EATING OUT / A grave approach to grub: Fox and Goose, Fressingfield, Suffolk IP21 5PB. Tel: 037 986 247. Open Wednesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner. Average pounds 30 a head, set two-course lunch pounds 9.95. No credit cards accepted

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The Independent Culture
IT SEEMED snooty to ask, especially as people were eating what looked like quite elegant food in there, but we'd come a long way for this particular treat and the restaurant was famous as far away as London. So I went into the very welcoming and surprisingly tatty bar to ask in a whisper (it was that sort of a place) whether there was also a dining room. I don't think it was paranoia but, as I walked in, all the other tables fell silent. Everybody stared.

There didn't seem to be any reason for this. All the customers looked polite and respectable. Most of the men, I imagined, had enjoyed some sort of spell in the army. So, it was disconcerting. I know I wasn't talking or moving too loudly, because I'd noticed the old couple by the door even before I'd walked in. I still have no idea what I'd done to deserve it.

From that moment on the Fox and Goose lunchtime experience could only get better. And it did. By the time we were ready to leave, the hostile grandparents had gone. We were in the restaurant on our own and we could talk as loudly as we liked.

So, anyway, they were staring as I tiptoed across to the bar to ask the waitress whether or not the Fox and Goose also had a dining room. She said it did, which, considering our reception in the bar, was a relief. Still, we braved it out for a perfectly mixed Bloody Mary and ordered our food while we drank. The bar was furnished with old sofas and pictures. It looked like one wishes all country pubs did. But its window looked directly on to an old churchyard; so directly that there was a skew-whiff gravestone within a metre of my seat. If, as I wrote this, I were feeling affected or slightly drunk I would probably claim that the closeness of the gravestone offered me some sort of poetic delight. I'm feeling neither, however, and for some reason, that afternoon, I didn't quite like it. All that death in your face at lunchtime; given the choice I would have ticked an alternative country scene - some nice cows, maybe.

Whatever, the restaurant is in a beautiful old building beside a church, obviously, and a small duck pond. It's in a small and not especially picturesque village quite close to nowhere. The dining room(s) were cosy, low-ceilinged and very pleasantly, unaffectedly done up. Service was unobtrusive and friendly and on the whole the food was a delight.

We were put in the far dining room, which is almost as cosy as the near one except it doesn't have the log fire. Tables were separated into eight or nine booths. The booth walls looked like miniature old-fashioned stable walls, but they looked pretty enough.

I think our dining room must have been a new one because by the end of lunch about seven sets of people had come in to have a look. They'd stood at the door, with their grey hair and their tweed skirts and their well pressed slacks and their navy blue blazers; and they'd stared. 'Oh gosh, oh golly, yes, that's frightfully nice. That's very useful to know.' So, I'm telling you. The Fox and Goose is bigger these days. You can take even more of your friends to sample its pleasures. But take a fat cheque book too, because it's not - for what amounts, really, to a very nice pub - particularly cheap.

We opted for the set menu (three courses for pounds 13.50) because it contained our favourite dish, both mine and his. Here's where we let you down a bit, I'm afraid. First, because our favourite dish was the same and we both ordered it because neither of us was willing to give it up. And second, because I suspect that the favourite dish in question is not as high-falutin as a restaurant critic's favourite dish probably ought to be.

We ordered bangers and mash and gravy; the best mashed potato (after my mother's) I've ever eaten. It was creamy and buttery and light and delicious. Gravy was good and plentiful, though perhaps very slightly too salty. The sausages were something else; quite small and very meaty. Excellent.

For a first course my companion went for the smoked prawns with garlic mayonnaise. He peeled them all before he ate a single one, which was eccentric, but he swore it improved the taste. I wasn't convinced. Prawns have remarkably little taste at the best of times.

I chose the grilled halloumi cheese with lemon oil and pitta bread (neither of us was tempted by the other two choices: leek and potato soup or chicken liver terrine). The halloumi was delicious at first, but then I forgot to eat it. I was fascinated by the peeling ritual that was going on across the table - he still hadn't eaten anything and now he was putting all the prawns, peeled, in a pattern around the edge of his plate. Meanwhile my cheese grew hard and cold, but that was hardly the restaurant's fault.

To the puds. Outstanding puds. Old-fashioned, English puds the likes of which, I imagine, expats in the tropics grow weepy about late at night as the crickets sing. I'd only come from London and it was still lunchtime, but they were enough, almost, to make me weep. I had a 'sticky toffee pudding': a hot toffee sponge covered in hot toffee sauce and a few nuts. Completely unfinishable; the waitress said she didn't think she'd ever seen anyone manage it. And truly exquisite. My companion went for a hot treacle tart (it was individual; about the size of a CD) with vanilla ice-cream. Very classy. Tasted slightly of lemon.

The bill came to pounds 47.50 including tip, four glasses of very good house wine, two very good Bloody Marys and a large pot of very good black coffee. Service was excellent, food was delicious, surroundings were great. So I didn't resent paying it. And then we popped.-

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