This dinner had been booked for well over a month, as I’d planned to take out three special people in my life as a treat.
Another friend, who is a foodie thanks to his time owning his own deli and during a different chapter of his life managed the food hall at Selfridges, had recommended The Suffolk Kitchen in Cheltenham to me. I know the restaurant has previously won the Taste of Gloucestershire awards for its commitment to locally-sourced and seasonal food with as it describes, ‘a good honest British menu.’
We arrived just before 7.30pm and were seated at our table directly in the window, which was perfect for our group to people-watch the passersby. I would describe the interior as clean, contemporary and cosy – a lovely environment to enjoy a sociable meal. It also seemed to be pretty busy – but not so much that disturbed the ambiance but enough for a good Saturday night buzz.
Our friendly waitress placed a jug of water and some bread – not sure whether it was homemade but I guess it was – on our table. The white bread had sun-dried tomato in it and the brown was red cabbage. My favourite was the sun-dried tomato option as it was sweet and delicious and the butter rich, creamy and salty. The red cabbage bread tasted like, well, bread with red cabbage in it.
Us ladies opted for a bottle of Principato Vigneti Pinot Grigio 2013, and the boys, beer. The wine was very good, and quite a mellow taste as far as Pinot Grigio goes. As we were served our drinks we were told of the specials – the main was a lamb dish, and the starter, an asparagus option with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce. Just over the past week had asparagus officially come into season, thanks to our warm mid-April and only a few days before our meal had I been saying that I’d like to make asparagus with hollandaise sauce and a dippy egg. And yes I do realise I’ve just used the phrase ‘dippy egg’ and that I’m over eight years old.
I opted for the asparagus starter, and my other half chose the smoked haddock and prawn fishcake with coriander and red pepper harissa. The others chose an asparagus plus a baked goats cheese and caramalised walnuts first course.
I am extremely pleased that I decided on asparagus, which I was told the easygoing owner on front-of-house told me it was grown in Cirencester. The vegetables were perfectly cooked, al dente, and season, with a slight char from the griddle pan. The hollandaise sauce was tangy and creamy and the poached egg was cooked to immaculate precision. I really enjoyed dipping my asparagus into the saucy mess on the plate and to be honest I felt a bit disappointed that the whole thing was over too soon. The fish cake was what could be expected and was tasty – but didn’t blow my mind, or mouth rather.
For main I decided on braised West End Farm (a family-run farm in Wiltshire) pork belly, served with salted caramel sauce, parsley olive oil mash and crackling, and finished with spiced carrot compote, green beans and kale. My significant other decided on roasted duck served with confit orange, potato rosti and sautéed broccoli, accompanied with roasted beetroot and swede finished with a rich orange jus. Our dining companions opted for steak.
My main was immense. The little strips of crackling on top of the meat was golden, salted and crispy. The pork belly was seriously good – braised and the fat literally melted in my mouth. The salted caramel sauce was equally delicious – a fantastic accompaniment to the pork. The parsley olive oil mash was tasty and worked very well. The greens also held a deserving patch on the plate – you needed to crunch on some foliage to feel like you were replenishing your body from the oh so naughtiness of the sauce. This rich and meaty dish is not for the faint-hearted and if I had one criticism it would be that there was a little too much meat for me, considering the richness of the flavour.
A mouthful of my partner’s duck with a roasted beet proved that this also was a delicious concoction – although I think pork won hands down on the flavour. The steaks seemed to go down well too.
After our sweet-savoury main courses we didn’t fancy a typical pudding so we decided on a cheese board for one to share between two. When it arrived on its wooden platter, the cheese was joined by grapes, a red onion chutney, an apple so beautifully sliced it almost looked like origami and some kind of homemade cracker to break apart by hand.
I didn’t ask about all of the cheese varieties but of course there was a brie and a stilton. The red onion chutney was delicious but unfortunately I found the cracker very unusual. It had some curry-type flavouring and my tastebuds did not enjoy it with the cheese. Although just because it did not suit me, does not mean it would not suit anyone else. It really annoys me when food critics say the food is bad because they don’t like the taste – namely that arrogant idiot that writes for The Times – I refuse to be one of those.
The other two that joined us for our meal opted for the peanut butter cheesecake and before I could try any, it had gone. I am assuming top marks for that deliciously-looking pud.
The Suffolk Kitchen is absolutely worth a visit. The food, setting and service could not be faulted and I had a fantastic evening. The entire meal for four courses, four mains, two desserts and drinks came to just under £165 – not including the tip.
The Suffolk Kitchen, Suffolk Parade, Cheltenham. GL50 2AB. Tel: 01242 237057.