The Unruly Pig, which won Suffolk Pub of the Year at the 2016 National Pub & Bar Awards, very nearly shut down before it had begun. A fire 12 weeks after opening destroyed 40% of the building. It took six months to repair the damage and there were times when owner Brendan Padfield might have walked away from the enterprise entirely, or certainly worried that his team would.
But the awards, recognition and plaudits that the pub had justifiably earned in its opening three months convinced Padfield and most of his staff that they had started something exceptional. So repair work began and, one year ago, The Unruly Pig Mark II opened its doors. And thank goodness it did.
The pub is 16th century, and it is delightful to see that it has retained that traditional edge while still bringing contemporary and quirky elements to the fore. The walls feature plenty of exposed brickwork and while the colour scheme is dark, it is not the red of old, but an embrace of rich blue. A wooden floor is covered with soft rugs to bring added warmth. Oak beams stretch across low ceilings, but beneath them is an array of brightly coloured French welders’ light fittings and an eclectic collection of paintings, comic strips and photographs – the result of 30 years of art collecting on Padfield’s part. There is a stuffed boar’s head above one of the traditional fireplaces, but it wears a tiara. Above another is a pig’s head, but like the pub sign with its child-like splashes of paint, it’s wearing earrings. Unruliness rules.
This is walking and cycling country, with plenty of sites to see – from Orford Castle to the legendary Sutton Hoo burial site. As such, there are bicycle racks, plenty of parking space outside the pub, and dog biscuits on offer at the bar. The layout is uneven, with different levels and lots of little rooms to explore. Without doors to separate them, however, everything feels simultaneously secluded and included, as the gentle murmur of weekend tourists, locals and jazz music flows throughout the pub. The seating is eclectic too, with pink and purple leather armchairs interspersed with high backed chesterfield benches and sober black chairs. Walking past the L-shaped bar with its bunches of overhanging wine glasses, we settle down next to a fireplace and inspect the menu.
The Unruly Pig is proud to call itself a gastropub and its focus on food and wine – Padfield’s passion – is clear to see. While there is a good selection of local Adnams ales and some craftier options on the bar, it is the wine list that dominates the drinks, and rightly so. There are 60 wines available by the glass alone, with an Enomatic vacuum wine case behind the bar. Recently introduced Coravin needles also allow customers to order some of the higher end wines by the glass.
For a venue as remote as The Unruly Pig, this is incredibly important. It has a local village with which it has reconnected – as we walk in we can see a few sat at the bar with pints – but the majority of customers have driven and being able to just have a glass of something splendid is a real treat. A range of mocktails and non-alcoholic options are showcased under Driver’s Drinks, and the pub also offers 50ml Driver’s Measures for all wines by the glass, which is a nice touch.
It’s a Sunday, so naturally roasts dominate, but there is still a sizeable array of interesting options. Kent has long held the title of the Garden of England, but you would be hard pressed to find a county with such exceptional local produce as Suffolk. And The Unruly Pig has taken full advantage. The menus don’t shout about local provenance – there are nods to it, but no extensive list of every supplier beneath every dish – but The Unruly Pig’s kitchen is awash with quality food from its doorstep and the chefs work wonders with it. The balance in every dish is marked.
The pork T-bone with Unruly macaroni cheese (£15.95) is an incredible choice – the macaroni a particularly balanced hit that avoids overt richness without neglecting flavour. A tasty rabbit pappardelle (£16.95) features melt-in-the-mouth meat with spicy pasta. Sunday calls for a roast beef (£17.95) – it arrives with splendid roasties and a great Yorkshire pudding. The meat is rare, succulent and very finely sliced. Finally, there is the roasted fillet of hake with olive oil mash, cockle beurre blanc and samphire (£15.95). The texture is bang on and the butter and oil enhance this most popular of fish.
Moving onto pudding (all £6.95), we are not disappointed, with dishes that eschew the usual heavy richness for a lighter, but no less delicious approach. The bitter chocolate torte with banana and rum ice cream enjoys just the right level of rum, while the treacle tart with blood orange and crème fraîche sorbet is the most scoffable I’ve had in ages – so sweet but at no point saccharine. All are masterfully paired with 50ml glasses of dessert wine, bringing an indulgent end to a delightful Sunday lunch.