REVIEW: The King's Arms pub in Haughley
PUBLISHED: 15:51 03 December 2019
Grant Newland and Lucy Jones have created a fresh, new foodie pub at the King's Arms in Haughley with a great menu and atmosphere | Words: Tessa Allingham - Photos: Jayne Lindill
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.
There's bags of savouriness in two plump pigs cheeks, the meat surrendering to a prodding fork, softness balanced by pops of crackling. The cheeks sink into a spoonful of onion purée, which is smoothly, sweetly rich, and leaves of red vein sorrel give sharp contrast.
A main of Black Angus beef and celeriac is a £19 steal. The rump is pink and bouncy under a seared exterior, the rest braised down to fill a crisp little pastry case. Celeriac nods to the season, some puréed with truffle, some mandolined then lightly pickled and grilled, topping the tartlet like a jaunty little lid.
Gravy is glossily meaty, the whole dish is showered with black truffle and finished with perky nasturtium. The flavours are familiar but there's a hint of decadence too. "It's my favourite, a special one," says Grant.
Fish lovers will dive happily into coley, its mild flavour ramped up by a tomato ragù dotted with mussels and clams. Or mackerel, skin scorched but flesh soft, which stands up well to lightly curried lentil purée, buttermilk, curls of crimson lime-pickled onion and a sesame seed madras cracker.
Fish is something Grant gets "wound up about". "I want to use Suffolk coast day boats, and I'll change the menu as often as I have to to fit supply." He jots down the name of a fisherman who may be able to help.
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Non-meat eaters might choose cauliflower warm with ras el hanout, and sweet with raisin purée, or a mushroom burger with crisp halloumi and aubergine purée.
There are the inevitable triple-cooked chips alongside, but most carbs are offered as a side, potatoes roasted with chorizo and spring onions, or as a terrine with garlic butter.
"I was getting fed up of putting a carb on every dish. I want my food to look good and however hard you try, you can't make a plate with roast spuds attractive."
Grant finds desserts less interesting, but does a good job summonsing Müller Corner nostalgia ("Müller Corner was a treat when I was little, normally it was Tesco's cheapest!") with a buttermilk panna cotta, sharp cherry sorbet and dark, syrupy amarena cherries, then waves of seasonal flavour in a 'cheesecake' that is - thankfully - not a cheesecake but a brandy snap cannolo with bright blackberry mascarpone and fresh berries.
An autumnal apple crème brûlée with lip-freshening Granny Smith sorbet, a disc of dehydrated apple and dentist-defying honeycomb works too.
It all comes out of a tiny kitchen devoid of fancy kit. Indeed, on the day of this interview, the solid-top had given up the ghost leaving just one functioning burner for lunch service. "I've got a Rational oven and a not-fancy vac-pack machine and two very young apprentices. I have to be realistic."
Creating new dishes is something Grant loves, though, the books on the table (Galton Blackiston's fish tome, Hook Line and Sinker, John Williams' classic The Ritz London cookbook, and Josh Katz's Berber & Q with its grilled meats and middle eastern flavours) suggesting he's about to do just that.
Lucy and Grant are very much equal partners. Having met at Carluccio's in Cambridge where she was assistant manager, he sous chef, they "saw the writing on the wall" at the group, and returned from holiday in February 2016 ready to pursue their dream.
Eight months and countless meetings later, the King's Arms business was theirs and they moved into the flat above. "We took over on a Friday in mid-October," says Lucy. "It was in an awful state but we knew we could make it work."
They painted the place - with invaluable practical support from parents - in less than a week ditching the two-tone lilac walls, orangey tables, heavy curtains, and tables laid with pleated napkins, to create a stylish, contemporary space.
Fairy lights are strung along the oak beams that support the 14th century building (once a courtroom), the space flows easily between the 44-cover restaurant, the bar, and a snug with sofas and board games.
Accents of deep blue-grey, some walls papered with a striking seed-head design, and a contemporary striped carpet keep the place from falling into the overdone neutral-with-a-hint-of taupe look.
They are grafters. "We learnt systems at Carluccio's," says Lucy. "We became good problem-solvers. You'd arrive at work at 7am and at 7.01 you could guarantee there would be a problem - mostly about staff. We learnt the importance of team spirit, of productivity, that there's always something to do.
"I clean, Grant looks after the garden. We don't have loads of staff, there's no investor backing. We graft and we have our heads screwed on, that's all."
Recognition is coming. Grant was a finalist in the 2019 Eat Suffolk Food & Drink Awards Chef of the Year competition, ditto the pub in the Pub of Year category, and reviews have led to a listing in the latest Waitrose Good Food Guide.
But the couple remain humble. "On that first day, when the first customers handed over their money, I got emotional," Lucy recalls.
"You had a moment, didn't you," Grant adds. "It was overwhelming… I'm so proud of what we've achieved so far."