The Boardwalk, Southwold Pier

 Review date: May 2014

Memories are made of this...

Adrian Rawlinson visited Southwold Pier for a welcome day in the sun and lunch at The Boardwalk restaurant

In the last three years I must have been to Southwold Pier well over 40 times. I drop copies of our magazine for visitors to read each month, my wife and I have eaten in the restaurant, we have used it as a location to meet up with relatives from ‘over the border’ and I once spent five hours trying to capture a perfect picture of the Pier’s clock only to be thwarted by large yellow health and safety bollards – but that is a different story.

It wasn’t until my latest visit however that I had noticed the brass plaques that sit beneath the hand rail around the whole length of the Pier. Some are funny, some are poignant, some just mark a moment in time but all of them show the affection with which this iconic Suffolk landmark is held and that it is a destination that creates memories that last.

Southwold Pier was bought last year by Gough Hotels who also own The Angel in Bury St Edmunds and the Salthouse Harbour Hotel. They ultimately have plans to develop the shore end of the Pier into the groups third hotel but for now are concentrating on making  the visitor experience for the 750,000 people who already visit the Pier each year an even better one.

On the day we visited the sun was shining, the beach below the Pier was bustling with families enjoying the weather and many of those were taking advantage of the facilities on the Pier. With two cafes, one restaurant, three gift shops and two separate amusement arcades Southwold Pier has something for everyone. One of the arcades houses a series of eccentric slot machines known collectively as ‘The Under The Pier Show’ by local artist Tim Hunkin, and is in my opinion a reason to visit in itself but more of that later.

It was strange to think, as I had made a conscious effort to grab my sunglasses for this trip and apply a little factor 15, that the previous two days had been the Suffolk Show, overcast and cool. Such is the British weather and it is one of the reasons I believe the Pier is so popular. As an attraction it seems to be weather proof, whatever time of year I visit there are always people enjoying the experience.

The main reason for our visit on this occasion was to sample the latest menu at The Boardwalk restaurant. It was the first time we had eaten there since Gough Hotels had taken over, and having recently eaten at the Salthouse in Ipswich we were looking forward to the experience. Unsurprisingly, given the quality of Gough’s other two four star hotels, a major part of their vision for the Pier is to enhance the food offering.

My first impression was how reasonably priced the choices were. Sometimes I feel that certain venues take advantage of having ‘a captive audience’ and ramp up their prices accordingly – have you been to the cinema recently? Well this isn’t the case at The Boardwalk restaurant, starters on the lunch menu ranged between £4.95 and £7.95 and mains £9.95 to £16.95. They also offer sandwiches from £5.55 to £9.95 (for a chargrilled rump steak) and a kids menu from £3.25-£5.25.

At the time of our visit the menu offered ten starters and nine mains with a daily specials board so while we made up our minds we indulged in a selection of fresh speciality Penny Bakery breads with olive oil- delicious.  After much deliberation I opted for a Greek salad for a starter and my wife, Lesley, the Caesar salad, which also came as a main option.  When Lesley’s salad arrived we did check they had sent the starter portion as it was generous to say the least. Both salads were crisp, fresh and packed with flavour – a great start to our meal.

When surrounded by the sea it would have been wrong for one of us not to choose fish. The main menu offered battered cod, a fisherman’s pie and moules (OK not fish I know) however Lesley  was drawn to the specials board with three further fish options a roast cod tail, whole grilled plaice and her ultimate choice roast salmon with chive mash, fine beans, spinach and Hollandaise sauce.

Regular readers of Essential Suffolk may have picked up that I am very partial to a well-cooked portion of belly pork so when I saw the choice of it slow roasted with a warm salad of broad beans, apple, fennel with new potatoes and a salsa verde my decision was an easy one.

Both dishes were excellent and again very generous. The belly pork was the best I have tasted in a long while and the combination with the broad bean salad worked perfectly. The broad beans were tender and the apple, fennel and salsa verde cut through the richness of the pork. The salmon was beautifully presented and well cooked with moist soft flesh and delightfully crispy skin. The chive mash was enthusiastically received and was the faultless partner to mop up the rich Hollandaise sauce.

As it was lunch we decided against a dessert, a pleasure to be saved for another time, and instead chose to investigate the Pier further.  Shopping on the Pier can range from beach essentials such as buckets, spades and kites at the shore end shop, an opportunity for gifts, trinkets and mementos from the ‘Treasure Chest’ and then some truly beautiful pieces in the ‘Seaweed and Salt’ shop at the far end of the Pier. A set of hand painted glass Cornish plates really caught my eye as did two delicately locally engraved water jugs one depicting swimming fish and the other ‘Southwold’ beach huts. If you enjoy shopping or just browsing there’s plenty to keep you occupied.

Next on our tour we visited ‘The Under the Pier Show’ the sign on the door describes it as “A mad collection of homemade slot machines” which is totally accurate. The sign goes on to say “There’s nothing like them anywhere else in the known universe” and this I can believe. Creator of the ‘slots’ is local artist Tim Hunkin and it is clear he has a unique and humorous view of the world. Some highlights for me were a machine that lets you train to cross a busy road with a zimmer frame – I failed repeatedly – a booth to experience your own solar eclipse and an opportunity to take a submarine journey below Southwold’s sea where you will meet sharks selling the town’s famous beach huts… With a pocket full of change and time to relax Lesley and I whiled away an hour and laughed like children.

Our final stop was for a coffee at the ‘Clockhouse’ café, as with the boardwalk there are views of the sea on both sides and it was a lovely place to sit, chat and relax.

As we drove home we started planning our next visit, we talked of stealing our four year old great niece for the day, planning another ‘over the border’ family re-union or just making sure that we visit again soon. I’m even thinking of adding my own little plaque.

 

For more information visit:

www.southwoldpier.co.uk

Celebratory plaques can now be bought online from the Pier’s website  

 

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