Sometimes, talking to chefs, your heart sinks. Easy-come phrases are trotted out, and you glaze over, wondering where the story is going to be. “I wanted to do really good pub food,” Grant Newland says. “I wanted to do fish and chips but the best you’d ever tasted, and an amazing burger, and incredible scampi.” You note it, diligently, but you’ve heard it before.
Grant pauses, rolls his eyes skyward. The past tense should have been a giveaway. He laughs. “As if I was going to be happy with that!”
Since agreeing a five-year tenancy at the King’s Arms, Haughley, and taking the keys to the Greene King property in October 2016, Grant and his partner, Lucy Jones, have – slowly, slowly – built a pub with a menu and atmosphere that’s just how they want it. From the outside it’s every bit your mid-Suffolk village spot, just down from the church and over the road from the bakery and the Post Office. To be honest, you wouldn’t feel short-changed if you went in and had that familiar pub grub, but, to trot out another over-used phrase, this place under-promises and over-delivers.
“The turning point was January,” Lucy says. “We came back from holiday and felt a change. I don’t know why. Christmas had been big, maybe people had started talking about us. Maybe people hadn’t expected us to succeed, thought we were too young.”
It was as if, aged just 29 and first-time business owners, they’d earned their stripes. “As trust built, we found people would try new things,” Grant recalls.
The first foray? “Lamb rump with pea purée.” They laugh. “Even that was so different from what people had been used to.” Did the plan work? “Not always. We put pork belly on, slow-cooked, pressed, really lovely, with a carrot purée.
“Some people complained the portion was half the size, and where was the bowl of microwaved peas, carrots and broccoli? We lost some customers, yes. Not everyone has come with us.”
But the couple stuck to their guns. There’s still familiarity. You’ll find a crispy squid starter, and ham hock terrine. There’s also steak (ribeye) and a chicken burger with a sprightly sriracha mayo. But the dishes that get Grant’s juices going are a step up. Homemade lemon ricotta with basil oil and fresh peas, some still tucked in their pod, was a standout late-summer starter, at once fresh and creamy, pea-sweet and lemon-sharp.
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