Facts ‘n’ stats
Name: The Unruly Pig
Address: Orford Road, Bromeswell, near Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 2PU
Owner: Brendan Padfield
Wet:dry split: 30:70
Covers: 92 plus private dining (plus 40 outside covers on the terrace)
The pub is in rural Suffolk, located five minutes’ drive from the market town of Woodbridge and 25 minutes from Ipswich. It is a 16th century Suffolk inn – plus a Regency period add-on – with beams, crooked ceilings and log burners, with outdoor decking and a garden.
When I took over the pub, we converted some disused toilets to create 20 more covers. I added wood panelling and another log burner. Crucially, we added soft furnishings, lots of rugs and my own art collection – an eclectic mixture of pop, local and propaganda art. I wanted the pub to have a warm, clubbable, feel. The Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs described the pub as “reflecting the personality of the owner” – I think that was a compliment. Many customers describe it as “quirky” – I like quirky.
The whole look and feel of the pub was changed and, because I wanted a clear break with the past, we also changed the name to the Unruly Pig (it was formerly known as the British Larder). I wanted a name that created a sense of fun and informality – I loved the idea of running an unruly house.
For 30-plus years, I was a solicitor in a well-known law firm. However, my passion had always been food and wine. I had always lived in Woodbridge and the opportunity arose at about the right time.
At my time in life, many thought I was bonkers to take something on that I knew nothing about. Four years on I am, of course, still learning, but I was surprised how much of my legal career has been helpful.
I was well used to operating with strict financial discipline. The management of margin/profit has always been a key feature of my legal career. I was also very well used to the need to understand the market, how to correctly position the offering within that market and, of course, the need to embrace continuous improvement.
Finally, I was also very well used managing people (and managing lawyers was like herding cats – so hospitality is a breeze in comparison).
We opened to critical acclaim in April 2015. Just when things were going so well, only 12 weeks in, when we had just had our busiest day, we suffered a catastrophic fire and we lost 40% of the building. I was completely devastated, indeed, shot to bits. My life’s dream had gone up in smoke.
Initially, I thought my life as a gastropub owner was just not meant to be. Even now I can still get upset when I am reminded about the fire.
What got us back on our feet, however, was the news that in the very short time we had been open, we had been listed in The Good Food Guide – one of only three pubs in east Suffolk.
It was the shot in the arm we needed at the right time. So, eventually, after a hard six months’ closure, we were eventually able to get back open. The head chef and 90% of the team stayed loyal and returned to work when we reopened. Head chef Dave Wall was – and still is – my hero. I will never forget his loyalty and what he has done for me ever since – he has made an old man very happy.
Before I took over the pub, it had been a well-known high-end restaurant, yet it had struggled to make money. Suffolk is a commuter county and much of the target demographic was in London during the week.
The food was fabulous, indeed some of the best regionally, but the ambiance and service were less on par. It was not seen as an ‘accessible’ venue so, overall, the offering did not suit many locals.
Too many did not consider it delivered the magic ‘value for money’. Before that, for 20-plus years, the pub had been a boozer serving ‘freezer, fryer, fork’ food but it had never recovered from the closure of a local US Air Force base. Its glory days had long since gone.
Therefore, a key goal was to make the pub more ‘accessible’ welcoming and friendly.
We are very much a food-led destination pub. After reopening, someone on high must have been looking after us because we had some lucky breaks with the national and foodie press.
The Financial Times named us a ‘top five pub for walkers’. The likes of delicious. and Olive magazines as well as The Sunday Times then also recommended us and then a string of accolades and awards followed on.
We were named as Best Suffolk Pub and were finalists in the Best Chef and Best for Food categories for two years running in the Great British Pub Awards (and this year won the Best for Wine award).
We were also named as Best Suffolk Restaurant and won Best Front of House Team in the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropub Awards 2018.
This year, Dave Wall was named as UK Best Pub Restaurant Chef in the Craft Guild of Chefs Awards 2019.
We are listed in the Michelin Guide, The Good Pub Guide (and are named as a top 10 pub for wine), Harden’s and the AA Pub Guide.
I hate to tempt fate, but we have a relatively stable kitchen team (to include eight chefs). Front of house is led by my wonderful and ever patient restaurant manager Amy Challis. We have a deputy manager and supervisor and then we rely on a mixture of locals and students depending on the season. We do have live-in accommodation for staff but not paying guests. There are always two team briefings each day pre-shift and all the team taste all of the dishes – product knowledge is key, and we are told it is what distinguishes us locally.
What’s on the menu?
- White onion soup, ham hock bon bon, rarebit crouton - £7
- Octopus, XO dressing, red cabbage and ink cracker - £13.75
- Treacle-cured chalk stream trout, smoked cods’ roe, kohlrabi, sourdough - £9.50
- Venison Bolognese, paccheri and aged Parmesan - £14.75
- Pork tenderloin, pigs’ cheek pie, mash, mustard, black pudding - £18.50
- Partridge, roasted cep, delica pumpkin, sage, polenta, hazelnut - £20
- Hake, sourdough crust, salt-baked celeriac, roast chicken sauce - £19
- Hogget, rack, loin, shoulder, hispi, anchovy, garlic - £24.50
- Trifle, blackberry, fig, orange, whisky, pistachio - £8
- Plum bakewell, almond, elderflower ice cream - £7.50
The food is the main reason our customers come to the Unruly Pig (and maybe also our wine list). Most customers are local but some travel to eat with us mainly from neighbouring counties. At weekends, about a quarter of our customers are Londoners: tourists, second homeowners or commuters.
The aim is to deliver some of the best food Suffolk has to offer but in a relaxed setting – something for everyone.
Chef Dave Wall had previously worked at Claridge’s, the iconic Bibendum and latterly at Le Talbooth in Dedham. He was not used to cooking just burgers and steaks. He now does that with great aplomb just using the very best quality ingredients but similarly delivers mostly higher end dishes.
We serve Britalian food – fresh, local (wherever possible) seasonal British cuisine with an Italian influence. I think Dave cooks the best risotto there is to be had outside London. Autumn is his favourite season because of the abundance of game we have right on our doorstep. His trio of hare dish leapt out of the kitchen. We are so lucky because Suffolk is awash with great food and producers to the point we are able to source about 80% of our produce within 30 miles. We do a lot of whole beast, nose to tail cookery. It’s not uncommon for a customer to turn up with something they have shot.
Most of the young chefs relish getting a chance to hone their butchery skills. We are surrounded by woodland so the kitchen team will often forage ceps or, say, wild garlic when in season.
We have a lovely arrangement with a lady in the village who pitches up with her organic soft fruits or heirloom tomatoes and, in return, she gets to eat dinner as a trade for her labour.
We change our à la carte menu every eight to 10 weeks. We like to keep things fresh because we have many repeat customers – many monthly and a few even weekly.
We offer a set menu (two courses for £16.50) on Monday to Friday, with a significant upgrade rate to à la carte. In addition, we have separate vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free menus.
We also offer two or three daily specials depending upon what’s available in the market at the right price – specials are not a device to use up produce that is past it’s best.
Rather the case, they are what they are – special, premium ingredients that come at a premium price.
We have hand-pulled bitter plus draught lager and IPA supplemented by a range of bottled craft beers. We are unashamedly a gastropub so wine sales tend to dominate (and thus we have more than 60 wines by the glass). We use five wine merchants. I try to avoid monopoly supply as complacency can set in. Just like everything else at the Pig, the wine list is also a little edgy and quirky, for example, we have a lovely little Uruguayan number plus a Georgian red that are selling well and deliver great value.
We are a destination venue so to make us more attractive to designated drivers we have introduced a range of ‘Driver’s Drinks’ to include driver’s measures (50ml measures of wine), which enables the driver to have more than one glass and a change of colour to match their food choice. We like to push the envelope on our range of soft drinks, eg, we were one of the first pubs to serve Green Monkey (CBD cannabis-infused drink). We make a lot of drinks, such as homemade limoncello or, say, damson cordial (made from damsons in the garden).
Events and private dining
We have two private dining rooms so we pick up our fair share of shoot lunches, small weddings and, of course, family gatherings/calendar celebrations. Happily, we are a major birthday celebration venue locally. Large parties do, of course, bring their own logistical issues and need very tight management if we are to deliver quality consistently.
Three times a year, we have a wine tasting dinner where a producer shows his wines and pairs them with a menu. We had a wine dinner last year called Sicilian Splendour and it was a cracker.
Last month we had a prisoners’ art exhibition. Our nominated charity is The Aldeburgh Foundation (25p from every steak sold is donated) and it has a fantastic outreach programme working musically and artistically with long-term prisoners at our local prison, HMP Warren Hill. I recently attended a prison art exhibition and one thing has happily led to another.
An Unruly Piglet perhaps? Who knows? We have exciting plans for an Unruly Wine Festival next summer. We are always looking to improve and take things up a notch – we will never rest on our laurels.
That said we will continue to focus on the basics and on delivering consistency for that more than anything will keep the customers coming in. I always tell the team that if we have the reputation for being ‘reliably great’ customers will keep coming and the tills will be full. I cannot adequately express how proud the team makes me every day.
It is the best thing in the world when customers come up to me to shake my hand and congratulate me on the food and the knowledgeable but not overbearing service at the Unruly Pig.
If you will forgive the immodesty, happily that is something that happens almost every day. There is simply nothing better than the buzz of a busy restaurant, full of happy customers eating Dave’s magnificent food. I am a very lucky chap.