerleyton approached us, we knew the regulars, we knew the building and what could be done there, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
"It's also surrounded by so many incredible small-scale suppliers and that was really what we were looking for."
It's also surrounded by so many incredible small-scale suppliers and that was really what we were looking for"
Chef Santillo, who previously worked with Richard Bainbridge at Benedicts restaurant in Norwich, adds: "There's no point buying a cauliflower from a supplier when we can get it straight from a farm – not necessarily because of the cost, but because it has travelled from the field to someone's store and back again. At best it's three or four days old by the time we get it.
"It's the same for the animals. If we want the freshest stuff, it's a case of going straight to the farmers and, given where we are, there's an abundance of them."
Santillo brings in animals whole, butchering them on-site and adapting menus daily as cuts sell out to work through the entire beast. The only exception is beef, due to the space constraints of the historic building. In this instance Scottish produce is used, with the chef emphasising that local is only better when it's also the best.
This approach and the constraints of a small kitchen and brigade dictate the pub's à la carte menu, which always includes several ‘feasting' options, such as pig's head with apple ketchup (£28 for two), a 38oz tomahawk chop of British Lop pork (£42) or a rib of Highland beef, all served in the centre of the table with potatoes and vegetables.
Santillo explains: "Our food is essentially meat and two veg. We will get an animal and put seasonal vegetables with it. We have a little embellishment every now and again, but essentially what we get, we put on a plate.
"We don't have the luxury of a lot of staff or a lot of space and essentially, we believe if you have a bowl of fresh greens all you need to do is cook them with butter."
The approach has proved successful with their careful sourcing of produce generating fans, particularly when it comes to the Lop pork.
Smyth explains: "Our top seller is the pork chop. It's not a particularly technical dish and we serve it simply with apple ketchup, potatoes and some greens, but James always says, ‘find a good pig, get a good pork chop'. We can sell a pig's worth of chops in a weekend. People go mad for them."
True to form, the chef's approach to the dish is simple. "I like my chops a good 2.5cm-3cm thick. That way you can render down the fat nicely and get a good colour on each side of the flesh. We season with salt and touch of black pepper and then it goes in the oven with herbs, garlic and butter. We always serve it slightly blush.
"The apple ketchup is a stock syrup – cider vinegar and sugar in equal quantities brought to the boil – then we add whatever apples we've got. We get a lot from villagers dropping off their windfalls. We cook them in the syrup until they've broken down, then they're blitzed. It's a sweet, sharp, tangy apple ketchup – a perfect foil for that fatty pork."
Well-sourced simplicity can be seen again in the pub's short dessert menu, which consists of a sticky toffee pudding (£6.50) and a chocolate mousse (£7.50) made with "incredible" Pump Street Chocolate from nearby Orford, occasionally supplemented by a custard tart when local goose eggs make their way to the pub's kitchen.
Since reopening on 10 July, the pub has been limited to 30 covers, having previously served 80 guests during its popular Sunday lunch services. But Smyth explains that the safety measures put in place have been well-received and bookings are coming in from both locals and those looking to a country break on the Broads for their 2020 getaway.
From the menu
- Home-cured British Lop coppa, celeriac remoulade, soda bread £7.50
- Heritage tomato and anchovy salad on sourdough £6
- Roast leg of Norfolk lamb, trivet potatoes, Clinks Farm greens, house butter £16.50
- Fillet of John Dory, samphire, agretti, garlic butter £18
- Roast courgettes, white onion and Parmesan risotto £14
- Pump Street Jamaican 75% chocolate ganache, mascarpone, honeycomb £7.50
The Duke's Head, Slugs Lane, Somerleyton, Lowestoft NR32 5QR
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