“ Scutchers Restaurant / Westgate Street / Long Melford / Sudbury / Suffolk / CO10 9DP / Tel: 01787 310200 / Fax: 01787 375700. „
For six long years, my husband and I lived in Suffolk. On the occasions when we could persuade visitors to come to see us, we used to advise them that on arriving at the border they might need to reset their watches - by approximately 30 years! If you look carefully you may still find dinosaurs grazing in the fields and I think it's fair to say that the county of Suffolk with its twee little villages and absurd pink houses is not the first place you'd think to look for cutting edge modern cuisine. It's much more associated with 'chintz and cream teas', antique shopping and day trips with the Women's Institute. However, Nick and Diane Barrett's Scutchers Restaurant bucks the trend for all things cheesy and is well worth a trip to the land that time forgot.
Why do I know Scutchers so well?
I lived a few miles away in the village of Glemsford and I worked for a company who had a lot of international visitors whom they routinely put up in the Black Lion Hotel in Long Melford. As the employee living nearest to the Black Lion, I was the default 'entertainments officer' and would willingly give up my evenings if the carrot being offered was dinner at Scutchers. Sarah the waitress used to say that I had the best job she knew - taking nice men for dinner in her restaurant. I suspect for a long time that she doubted my claims to an honourable occupation and suspected me of some kind of 'escort work'.
I have eaten there many times with my own hard-earned cash but more often have taken groups of visitors (anywhere from two to fifteen at a time) from all over the world. It doesn't matter where they hailed from, everyone agreed that Scutchers totally failed to live up to their expectation of bland and stodgy 'English Food'. Nick doesn't put the vegetables on the day before to make sure they are done! It doesn't matter how many people there are your party - they always get the service just right - friendly without being 'over familiar', attentive without ever being fawning.
Where is Scutchers?
Scutchers is on the road between Long Melford and Cavendish, just off the beautiful Long Melford village green and a few minutes walk from the centre of the village.
Long Melford is in the southern part of Suffolk, not far from the border with Essex and fairly handy for Sudbury, Bury St Edmunds, Lavenham or Cavendish. If that's still no clearer to you, don't worry, check out their website for instructions on how to find them at www.scutchers.com
What sort of cooking?
Nick trained and worked with one of the Michelin starred chefs but sadly I have no retention for names and can't remember which one. Might have been Marco Pierre White - but equally, it might not have been. Basically, it's not that important who it was - what is important is that he is a top notch chef who has served his time in great company.
The menu changes every couple of weeks - it's not too big so that you would worry about whether things were fresh - and not so small that you are stuck for choice. The food is a fusion of international ideas - as an example, one of the signature starters is haggis with fois gras! (Don't get me started on the ethics of foie gras, I've just offered that dish as an example of creativity) There are specials each day in addition to the menu and everything is cooked to order.
Typically the menu will have five or six appetisers - olives and several breads (garlic bread, cheese bread etc. These are in the range of £2-£3.
Next you have a choice of eight to ten starters at prices ranging from £6 to £11. These include things like:
* Tempura prawns with chilli sauce
* Soup with bread
* Sauteed fois gras with haggis and rosti
* Seared scallops with mash
There are a similar number of main courses - ranging from £12 to £24.
* Halibut with crab sauce
* Fish and Chips
* Calves liver with rich gravy
* Asparagus with oyster mushrooms.
On all courses there are always fish and vegetarian options. Deserts kick in at £6 and if you still have space they are well worth a go. If you can't manage a desert but fancy something sweet, order coffee - it comes with lots of nice extras like brandy snaps and chocs. On a number of occasions I've seen visitors who aren't familiar with fudge mistake it for brown sugar cubes and pop some in their coffee.
The wine list is enormous - there must be about 80 to choose from. The cheapest bottles start at around £12.50 and go up to £150 plus. Wine by the glass is priced fairly rather than inflated compared to the bottle prices.
Since the restaurant introduced a website, you can now check out the menu, including the wine list, before you go, get your thoughts together and make sure there's something that appeals.
The Scutchers Experience
When you arrive you'll probably be invited to take a seat on the sofas by the fire, order a drink and have a look at the menu. If you like they'll bring you appetisers to nibble on whilst the chef gets on with your starters or you can go straight to your table.
If you fancy the starters more than the main courses - I often do - they are more than happy to serve you a starter as a main. Some of the dishes come with that option.
If you want to check the ingredients - for allergies, or dietary reasons - Nick will happily come out of the kitchen and talk over your choices. They put up with tweaking things for me during a year of marathon 'Weightwatchers' activity - you can have sauces on the side, or not at all. Nick and Diane want you to enjoy your meal and they'll go the extra mile. So if in doubt - ASK.
The room is bright and light - pale yellow paint, original framed paintings on the walls, lots of pale old wood. The tables are pine and the lighting is quite bright.
THERE'S NO MUSIC - this is one of the things I like best. No background ambient blergghh music.
The service can be as fast or slow as you want it to be. We once got through 3 courses in about 45 minutes when we had tickets for an event in the stately home round the corner - equally I've had groups there for nearly 3 hours when the conversation and the wine were flowing.
It's exceptional. OK, I'm English, so what do I know about food quality? Well, the colleagues I took were all foodies - we worked for a company involved in the food industry so many were quite analytical about food. I've variously been told it's 'The best food I've had outside Italy' (by an Italian), 'so good I can't believe I'm in England' (by a Spaniard) and 'So good it could be French' (by a Frenchman). Personally, I think the prejudice against British food is not deserved and many of the comments came from people who over-rate their local cuisine, but it's fair to say that this is an international standard restaurant.
Personally, I have never had a bad experience and - at £50-70 for two, it was good enough to part me from my own cash on many occasions.
Sounds too Expensive for Me?
Don't worry, there are ways to get the Scutchers experience at lower prices. For lunch on Tuesday to Friday and for dinner on Tuesday to Thursday, they offer a two course limited choice menu for just £15. In Suffolk you pay that for a pub meal! They also do 'Specials' evenings - like 'Bangers and Bollinger Night' with breads, bangers mash and onion gravy, pudding, coffee and a bottle of Bolly per table of 4 - all for £30 a head.
There's a limited range of food available for home dining - more expensive than M&S but excellent quality. They also do event catering.
When's it Open?
Usually closed for most of January and also on Sundays and Mondays. Lunch runs from noon to 2 pm and dinner from 7 to last orders at 9.30. That might sound early but things don't keep rocking late in country Suffolk! Be sure to ring ahead - especially on Friday or Saturday evenings.
What else can I do?
There are two stately homes within a few minutes walk - Melford Hall (a National Trust property) and Kentwell Hall (great Tudor building with regular special re-enactment events). Down in the village there are plenty of antique shops and little independent boutiques as well as plenty of places for teas and scones.
Oh, nearly forgot, one final thing - ladies, don't forget to check out the toilets at Scutchers for some very tasty black and white nudes (male of course). Apparently there are similar delights in the Gents toilets too but I've never been in there to substantiate that claim.