The Suffolk coast is my favourite destination for a good old British holiday. As well as clean, crowd-free beaches and beautiful, unspoilt countryside, the area is packed with some amazing foodie spots - some well-known, others springing up in unknown villages and farming communities all the time. Here are my current five favourite spots to check out on a foodie trip to East Suffolk...
1. Middleton Farm Shop and Cafe
A cute little farm shop and cafe on the road into Middleton village, close to the heaths of Minsmere and the beach at Dunwich, Middleton Farm Shop stocks local fruit and veg, a good selection of cheese, meat, and smoked fish, their own bread including a lovely sourdough, and locally sourced products such as the 'Purely' range of dips, tapenades, and pestos made by a collective of Suffolk chefs. Crunchy radishes from the farm dipped in a divine black olive tapenade, mopped up by the Pain au Theberton sourdough were the perfect Suffolk snack. The small cafe serves simple lunches and coffee from Wednesday to Sunday and is on our list to try next time. We also picked up some proper barbeque coals to take home (Cambridge's shops and supermarkets suffer from a serious obsession with those horrible artificial briquettes). Worth a mention, and local to the campsite we stayed on, is a new farm-style shop, the Darsham Hamper. It's the East of England Co-operative's flagship Sourced Locally store, just off the A12 at Darsham, and stocks a huge range of locally produced and sourced items from Suffolk and Norfolk. There's also a small cafe (sadly run by a regional chain rather than an independent venture) with surprisingly good, freshly cooked breakfasts on offer, but bad coffee.
2. Shawsgate Vineyard, Framlingham
A little further inland is the increasingly foodie town of Framlingham (and a very nice castle) which is home to an impressive vineyard producing English wines using German, Swiss, and French grapes. Screeching into the car park 45 minutes before closing time, we really didn't expect the warm welcome and offer of a vineyard walk followed by a free wine tasting. But this is friendly and hospitable Suffolk, after all, and we should have known better. Our host talked us through the vines and grapes before we took a mile-long amble round the lush, green, and incredibly well-ordered vines - a credit to the owners of Shawsgate and even more enjoyable given that one can just turn up and take a self-guided tour at any time. A tasting of 4-5 of the vineyard's wines followed in a gorgeous courtyard next to the shop; a dry, refreshing and surprisingly citrusy rose was a favourite, and a 2001 white with honey tones and Riesling qualities intrigued. We went away with a mixed box of 12 wines, including their sumptuous golden sparkling wine (with a discount, regardless of which bottles we selected) for just over £100... A delightful, impromptu end to an afternoon at the seaside.
3. The British Larder, near Woodbridge
The set lunch menu at The British Larder near Woodbridge is the perfect introduction to eating out in Suffolk. The menu is a celebration of everything that is good about Suffolk food: great quality locally baked bread, seasonal, flavourful vegetables, and incredible fish and meat. We ate like kings of the countryside that surrounded us for just £17 each for two courses, tucking into renowned Pump Street Bakery bread, sweetcorn and bacon chowder, a beetroot and red onion tart tatin with feta, plump fried plaice on a bed of super-fresh green beans, and Dingley Dell pork with exquisite summery courgettes. The a la carte menu sounded fantastic, too, and all dishes were well-priced, as were the wines. Service was a little stilted, aloof at times, but overall the restaurant is beautifully put together and the food is well worth the short journey from the coast.
4. The Butley Orford Oysterage, Orford
Orford is a beautiful village with a fascinating vista of the shingle spit known as Orford Ness, an area of MOD-restricted land owned by the National Trust where defence and bomb testing took place during the Cold War. Sharing the quay with the National Trust's popular boat trips is the bustling industry of Pinney's of Orford, a traditional smokehouse which also lands locally caught fresh fish and grows oysters at nearby Butley Creek. No visit to Orford is complete without a slap-up lunch at Pinney's restaurant, The Butley Orford Oysterage, for rich and juicy oysters, smoked shell-on prawns, and amazingly fresh but simply cooked fish of the day. Despite its reputation preceding it far and wide, and in rather monied circles, the Oysterage is entirely unpretentious and offers a delightful, fuss free dining experience. The pioneering real bread and slow food of Pump Street Bakery can be found just across the road, too, and their Monmouth Coffee espressos and delicious bean to bar chocolate were just the job for dessert.
5. Aldeburgh's Fish Huts
Possibly the best meal we ate during our last trip to Suffolk was fish and lobster bought from the huts on Aldeburgh beach and eaten in the semi-darkness back at the caravan with rain beating down on the canvas awning and a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet keeping cool in a makeshift ice bucket. The fresh fish huts on the seafront at Aldeburgh are an institution and the best place to track down the day's catch. Steer clear of those that don't catch the fish themselves - there's no guarantee that the fish is fresh nor that it has been caught locally - and go for what's best that day. We picked up four thick and meaty Dover sole fillets, a cooked lobster, and a big bag of samphire for £30, took it home and gorged on a feast of the freshest fish we'd had in a long, long time, served simply with lemon and crisp white wine. Heaven.