Food & Drink: Fine wine, and good food to boot: Emily Green has a soft spot for Suffolk. So, when she heard from readers about two very different places serving honest-to-goodness fare, she was off

A gentleman taking up cudgels on behalf of an Ipswich restaurant that was less than favourably reviewed in these pages, wrote to suggest I be confined (along with all my snobbish colleagues) to London. Last week, it was well worth slipping back through the battle lines into Suffolk, at the behest of two gentler correspondents, who each wrote to recommend an eating house they admired.

The first letter praised what it described as a low-key place with exceptional food: the Old Boot House at Shotley. Local affection is such for this four-year-old restaurant that a gent giving me directions shouted as his parting words, 'The food is good]' The second letter came from one of the proprietors of The Wine Bar in Woodbridge, recommending the wine bar in Woodbridge.

The Old Boot House sits in the marshy Suffolk farmland just west of Ipswich. For me, this was almost recommendation enough. I nurse an almost inexplicable affection for this part of the country.

Suffolk is not an obvious beauty spot. It is flat and scruffy. Earthen-coloured washes on farmhouses have largely given way to seaside-pinks; pylons line up across a landscape that seems about to be engulfed by suburban housing. Yet Suffolk's swirling fogs and ancient churches can still stir the soul.

The Old Boot House combines all these qualities - the twee, the banal, the haggard, the suburban and the graceful. A small bar and dining-room were neat and prissy, with such rustic props as old bread crocks.

The Old Boot House could not, however, be a more pleasant place to lunch. Sun pours in. The hostess is cheerful and capable. During my visit, one of the owners appeared with her new baby, chatted amiably with a group of regulars, then disappeared.

As for the regulars themselves, of whom there were only three that Friday lunchtime, most chefs would kill for such a noisily appreciative group. Once my food arrived, I could taste what they were gurgling about.

A bouillabaisse-style fish stew was gutsy and good. I cannot entirely see the logic of garnishing it with a miniature croissant, nor of topping the stew with julienned spring onion. I suppose the onion gave a fresh kick, but the croissant was just silly. Fish stew needs nothing but a hunk of rough bread, first to eat quickly if one chokes on a fish bone, second as a sop.

Of main courses, lamb was listed as 'roast 'chunk' of lamb with Mediterranean vegetable casserole'. The meat was good, but the vegetable casserole not to my taste. Its liquor had the Bisto-like quality of the intensely reduced sauces favoured by too many chefs.

Had the neighbouring Falstaffs been less voluble about their puddings, I might have missed the delicious prune and brandy ice- cream. Coffee was fair, house wines pretty awful, though there were keenly priced rhones and burgundies on the list. As much as most people can eat and drink, including tip, should cost between pounds 20 and pounds 30.

I ARRIVED early at The Wine Bar in Woodbridge. The name was unpromising. Standing at the foot of a steep flight of stairs, I was assaulted by what smelt like mildew and disinfectant. Had I not been meeting colleagues, had it not been bitterly cold, I would have fled.

Others may have been deterred for the same reason. Still, clients have been climbing those stairs since the present proprietors, Sally O'Gorman and Richard Lane, took the place over in 1981.

The room is agreeably rough: timbered partitions, deep red walls, rickety laminated tables. It has a slightly bohemian vibe. Other charms are rather more singular: it is not every host who can stand by a table and look his seated guest in the eye. Mr Lane is a dwarf, and he is a born host - rocketing around the floor, taking orders and generally cosseting his guests. However, his real love, aside from his partner (Ms O'Gorman), appears to be wine.

A long list has a good selection of classics: burgundies, rhones, Alsatian wines. Most evident is a weakness for noble reds, especially clarets. This is lionhearted, but can make for tricky drinking. We drank his last bottle of 1987 Lady Langoa, from Chateau Leoville- Barton-Langoa, a St Julien from the Haut- Medoc. It was very fine, and a snip at pounds 13.30, but drinking it was a waste. It needed twice as much time again in the bottle.

These sorts of reds are made to serve with food. Unusually for proprietors of wine bars, Mr Lane and Ms O'Gorman care about the food they serve. I had guessed from the strengths - and some obvious weaknesses - of Ms O'Gorman's cooking that she was self-taught. I was right. A 'New England cod chowder' was somewhat watery and drastically underseasoned. Leek and roquefort tart was thin, perhaps day-old, but passable. The real delight was a 'pheasant burger': two little buns that tasted home-made, sandwiched perfect meat, accompanied by sweetly caramelised onions and a good chutney.

Pigeon breast was served with a roasted pepper in thyme sauce. Again, this was a good, wintry dish, the sweetness of the peppers balancing the astringency of the thyme and richness of the sauce and meat.

A bread-and-butter ice-cream was superb, and there is an irresistible range of dessert wines. One could get a good meal for pounds 15; we splurged, and spent more like pounds 28 each.

The Old Boot House, Shotley, Suffolk (0473 787755). Vegetarian meals by arrangement. Open lunch and dinner Tue- Sat, lunch Sun. Access, Visa.

The Wine Bar, 17 The Thoroughfare, Woodbridge, Suffolk (0394 382557). Vegetarian meals. Open Tue-Sat lunch and dinner. Cash and cheques only.

(Photographs omitted)

Suggested Topics
Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing