Review date: Match 2015
A passion for food
Adrian Rawlinson visits Suffolk’s most unique restaurant; 745pm at Middlewood Green
On paper David Wicks’ restaurant, 745pm, shouldn’t work! An offering of a fixed five course menu set in a converted farm building could, I fear, be just a little too continental for many. Add to this the fact that diners choose and serve their own exceptional value wine and it is clear that this is a relaxed dining experience that differs significantly from what most of us will have ever encountered in the UK. However, work it does and for four years 745pm has gained a loyal following, enthusiastic reviews and is often booked up weeks in advance.
When the restaurant first opened my colleague Anne ate there and was effervescent in her praise comparing it to the best of eating out in rural France or Italy. This likeness is no accident; David and his wife have spent more holidays than they can remember falling in love with the mediterranean way of cooking food. There are strong echoes of this in the simple but exquisitely executed dishes which David now prepares and for which 745 has become famous. The wine list is beautifully illustrated with personal recollections of where many were first tasted and David’s passion and deep but unpretentious knowledge shines through.
According to David farmhouse fine dining, unlike conventional fine dining, does not rely on luxurious location, elaborate service and foie gras and lobster. Instead it uses the finest home produce, fresh local ingredients and a lot of hard work to produce a feast of flavours.
David initially set up the restaurant as a diversion from the ‘boredom’ of retirement. He had proposed to complete his ambitious plans for the gardens at Moat Farm and then put his feet up. However having been involved in businesses for all his working life – he can list innovative furniture design, pioneering computer software and hospital construction as just some of the roles within his extensive cv – he itched to have one more go.
“I missed running a small business, missed the buzz of designing and inventing stuff and missed the customers. Providing people with really well designed products and value for money has always been a passion of mine. So has growing my own food, cooking lots of courses for supper and exploring the world of wine. The result was inevitable.”
Initially 745pm opened for just two days a week, Friday and Saturday, with service starting –as the name suggests - at 7.45pm. However such has been the demand that from February David has now also added Thursday nights. A perfect time we thought to visit and sample for ourselves.
Arriving at 7.30pm on a dark winter’s evening the restaurant lights welcomed us through the unspoilt rural darkness with which Moat Farm is blessed. 745pm seats a maximum of 24 people and David’s conversion, utilising many of the pieces of furniture he has made, has created an intimate and welcoming venue.
A fixed menu (5 courses for £35.50 including service) allows David to keep waiting costs to a minimum and the overall price down. He also supplies wine on a help yourself basis at retail price through a charitable company. On the night we visited choices ranged from £15 to £28.50 per bottle and although we were not drinking (a self-imposed abstinence) a fellow diner, who coincidentally ran a wine tasting circle, could have not been more enthusiastic about the quality and the value.
For his dishes David only uses the very best ingredients. In season some of the vegetables, not surprisingly, come from the kitchen garden and the pork and bacon are home reared. Around the restaurant there are beautiful annotated photographs –taken by his son, a professional food photographer - that tie in ingredients and, like the anecdotes within the wine list, give a backstory to the family’s long standing passion for food.
The nominal five courses (seven as it transpired) were all beautifully presented and perfectly cooked. Ahead of the first official course we were enticed with two exquisite canapes. Prawns on a short curried biscuit and smoked salmon and cream cheese in a delicate filo nest.
So to the first course proper. ’The Cheese Course’. This was a membrillo (quince paste) and blue cheese tart which was absolutely delicious and my wife, who normally is not a great fan of blue cheese, totally agreed. To follow we enjoyed ‘Fungus 3’ which comprised a mushroom terrine, cappuccino porcino (the etiquette for the eating of which is still a debate – to drink or to spoon?), green leaves in black truffle dressing and beetroot bread. Whatever the etiquette of the cappuccino the result was excellent and a testament to David’s creativity.
The third course ‘Fish’ comprised a ballotine of swordfish, a vibrant broad bean custard and crushed charlotte potatoes tossed in mint butter and was followed by our next surprise course a palette refreshing sorbet. “See if you can guess” said David. I did. Cucumber and elderflower which could only be described as exquisite!
The next offering was ‘Arancini’ described as ‘Paella ingredients - Sicilian presentation’. For those yet to experience arancini they are deep fried rice balls used for that rare occurrence –left over risotto. If the mushroom course was testament to David’s creativity the arancini were testaments to his attention to detail. Three different arancini: one containing the seafood element of the paella, one the chicken and one the chorizo, all accompanied by a deeply flavoursome saffron infused stock reduction – the essence of the paella. Again a dish to savour and one to remember.
The final course was ‘Citrus’. A lime and basil cheesecake with lemon jelly and vodka and orange ice cream. Initially, not really being a sweet dessert kind of person, I thought that the cheesecake was far too sweet for my palette. However, when combined with the tart zing of the lemon jelly it was a dish that danced in my mouth and one I have since raved to friends about as indeed I have the whole evening.
At 745pm David has created something very special in Suffolk’s culinary landscape. I am somewhat embarrassed it has taken me four years to try it but can assure you our next visit will be a lot sooner.
745pm, Moat Farm, Mendlesham Green, Suffolk IP14 5HG