Tales from the riverside
PUBLISHED: 11:39 01 April 2014 | UPDATED: 11:39 01 April 2014
Jules and Sharpie take things easy at The Ramsholt Arms, on the banks of the River Deben
If you want to know anything about the history of the Ramsholt Arms, harbour master George is your man. Fact.
He’s 84 and has been overseeing the boats coming and going on the River Deben for over 30 years. Even his office is a converted boat which sits by the jetty just outside the pub wall. He works every day and knows everyone and when we meet he’s wearing racy wraparound sunglasses against the glare of the brilliant winter sun. And quite frankly, on a day like today, it’s a pretty peachy job.
Jules and I have come for lunch, a little trip down memory lane because it was here, just 12 years ago, that we hatched the plan to start our Jules & Sharpie business. No blue plaque though, just a sign outside the newly re-painted pub saying it’s dog-friendly. Inside there’s a huge jar of dog biscuits on the bar. I used to eat dog biscuits as a child, the black ones were my favourite, but I resist the temptation today, it’s probably not very chic. Ed the barman gets me a small glass of Adnams bitter and Jules goes mad with a half of Aspall cider. We have a table by the window and sit down with a sigh knowing we’re in safe hands. There’s a fire burning in the grate and the new decor doesn’t scream ‘done’ at you. It’s all relaxing colours, homely furniture and thoughtful bits and bobs and nothing jarring to detract from the mesmerising view out across the river.
The menu isn’t long but Jules and I take ages to decide what to eat and agree to go halves on our starters but stick to our own main courses. As we get our bigger-than-we-were-expecting starters, neatly arranged on wooden boards, Max Durrant, the new owner, arrives. Of course he’s in the know and immediately orders the shin of beef but it’s too late for us to change our minds. My mackerel pate comes with home made brown bread and chunky home made piccalilli and a sprinkling of watercress. Jules has pickled herrings with horseradish sauce and more bread. Sharing was a good idea and they are fishy heaven.
Max and his wife Polly have been at the Ramsholt Arms since May 2013 when they gave themselves just four weeks to redecorate and refit the pub ready for the summer onslaught. Having a successful venue already with Polly’s brother Will (the Crown at Ufford) meant they knew the drill and knew exactly what they wanted. They installed new kitchen equipment including two water baths, a walk-in-fridge and new cookers. The water baths (sous-vides) are a favourite of modern chefs and the process of slow cooking with the meat sealed in air-tight bags ensures the flavour’s not lost with the most succulent results.
With this experience at the Ufford Crown, Max devised a new menu for the Ramsholt Arms which featured an extravagant seafood platter. This was dropped after a few weeks when they discovered that what regulars and visitors alike really wanted was good, ‘honest’ food, cooked well and in generous portions. And my goodness, the customers are certainly getting what they asked for.
My main course of chicken ham and mushroom pie is enormous. The top and bottom pastry cooked to perfection and it comes with soft red cabbage and fluffy mashed potato. Jules has ham hock and expects something manageable. Oh how wrong. This ham hock is the size of a small baby and again comes with a red cabbage tower and a mashed potato mountain. We struggle in vain to finish our plates and I’ve had a sneaky peek at the pudding list so am saving myself. Max’s shin of beef has been cooked in the sous vide and the pulled meat shaped into a chunky disc before being pan-fried to seal in the flavour. It looks rich and meaty marvellous but he’s not sharing.
Max isn’t phased by the vast numbers of people who turn up daily in the summer, nearly 500 on one memorable day, and still manages to serve wholesome, beautifully cooked food. In the summer there’s an outdoor barbecue area where they cook their own burgers made from 50% chuck steak and 50% brisket, giving that essential fat content which turns a boring burger into proper food. They make slow-cooked brisket and corn bread on the barbecue too. Even traditional fish and chips get this top treatment. The chips are triple cooked, of course, and the fish is locally caught and usually served in goujons, (big strips) which is refreshing. There’s a kitchen brigade of seven and by crikey they’re needed for those frantic summer months.
But today there’s a manageable number in to eat so Max has enough time to tell us about his food preferences. He loves slow cooking he says, and also loves the abundance of local vegetables delivered daily. Meat and game come from the James Adeane estate which surrounds the Ramsholt Arms and local fishermen call to say what’s in the catch that day. Everything is as fresh and local as possible.
And yes, I do have a small corner left to try the jam roly-poly with custard. There is so much of it and, like all the food here, quality has definitely not been sacrificed to quantity.
Jules and I are full and contented, quietly enjoying our coffee when there’s a commotion as the door bursts open. Max’s wife Polly arrives with daughters Darcy and Margot who are four and one respectively. They’ve all been outside larking about in the sunshine with harbour master George. They’re rosy and fresh and laughing and it’s easy to understand why. Life at the Ramsholt Arms is good.