Fancy comfort

It was quiet when we went for lunch at The Peacock in Chelsworth, on a friend’s recommendation. However, I definitely got the impression that even if it had been crowded we would have received the same friendly, attentive and relaxed service. The Peacock is kind of fancy, inasmuch as it serves some highly prepared plates, laid out with great care on well-chosen crockery, deploying a wide range of kitchen skills. However, unlike the fabled Angel in Stoke-by-Nayland (where I live), which has recently re-opened with a seriously expensive menu that I won’t be hurrying to sample, The Peacock is also very reasonably priced. I mean, these are proper gastro-pub prices, and you can definitely have a decent meal for a lot less if you know where to look, but this menu should be well within special-occasion budget for anyone who can afford to take the occasional holiday, for example. And this is notable because the fanciness referred to above is not just a matter of presentation and aspiration, but of some really clever, refined cooking, that made every moment of our meal a treat for the senses.

So let’s be clear: fancy fancy food isn’t for me. I don’t want an apple crumble that’s been deconstructed and had its components concealed in three separate escape rooms, or had its essential flavours rendered into an emulsion which has been painted onto the Artex walls of an edible 1970s front room. (And if I’m honest, I can’t afford that stuff anyway). But some of the fashionable techniques that even plebs like me now know about because of Masterchef are in fact extremely effective methods of concentrating and delivering flavour. The little colourful blobs of stuff that adorned my starter of cured trout were fizzing bomblets of balanced acidity that set off fireworks in my mouth. Spouse’s wood pigeon pâté was a gorgeous abstract painting in autumnal colours that tasted as good as it looked, while Spawn’s crab tartlet didn’t hang around long enough for me to tell you what it looked like. My main was lamb, cooked to tender perfection, and served with a selection of well-thought-out trimmings, including a carb component of whole rye berries cooked in ale and onion gravy—I’ve eaten whole barley before, but never wheat or rye. As presented here it was a wholesome and tasty affair, with a nice firm mouth-feel. I finished with a small flight of petits fours, mainly in order to disprove Spouse, who was predicting I’d have something excessive and chocolatey: they were perfection, and the perfect conclusion to a meal that filled me up without making me feel bloated. The only concession to portion inflation was Spawn’s delicious sirloin steak (she never orders steak): this was so enormous that the several large slices into which the kitchen had divided it were each easily big enough to constitute the protein component of a perfectly decent meal. The triple-cooked chips were also presented in a considerable mound, so I got to try some of both, and I can confirm that The Peacock does its straightforward pub fare as well as it does its more imaginative dishes.

We were celebrating at the end of Spawn’s last visit home before she sits the final exams of her five year straight-to-masters degree, so the whole experience was important—we wouldn’t have wanted the traditionally rude French restaurant experience, or too much formality of any kind. The staff were polite and professional, but also ready to use a bit of warmth and humour if it was called for, and they seemed adept and working out how to pitch their customer interactions (there were some stuffier types than us sitting nearby). The building itself is a fourteenth-century timber-framed house (that’s right, it was built in the 1300s!), which makes it a similar sort of building to many of the pubs where I’ve fruitfully wasted time in Suffolk, and indeed to the house I live in, so it was a comfortable place to be from the off. The menu is small, always a good sign in my view, and we’re already planning enough return visits to sample it in its entirety…

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