REVIEW: The Brewers pub at Rattlesden
PUBLISHED: 13:26 30 April 2019
Sarah Lucy Brown
In the hands of its new team, The Brewers at Rattlesden is a star turn among dining pubs, yet still remains true to its local roots | Words: Tessa Allingham - Photos: Sarah Lucy Brown
When two couples from Rattlesden pooled resources to buy their ailing (for which, read 'closed') local, they had a notion to create an attractive, welcoming spot that would serve a generous Sunday lunch and a tasty ploughman's, where the beer would be kept well and the wine list decent.
The sausages would be meat-rich, the steak butter-soft and the fish crisp-battered. It would be busy at the obvious times, people would come back because pub classics would be done well, and, most importantly, the pretty mid-Suffolk village of Rattlesden would have its pub back.
And then they met manager Jake Bennett-Day and chef Dan Russell. Jake too was from the village, had even had weekend jobs at the Brewers Arms (as it was called in the old days of Hawthorn Leisure ownership) before honing a love for hospitality and knowledge of wine partly with John Hoskins MW at the renowned Old Bridge Wine Shop in Huntingdon.
Surrey-born, Suffolk-adopted Dan brought experience in food-led pubs, most recently the Angel Inn, Stoke by Nayland, the latest stop in a career that launched in the pastry section of London's starry Ritz hotel (this shows – read on).
Dan and Jake came on board on the understanding that they could stretch the food and drink offer, create something that locals would love but that people would also travel to. And so, in October 2018, less than three months after the sale of the property was finalised, the Brewers opened with a start you'd describe as flying.
Lunch has morphed from its initial all-guns-blazing à la carte offer into a less formal one. The menu calls it 'proper food', and it's a mix of pub classics and sandwiches alongside some of the fancier dishes. It's lovely.
The meatiness of an oat-crusted venison ballotine is countered by a pretty line of pickled vegetables – a curl of carrot, a little shallot, a sliver of beetroot – and the gentle poke of horseradish Chantilly.
A crab cake is “crabby, not spuddy”, my friend says – I note this as praise – and a bubble and squeak cake is, if neither noticeably bubbly nor squeaky, equally generous, crisp-coated, and seasoned with confidence.
Hake turns out to be coley (it was the better option that morning apparently) but it performs deliciously as an understudy, two flaking pan-fried fillets balanced on a shellfish and samphire risotto that treads that tricksy line between gloop and wodge with more brisk confidence.
We could have had cheddar and Marmite 'sausage of the day' (they're from Thurston Butchers), or a roast butternut squash risotto with sweet-sharp pickled pear, blue cheese and sage, or – yes please! – a fish finger sandwich on white bread with tartare sauce and chips.
The kitchen dresses à la carte for dinner. You can still have fish and chips or a burger, but there's also a leek terrine, a delicate, spring-like delight. The natural sweetness of the vegetable works with salty goats' cheese whipped with crème fraîche, and a spoonful of black olive tapenade, a focaccia crisp tying everything together satisfyingly.
An ordinary seasonal vegetable may be centre-stage here, but that vegetable has been treated with same consideration as if it were a piece of look-how-much-I-cost foie gras – and that's exciting to see.
Discs of that same focaccia appear with a beautiful mackerel pâté (a hint of horseradish offsets the richness) with slivers of fennel and grape. Like the terrine, taste and texture are balanced skilfully.
Look out for a golden-pastried wellington – venison, Blythburgh pork or beef – a main course that seems to have become a house speciality.
Beef wellington is sliced at the table for a bit of theatre and is served with truffled mash and 'textures of beetroot'; the tender pork, just the right side of pink, comes with beetroot too, and cloud-like little parmesan and sage croquettes. Gravy shines richly.
Elsewhere, beef short ribs, cooked for patient hours, release their bone with little persuasion. The meat – most from Lavenham Butchers – is dark, luxurious, alongside a supporting cast of charred Roscoff onion, white bean and thyme purée, more glossy gravy, and sweetly braised chicory.
Firm, mild halibut is the centrepiece of a no-tricks French dish served with roast new potatoes, a cabbage and bacon parcel and utterly classic beurre blanc.
Desserts are catwalk-confident. There's a jaunty little flick to the top of a pink and white meringue kiss perched on grenadine-pink, bite-retaining, poached rhubarb. A Chantilly-filled brandy snap topped with discs of rhubarb, and an oblong of rhubarb parfait make for a sassy plate that celebrates… well, rhubarb.
It's fresh, fun, of the moment, delicious. Coconut pannacotta is flawlessly smooth, and shimmies – just a little – on its black plate in a happy tropical partnership with fragrant roast pineapple and mango sorbet.
Sticky toffee pudding might seem steady in comparison, but it is heart-stoppingly delicious, and there is, of course, always something chocolatey.
Dan is clearly at home with desserts. He has a sweet tooth, he says, his dad was a pastry chef and he was mentored at college in Weybridge by Alan Whatley, long-standing chair of the Association of Pastry Chefs.
A formative two years on pastry at the Ritz drilled the young chef in the classic techniques and refined presentation that remain at the heart of his cooking.
The wine is Jake's world. Engage with him and he will knowledgeably recommend from a list that roams from a please-all white from the Veneto, Argentinian Malbec and prosecco, to some serious thrills.
A Coravin system means high-end wines can be offered by the glass – the likes of a 1998 Conti Costanti super Tuscan, or punchy, biodynamic Petit Verdot from Australia's Murray River, or a spicy, romantically amphora-aged Armenian Karasi made from the ancient areni noir grape grown at altitude not far from Mt Ararat by a small producer called Zorah, in a part of the world that claims to be the birthplace of viticulture.
All this in a little pub in Rattlesden? Whoever would have thought it.