I don't recall ever going to Suffolk before I got married. That was nine years ago, and ever since I've been going virtually every other weekend thanks to the fact that my parents-in-law have a house there.
If there is a duller county in Britain, I've yet to discover it. I don't mean the locals; the stout yeomanry of Suffolk have been defending Britain's east coast for centuries. I mean the scenery: it's completely flat as far as the eye can see in every direction – the Holland of home turf. When my parents-in-law give directions to their house in Parham, they don't refer to rivers or hills or historic houses, just roundabouts: "Take the Framlingham exit off the A12 then go through seven roundabouts..." That's Suffolk to me: roundabout after roundabout after roundabout.
There is, however, one consolation: the Farmcafé and Foodmarket. I know, I know, everyone swears blind that their local farm café is one of the best in the country, but this one really is. As a farm-café lover, I visit them as often as possible whenever I'm out and about on the road. And this is the best I've been to by a country mile.
It doesn't look like much from the outside: a fairly rudimentary, oblong building constitutes the café, with a second structure to the left forming the shop. They could be a couple of Nissen huts in one of the abandoned prisoner-of-war camps dotted around Suffolk. Go through the main entrance, however, and it's clear that this is a popular place with the locals. I don't think I've ever been here when it hasn't been at least three-quarters full. There is a large room with some tables and chairs scattered about and a serving counter at one end and, beyond that, an even larger dining area looking out on to a field beyond. It's utilitarian and friendly – nothing too fancy – and very child-friendly.
My wife and I arrive at 10.30am on a Sunday. We're slightly dreading having to queue for a table with four children in tow, but luckily one has just become vacant in the dining-room. Within seconds, three of the four tykes have shot out the back door and into the field, where a stray football has proved too great a temptation.
I go for the full English – or the "Suffolk breakfast", as it is called here: two rashers of unsmoked, dry-cure back bacon, two locally made pork sausages and two large free-range eggs (fried), with a side order of grilled tomatoes. Caroline goes for the vegetarian breakfast – the same as mine, except with meat-free sausages instead of pork and a Portobello mushroom instead of bacon. For the youngsters, it's four rounds of sausages, scrambled eggs and baked beans. (There's no kids' menu, but the café can scale down dishes for smaller appetites.)
There's a bit of a wait, but we have been warned about this beforehand by the waitress, so it's not too much of an annoyance. In any event, it gives me the chance to set up an early-warning system by deploying the children at strategic intervals between our table and the kitchen. By the time the food arrives, the waitress is being followed through the restaurant by four hungry toddlers, all eager to get stuck into the sausages.
And what sausages they are! Fat and succulent, full of rich, meaty flavour, they're exactly what you'd expect from the locally reared pork. The bacon, too, is fantastic – not too salty, but not too bland, either. There can be few greater pleasures in life than breaking the surface of one of these free-range eggs, letting the yolk pool into a curling slice of bacon, then shovelling the combination into your mouth. This is the kind of breakfast men dream about on the gallows.
Caroline wolfs down her Portobello mushroom and Quorn sausages, happy to be eating a proper cooked breakfast for once in spite of being a vegetarian. As for the kids, they clean their plates far too quickly and start scavenging for food off my plate. I knew I shouldn't have spent so long savouring these flavours!
As we leave, I steer the family into the Foodmarket and proceed to buy several packets of the bacon and sausages I've just eaten, as well as two dozen eggs. I love this about the Farmcafé: if there's anything on the menu that you've particularly enjoyed, you can buy it in the shop and cook it yourself. It'll be "Suffolk breakfasts" in the Young household for the rest of the week.
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good,16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets
Farmcafé & Foodmarket Main Road, Marlesford, Woodbridge, Suffolk, tel: 01728 747 717 Breakfast, lunch and tea daily. About £60 for breakfast for six
More farm cafés
Riverford Field Kitchen
Wash Barn, Buckfastleigh, Devon, tel: 01803 762 074
This elegant communal-dining shed – in a large organic farm – offers the freshest vegetables, as well as mountains of other great and freshly prepared food
The Parrot Inn
Forest Green, Surrey, tel: 01306 621 339
A village-pub-cum-farm-shop which sources meat from its own farm; dishes are of a consistently high, delicious standard, but prices can be steep
The Wellington Arms
Baughurst Road, Baughurst, Hampshire, tel: 0118 982 0110
Tremendous food, as locally sourced as you can get – chickens, honey bees and Tamworth sows are tended by the owners in the pub grounds; book ahead, though – there are only eight tables
Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2010'. www.hardens.comReuse content