A timeless classic
PUBLISHED: 16:08 30 October 2013 | UPDATED: 16:08 30 October 2013
sarah lucy brown
Paddy Bishopp finds The Lighthouse in Aldeburgh a shining beacon of consistently good food and good times
There are certain restaurants that manage to bypass recessions, fads or newcomers and just keep going.
They’re the places for enjoying a relaxed meal with friends, for having a great time and for leaving very content with the standard of the food and wine.
The Lighthouse is a local treasure, which since 1995 has been entertaining the Aldeburgh crowd and pulling in visitors from afar with its reputation for great food and a fun atmosphere. The wine flows, the owners or managers chat with the diners – when required or desired – food is delivered with a smile and an expectation that it is going to be good and you are rarely disappointed.
History of The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse was set up with passion and vision by a town planner – Peter Hill – and a systems analyst – Sara Fox. Unlikely food heroes, you might think, but when you see their passion for food, drink and giving people a good time, it’s clear they were, and are, the perfect restaurateurs. No formal training, just two fun loving people who had the drive and determination to follow their dream.
In 1995 Peter and Sara came across a tea room/café in Aldeburgh and saw its potential to become a restaurant.
The Lighthouse has two levels of dining and can hold 90 covers. Over the years it has been extended and has an outside area (four tables) and a back dining area. The restaurant is now run by Sam Hayes you can understand why Peter and Sara allow their gem be managed by him.
Sam went to school with me (I must admit he is a little younger) and all I remember is a lovely guy, if a bit cheeky at times. He’s not changed one bit, which is probably why he fits in so well at The Lighthouse. He started with Peter and Sara as washer-up and moved through the ranks as a sous chef, at the same time learning the art of front of house, an inspired move as he not only understands customers but also how their food is prepared. Ask him a question and expect an educated answer.
He then moved to The Lighthouse in his early 20s. He regards these as his university years when he was learning, enjoying what he was doing and having a great time. He then took time out, travelling America and working for other people. But his calling was always The Lighthouse and I truly believe he is there to stay.
I must start with the head chefs who are so important to the consistent quality of food at The Lighthouse – Guy Welsh and Thierry Aubugeau. Thierry is known locally for Cornelian, the restaurant he ran in Felixstowe, and the chocolate shop Bonnet.. Guy Welsh was previously chef at the Blueprint and L’Escargot, London, while Thierry was at the Oak Room, Meridian Hotel, Piccadilly.
My wife, Sarah, joined me for dinner. Whilst talking to Sam we shared a mezze of hummus, taramasalata and pitta bread. As it’s a coastal restaurant that also serves local meat we decided to ‘surf and turf’, so Sarah chose crayfish with a Caesar dressing and I ate Gressingham crispy duck salad with bamboo shoots, water chesnuts, noodles and hoi sin dressing. The crayfish were full of flavour and not overpowered by the Caesar sauce. The duck skin was crispy and the meat tender.
For main course we both went for the fish option as Sam had described with such passion how they choose fish in season and as local as possible. Sarah chose Dover sole with roasted red pepper, spinach and new potatoes – delicious and cooked to perfection with a delicate flavour. We both commented on the amazing flavour of the potatoes.
Sam recommended the grilled cod fillet on lemon, white wine and rocket risotto. The cod was fresh, the perfect degree of flakiness and complemented the risotto flavours. So we could fully review the menu we added side dishes of sweet potato fries and a rocket salad with sun dried tomato and Parmesan salad – a highlight.
We asked Sam to choose the wines. You have to admire any restaurant proud of their house wines – I certainly judge a place by the quality of theirs – so when Sam recommended The Lighthouse’s own I knew not to worry.
We finished the evening with a friend’s recommendation – Boozy Banana Pancake. Thank you, Kirsten – a truly great pudding.
When I mentioned to friends we were reviewing The Lighthouse there was an overwhelming sense of ‘lucky you’. It has a loyal following built over many years by Peter and Sara. It’s now in the safe hands of Sam with his big smile, big heart and inherited desire to make sure you relax and have a great time.
Sam, make sure you keep this treasure for us all to enjoy for another 20 years.