The Shepherd & Dog - Forward Green
Review date: June 2014
A PERFECT PARTNERSHIP
Lesley Rawlinson discovers the Shepherd & Dog at Forward Green for good food and a great welcome
Jump in your car, drive to Forward Green and get ahead of the game because I promise you, as word gets out about the Shepherd & Dog you’re going to wish you’d found it sooner. Finding somewhere new to enjoy is always satisfying, but discovering a place where you know you can see yourself in all seasons and for a myriad of reasons, is even better. But what is it that creates the connection? For me there’s a whole host of elements that come together at the Shepherd & Dog and simply appeal – you’ll need to discover for yourself whether we’re on the same wavelength, but I think it starts with the people.
Lizzie Ward and Grieg Young have been at the Shepherd & Dog since the beginning of the year and although Lizzie is local, Grieg’s a long way from his Scottish roots. He trained at the highly acclaimed Airds Hotel on the Argyll coast and despite his youth already has an impressive CV that includes the Michelin starred Number One at The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh. As soon as you meet this enterprising couple it’s no surprise that, in their mid-twenties, they’re already in control of their own destinies, running a successful new business. While the food is safe in Grieg’s hands Lizzie is clearly a natural with customers and her eye for style and design has transformed the former village pub creating a cosy and informal bar, welcoming lounge and more formal ‘eaterie’.
They’ve already put a pledge in place to source from within the county where ever they can and, although they won’t compromise on quality just to satisfy this ideal, it’s working well for them. While Lizzie & Grieg recognise the quality of the vast number of local suppliers on their doorstep this stance is also about being a really environmentally sound business that doesn’t drain the planet unnecessarily. “The one key product we’re not yet sourcing from Suffolk is our mineral water. There are systems that can be put in place to purify our water here on site but until we’re in a position to make that investment we order from a small company in Bristol called Frank Water” Lizzie explained. “They may not be local but they’re a team of ethical entrepreneurs, researchers & field workers that fund sustainable clean water projects in developing countries across the world and 100% of their net profit goes to the charity so we kind of feel that balances the carbon footprint”.
Next on my list of ‘boxes to tick’ is comfort. If I were wandering in from a country walk, ready for a pub lunch I’d feel very at home among the mix and match scrubbed pine tables and assorted chairs and pews of the bar area. A contrast in style but just as welcoming is the elegant lounge where I have to admit I could have spent the entire evening of our visit, settled in a comfy armchair enjoying the bustle of the bar that is the central focal point and constant connection between the bar, lounge and restaurant. We’d booked a table in the ‘eaterie’ and though more formal than the bar it’s cool, clean lines and gleaming glassware certainly elevate the expectations to one of a more fine dining experience than one might expect in a village pub.
Of course all of this is of little consequence if the food and drink offering isn’t up to scratch but from the first sip of my Elderflower Collins (a refreshing summer twist on the original Tom Collins with the gin topped up with Bottle Green sparkling elderflower) accompanied by homemade sesame crispbreads, I knew we were in for a treat. I like a clear and concise menu and with simple descriptions like ‘oxtail & mushroom’ or ‘chicken & Jersey Royals’ heralding each dish the selection process was reassuringly uncomplicated. I decided I’d start with crab & cauliflower – dressed white Colchester crab meat with creamy and crispy white cauliflower that, having tasted, I want to adopt as my new comfort food and could have easily enjoyed as a main course or lunch option. My husband opted for what turned out to be one of the current favourites on the menu. Grieg likes to use the very best of what’s available from week to week to create his menus but some dishes are so popular that they seem to stick and the superb rabbit & spring veg is one such dish. The rolled up rabbit leg with onion cream and spring vegetables is accompanied by Hills Farm rape seed dressing. Incidentally the couple have been so impressed with the oils from Hill Farm that they’ve even just adopted their luxurious hand-cream in the washrooms too, another great local connection.
Rather than sticking to one particular dish the main course fish option changes daily with the best market choice of day-boat-caught English fish making the cut. Line caught bass with watercress, mixed mushrooms and crispy potatoes tempted Mr R and while he occasionally regrets choosing fish (subtle flavours are easy to overpower with too many accompaniments) the meaty flesh, succulent and perfectly cooked got a big thumbs up. I decided that duck and asparagus would follow my starter well and the perfectly pink duck breast was in good partnership with its bed of mixed grains -bulgar wheat with black and white quinoa.
The desserts of strawberry and black pepper – divine roasted English strawberries reduced for their intense flavour topped with plump juicy fresh fruits and wafers of meringue – had my husband absolutely intoxicated; he can usually take or leave dessert and it’s some time since he’s ooh’d and ahh’d about fruit. Here I was torn – white chocolate and marmalade or dark chocolate and milk so I took Lizzie’s advice and opted for the latter. In retrospect I think it was her way of keeping me at the table even longer as the generous chocolate mousse and ganache with milk ice-cream were not to be rushed - and in fact were shared in the end. Not surprising then that the team actively encourage the taking home of ‘doggy bags’ (where suitable) to avoid food waste when eyes may be a little larger than the appetite!
As we left we overheard the conversation from a neighbouring table, one of the ladies obviously delighted with her meal and promising to recommend that her friends should visit too. Clearly she’s on my wavelength, I hope you enjoy your visit as much as we did.
The Shepherd & Dog, Forward Green, Stowmarket, Suffolk. IP14 5HN