Everyone loves a good gastropub – and most have struggled during the pandemic. All the more reason, then, to celebrate those who have emerged even better.
The prestigious Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs awards took place in Manchester this week, and while four of the top five pubs are in the north, the overall winner was The Unruly Pig in Woodbridge, Suffolk – the highest climber on the list of Last year .
The 50 Best “Estrella Damm” gastropubs are the industry benchmark, voted on by top food and hospitality experts.
These include gastropub operators (who cannot vote for their own pubs), food writers, development managers, executive chefs and pub guide editors.
Votes are counted in six regions, and this year Suffolk won trumps.
“The Unruly Pig serves hearty, well-designed pub food in an environment that reflects the personality of the people behind this beautiful venue,” Estrella Damm said.
“Owner Brendan Padfield is a force of nature, witty, charismatic and ultimately passionate about the pub he founded after a 36-year career in law.”
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Head chef Dave Wall has helped turn the pub into a ‘stunning phenomenon’, and the venue was also listed in last year’s Michelin Guide in 2021 as one of the six best gastropubs in the east of England.
So what makes it such a winner?
Anglo-Italian-influenced menus change monthly, and meat, fish and vegetables are seasonal and sourced locally whenever possible. The pub also offers vegan and ‘free’ menus, with gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and vegetarian options always available.
For drinkers, there are over 60 wines available by the glass, as well as house syrups for non-drinkers.
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Its success is even more impressive, after a traumatic opening.
Just three months after its launch, in April 2015, a huge fire destroyed parts of the 16th century building. It was closed for six months – but owner Brendan Padfield used the time to redesign areas to make it more “welcoming and accessible”.
Now there’s an airy, beamed dining room with red leather seats, scrubbed tables, cozy wood-burning stoves and Persian rugs.
Sample menus include Chicken and Duck Liver Parfait with Plum, Ginger, Sourdough Brioche, Halibut with Creamed Leeks, Ham Shank and Potatoes with Seaweed, Saddle of Hare with Caramelized Celeriac, Cropwell Bishop and pear, while the puddings – always a gastropub win – featured Calvados pannacotta with blackberry granita, salted butter caramel honeycomb tartlet with Madagascar vanilla ice cream and warm chocolate mousse.
OK, we’re sold.
The pub has won numerous accolades and awards – and it’s easy to see why it’s been so successful this year.
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The rest of the top five featured The Parker’s Arms in Clitheroe, a historic country pub serving ‘modern British classics’, such as Lancs charcoal-smoked beetroot, Lancs turnips with labneh, radish za’atar and the flatbread with sourdough cooked over charcoal and the “pork and black pudding turnover.
In third place is The Star Inn, York, a thatched-roof pub in a “picturesque Yorkshire village”, with examples of dishes such as “partridge with Brussels sprouts with juniper cream, smoked Alsatian bacon with pine, smoked beets and clementine with port juice” and “frangipane with sherried figs in the oven with grilled marzipan, candied clementine and fig caramel ice cream.”
Another Yorkshire pub, The Angel at Hetton, came fourth, with a Michelin star and a very exotic menu of “Loire Valley rabbit loin and merguez, salsify, trumpet and poached pear” and “Tahitian cheesecake vanilla with salty granola, buttermilk, mashed roasted beets and yogurt.”
In fifth place was a Lancashire pub, The Freemasons at Wiswell, which is rooted in the local community, while serving “loin roast and Nidderdale lamb kofta with barbecued gem lettuce, eggplant with miso, mint and yogurt”, and “indigenous vegetables poached in butter”. lobster tail with crispy wontons, wild blueberries, coastal herbs and black peppercorn sauce.”
Who’s for a long walk and lunch in a country gastropub?
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