Putting food in its place

A sense of collective memory is crucial to most people’s sense of self; few seem as happy as those who know where they are from. I’ve always had a slightly difficult time finding out this ostensibly simple fact about myself: on my father’s side it could be Istanbul, or Santiago in Chile, but I feel no connection to those places, neither of which I’ve visited, so it’ll have to be Putney in West London I guess, although I’ve had no particular reason to go there for years. On my mother’s side there’s Orpington in Kent, and there’s her father’s family from north Norfolk, some of whom ended up in mid Suffolk. I didn’t grow up in any of these places, and I don’t have social networks there, but I ended up living in East Anglia, and something about the cut of its jib told me early in our relationship that I would be here for a while. If I ever feel a sense of rootedness it’s either on Europe’s Mediterranean coasts, with whose lifestyles and culinary culture I feel a fundamental affinity, or it’s in Suffolk and Norfolk. Landscape and food, that’s how you can tell where you’re from, and for my English half those two things come together in the county where I learned to cook, guided by the fruitful inconsistencies of a 1950s Aga and the bantering wisdom of the venerable butchers at Pierpoints in Hadleigh. A traditional cuisine, made in and from its native soil, is what I’ve always aspired to in the kitchen, and it’s exactly what you’ll find at The Froize Inn in Chillesford, to the north of Woodbridge.

I’ve eaten on most of the occasions I’ve visited the Froize, but it’s only on the most recent that I actually went there for a meal with Spouse and Spawn. Previously I’ve gone to play music, as it is both an excellent small venue on the national folk circuit, and available to hire for weddings, album launch parties and so on. David Grimwood, the friendliest chef-patron you could hope to encounter, usually lays on what he calls ‘Suffolk tapas’ when there’s music, although I’ve also had the pleasure of his wedding buffet. I felt welcome the first time I went inside, before I’d even spoken to a member of staff. David’s person is in every facet of the establishment: he’s there to speak with characteristic warmth to every customer; he grows much of the food; he cooks it; he serves it personally from the hot table; he is radically engaged in the local ecology, gathering and hunting some of what he cooks, displaying live feeds of bird nests around the site on a large screen in the bar area; and he lives there. He and his establishment are the very embodiment of the localism that is often invoked as an antidote to the continual, escalating demands of the attention economy.

It is not an antidote that everyone will access, of course; the menu is priced at a level that permits David to cook the food he wants to cook without compromise, a level which is not astronomical, but it is at the higher end of the range for quality pub food. It is sold at a flat rate per main, which indicates how much of an afterthought vegetarian or less popular options are: there is equal care given to every dish that leaves the kitchen. And when you shuffle past the hot-table to get your nosh, David is there to talk you through it, and to make sure you get a bit of any of the bewildering array of sides and vegetables that might be nice with whatever main you fancy. Everything is sourced as locally as possible (which sometimes means from the pub’s own grounds), and the recipes maintain all that is best about the tradition of English cooking – the Froize gives the lie to the notion that England lacks a native cuisine. Although we clearly lost a lot of knowledge when our peasants were forced to become wage labourers in the eighteenth century, a great and various heritage has still been handed down in English kitchens, particularly rural ones. David offers a deep and broad menu to appeal to most palates, and most dietary requirements, a menu which is not at all provincial – including elements such as pasta where they are needed – despite a focus on tradition, local produce and hearty rustic cooking.

I’m on almost exactly the same page as David Grimwood when it comes to food, although much of what I cook at home is Mediterranean in origin. The Froize is one of very few places I know of that I can eat out and feel a fundamental connection to the culinary roots of my English half. At the heart of his robust and lively cooking is the practice of allowing good ingredients to speak for themselves, or to hold conversations among themselves on which we can eavesdrop, rather than forcing them to say what we want them to. The food is gourmet in terms of skill and quality, but rustic in style – and in quantity! This is usually a no-no in restaurant cooking, but in domestic hospitality of course, it is crucial, and that feeling of well-fed welcome is something that every restaurant seeks to emulate. To eat at the Froize is to visit a friend for lunch; David’s sincerity as a host is no less for the fact that he charges you for the privilege of eating there.

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