Nestled on the estuary of the River Orwell, Ipswich is brimming with history, quaysides, and now some excellent eateries. Here’s where to go for food and drink when you’re in the area.
I’d never been to Ipswich until a couple of weeks ago. Family holidays in Suffolk, its home county, meant seaside jollies in Southwold, so the inland bit totally escaped me. But when I did finally tear myself away from the sea and towards Suffolk’s urban centre, I found a town awash with up-and-coming restaurants. Here’s the best of the bunch.
A proper breakfast
Arlington’s Brasserie just off the High Street could well be the best place for breakfast in Ipswich. It’s a welcoming brasserie-cum-café set in the original Ipswich museum (pictured left) – a lovely atrium building with a viewing gallery and walls adorned with photos from the 1960s, when it used to be a dance school.
Breakfast is available until midday, which is how we like it, and options include a traditional fry-up (complete with black pudding), a hot sausage sandwich, ham and cheese-filled croissants, and freshly made porridge. The highlight, though, is probably their breakfast waffles, which can come drizzled with maple syrup, blueberries and bacon.
Arlington’s also serves lunch and dinner, cooking everything from French bistro food (think steak frites and French onion soup) to quick bites (sandwiches and jacket potatoes) and cakes from the deli counter. Tea comes served in vintage china, and in the evenings they put a pianist on for diners to enjoy.
Suffolk Food Hall is the best place to get bits and bobs for a picnic. It's just the other side of the Orwell Bridge, and is a forum for Suffolk producers to show off the best of their crop. The tasty treats on offer include seasonal vegetables, fish, meat, cakes, deli-style ingredients, and bread. There's also a wine and beer merchant there, a greengrocers, and a chocolatier. Plus it's set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so you can go for a post-shopping walk. Don't forget to visit the caff too!
Napoli Deli on Upper Orwell Street is another good option. Its speciality is freshly-made paninis, and excellent coffee.
Three dinner options
Runner-up in The Observer’s Food & Drink Awards for both the ‘Best Place to Eat’ and the ‘Best Place to Drink’ categories (2011), Aqua Eight (pictured left) on Lion Street is a slick contemporary pan-Asian restaurant hugely popular with locals – it scores 4.5 out of 5 on Trip Advisor. They do import rice and noodles (due to an unfortunate lack of paddy fields in Suffolk), but all the other ingredients come from local fishermen, butchers and grocers.
Many of Aqua Eight’s dishes are based on age-old recipes passed down the Wing Cheung family, who own the restaurant. As well as an a la carte menu, there’s also a set lunch, seasonal, vegetarian and gluten-free menu, so certainly something for everyone. Must-try dishes include baked scallops with wasabi mayonnaise, braised aubergine and morinaga tofu, and the massaman monkfish curry.
The Brewery Tab gastropub and restaurant on Ipswich’s waterfront is the place to go for a more pubby atmosphere. The chef and owner, Mike Keen, is a well-known and popular local who offers great hospitality and simply cooked, seasonal food. He’s also a regular at the Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival, and has a passion for Suffolk ingredients.
Mike and his wife Georgie have stripped back and preserved all of the original features in this ancient pub, which once upon a time used to serve brewery staff working at the former Tolly Cobbold brewery next door. As for the food, their Marmite and Aspall Cyder pickled egg won ‘Best Egg’ in the World Pickled Egg Championships in 2012, so that’s definitely worth a try. For something more substantial, dig into mint and citrus marinated guinea fowl, slow cooked pork belly, or risotto fritters with ratatouille sauce. Puddings are beastly, and we suggest attempting their banana split if you’re feeling brave.
Finally, Kesgrave Hall (14 minutes by car from Ipswich town centre) is a beautiful place for a lovely meal out. It's actually a boutique hotel, but locals often visit just for the brasserie. It's open all day, is very accommodating to children (there's a separate menu for little 'uns), and can seat 100 hungry diners. There's an open-plan kitchen, so guests can have a nose, and Head Chef Stuart Oliver champions all that is great about Suffolk produce. Options range from simple sandwiches to chargrilled steaks, a huge range of fish dishes, and roast meats. Well worth a visit, especially if you're with a big party.
My favourite – Le Talbooth
If you’re due a treat, and don’t mind a 20-minute drive from Ipswich town centre, then dinner at Le Talbooth in Dedham (right on the Suffolk/Essex border) is an absolute must. The beautiful Tudor building (main image above) may come complete with chrome radiators and modern paintings on the walls, but the cosy low ceilings, exposed beams throughout, and general fireside atmosphere is a reminder that Le Talbooth has been hosting diners for over 60 years. Something that’s also reflected in the silver service, which is traditionally courteous and impeccably timed.
Try and grab a table with a view of the river, or if it’s summertime, ask to eat outside among the manicured lawns and swaying bulrushes. The wine list is both extensive and unusual in parts, and the maître d’ is on hand to guide you through it. As for the food, it’s unmistakably fine dining, but the portions are somewhat bigger than what you would expect from such a cuisine, and the service less intimidating.
Starters are prettily presented and, although a little on the large side, they are Head Chef Andrew Hirst’s opportunity to show off an inventive use of different textures. The mousse of goats’ cheese comes wrapped in a solid pomegranate ‘jelly’, while the duck liver is accompanied by Andrew’s take on ‘granola’. Main courses exceed the starters, and you’re best placed to choose fish here – it’s cooked to perfection, and made interesting with a party of well-chosen accompaniments. The wedge of brilliant white halibut, for example, comes with a delicate brown shrimp sauce, pine nut crust, smooth herb gnocchi chunks, morel and tarragon. Forget the side dishes: there’ll be more than enough food on the plate to satiate any appetite.
Desserts are just as beautiful, and it’s the first time we’ve seen sticky toffee pudding served with glazed banana on the side – a match made in heaven. Try the ‘jelly and ice cream’ if you’ve got room. Far from the kiddie’s party favourite, it matches conference pear jelly with a vanilla and damson ‘arctic roll’. Round it all off with one of their recommended dessert wines for a perfect evening of indulgence.
Where to stay
If you’ve enjoyed dinner at Le Talbooth, and don’t want the magic to end, book a room at Maison Talbooth just two minutes away. Indeed, someone from the ‘luxury boutique hotel’ will pick you up from the restaurant and ferry you back in a great big Land Rover, if desired.
It’s a country house-style hotel with 12 suites, a breakfast room, tennis courts, and a walled pool house across the lawn for guests to relax in. Unless you’re well-to-do, it’s the kind of place you’d go to for a rare treat… the prices are pretty high, although there are regular offers available on their website all-year round.
The rooms are all massive, and come complete with spacious bathroom, super king size bed, private hot tub in most cases, feather down pillows, big telly, squishy sofa, and well-stocked mini bar. It’s also a very quiet hotel, with minimal staff who are prepared to wait all night for you, in a Land Rover, while you labour over dinner. Service is excellent, and it’s the kind of place you could easily live in for months on end. Don’t forget to soak up the sunshine, if there is any, on one of the hammocks dotted about the lawn.
For something a bit more realistically priced, head back to Ipswich to try the Abbey Guest House on Hatfield Road. It's a detached Edwardian home which retains some of its original features, and it's just a few minutes walk from the town centre. Guest reviews on Trip Advisor are flattering, and host Rosie is happy to accommodate weird and wonderful dietary requirements when it comes to breakfast. You can even have your Full English in bed.
Are you an Ipswich local? Have you any other foodie pit-stops to recommend? We can’t possibly cover everywhere, so please don’t be shy with your suggestions.
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