The Ship at Dunwich
Review date: February 2014
GREAT NIGHT INN
Dunwich has become one of our favourite places on the Suffolk coast and so when we heard that The Ship Inn not only had a new chef but was also featuring live music on a regular basis, we needed little encouragement to investigate further
It was 5pm on a Thursday evening in February. Scenes of horrific floods across the country were cramming every news report and although the impact this side if Christmas had been relatively minor in this area the rain was still lashing down as we loaded Darcy, our Golden Retriever, into the car and headed up the coast. As we pulled away my husband remarked that it was surely the worst kind of weather for driving in and I had to agree, but nothing was going to stand between us and an opportunity to spend time in the warm and welcoming Ship Inn. Once off the main road and heading through the villages and lanes we dodged the torrents of water spilling from the fields. As the dark evening closed in we rounded a corner very close to our destination and there, right in the centre of the road – startled and staring straight at us – the most majestic and statuesque stag. Thankfully we’d been driving at crawling pace so no need for hard breaking but with two bounds he was gone, out of sight and away in the woodland from where he’d appeared. We’ve seen deer on Dunwich Heath before, always at dusk, but never this close and it was quite breath taking.
As we checked in and were shown to our rooms by manager Matt Goodwin we were keen to share our tale, forgetting that he walks his dogs in the local woods two or three times a day. “It’s surprising how many deer I see” he said “they’re the masters of standing still and the dogs are completely stupid, they’re virtually oblivious to them when they can be just feet away, it all depends on the light”. I think that’s the key thing for me about time spent in and around Dunwich. Depending on the time of day the season and the weather the choices for walking are enviable. We favour two routes in particular – the first a circular that takes in the cliff and heath on the edge of the Minsmere reserve returning to the village along farm tracks and the second takes us through woodland and then across Dingle Marsh to the beach and back along the coast path. They say dogs don’t forget when they’ve been to a place before and it was clear from Darcy’s fairly frantic behaviour that she was expecting to get straight out and re-discover her previous paw-prints but with the inclement conditions it was decided that a quick turn around the village would have to suffice and that we’d head out on a decent walk the next day if the relentless rain ever eased.
When a pub like the Ship, one with original character and history, has become a firm favourite there’s always the risk that change – whether in personnel or décor – will some-how upset your own personal chemistry with the place. So as we settled in the bar the relief that everything appeared to be unchanged, left just as we liked it, helped the toils of the day melt away as the first sips passed our lips. That’s where Matt and his team are clever. You see the bar had been completely redecorated, but they’d taken such care to ensure that the previous colours were perfectly matched that unless you’d witnessed the process or caught a whiff of white spirit you’d be none the wiser – perhaps just amazed that unlike some ‘characterful inns’ the Ship never tires, never looks unloved.
Though the bar is by no means small, when busy it’s the kind of environment that encourages conversations between folks that might not have previously met. I recently had the misfortune to travel on the London Underground where I’m sure you’d be issued with an on the spot fine if you make eye contact with or, heaven forbid, smile at a fellow traveller. By complete contrast we soon found ourselves chatting to other couples, most of who seemed to have also taken the opportunity for an over-night stay as they were there specifically to enjoy a favourite venue, good food and an added bonus – live music. I wasn’t sure what to expect from our entertainers, a young couple – pianist Jack Pescod and violinist Hannah Vogt. I hadn’t had time to research them on the web prior to arrival so was completely clueless of their style or genre. It turned out that their ethereal blend of sounds, that for me evoked a calm Celtic mood, was the perfect background for our evening. I don’t use the word ‘background’ disparagingly – for the setting they delivered a well thought out set that was presented as an accompaniment allowing us to enjoy our meal, prepared by the Ship’s new chef Sam Hanison, without feeling that we were rude for not engaging with their performance. I can give them no greater praise than to pass on to you that I readily parted with cash for a copy of Jack’s CD there and then in the bar and have set it aside as the perfect Sunday morning mood setter.
Chef Sam’s background has seen him working in a number of well-known kitchens and even for a time as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s personal Chef. The proof as always was in the mouth-watering meal we enjoyed; ham-hock and caper terrine with sour dough toast followed by a succulent Barnsely lamb chop were my choices while my husband chose a cheese soufflé followed by a dish of braised ox cheek. In addition the steaming hot seasonal vegetables, creamy mashed potatoes and all round attention to detail were faultless. Sam hasn’t arrived with a mission to change the type of food that the Ship is famous for but to build on it and take it up a level and certainly based on our dishes he has achieved this. We didn’t however just have to rely on our own opinions, we overheard very appreciative feedback from the three tables in earshot and though we were just too full to contemplate dessert, the apple crumble with custard and rich chocolate torte that arrived at the table next door brought murmurs of delight.
Retiring to our room, the distant crashing of waves on the beach ready to lull us off to sleep, I made a final check of the weather forecast for the morning - more rain - and it delivered. We awoke to more of the dreaded drizzle but decided that once we’d been bolstered by the Ships very special English Breakfast we wouldn’t be able to return home without having taken Darcy at least for a wander on the beach. Choosing our own favourite components from the lengthy list of breakfast favourites, including local Blythburgh pork sausages and eggs cooked however we liked, we enjoyed a hearty plateful that set us up to battle the elements. Windswept but refreshed we climbed back in the car, albeit with a rather soggy dog, another soul satisfying stay at The Ship Inn complete.
LIVE MUSIC EVENINGS
The Ship will be holding live music evenings on the last Thursday of each month. There is no need to book, just come along and enjoy what promises to be some fantastic nights with great food, drinks and live music.
Following their previous, very successful, Beer Festivals you are invited to join The Ship at Dunwich for another fantastic Beer Festival weekend on Saturday and Sunday 19th and 20th April 2014. It promises to be a great weekend with live music and vintage market on Sunday and plenty of beer from our favourite local breweries.
The Ship, St James Street, Dunwich, Saxmundham, Suffolk, IP17 3DT