'Everybody has setbacks, don't give up,' advice from #1 gastropub

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Suffolk sweetheart: the Unruly Pig opened in 2015
Suffolk sweetheart: the Unruly Pig opened in 2015

Related tags Gastropub Chef Suffolk

Off the back of the Unruly Pig’s recent success on being named the best gastropub in the country, we’ve delved into a little of its history and what keeps the customers coming back for more.

The pub opened in April 2015 and was devastated by a catastrophic fire​ just two months later.

Months of extensive repair and refurbishment meant the pub reopened towards the end of the year​.

Since then, the gastropub has earned a strong reputation for its exceptional food and stellar drinks offering.

Most recently, the Unruly Pig reclaimed the top spot​ on this year’s Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs​ list.

Chef-patron Dave Wall joined the team upon opening almost nine years ago in his first head chef role and now heads up the kitchen brigade with current head chef Karl Green, with the two of them known as ‘the dynamic duo’.

Out front is general manager Jackie Ha who was appointed in 2023 after the Unruly team had previously attempted to recruit him three times before.


The Morning Advertiser ​spoke with Wall and Ha about how it felt to be named number one gastropub and the impact it has had on the business.

Ha said: “It was an absolute honour and really unexpected. After being second last year, it was a great achievement.

“To be named number one twice in 2022 and 2024 was really unexpected and I’m really proud of the whole team.”

Nerves were palpable during the announcement around where the pubs had placed on the list, according to Wall.

Really privileged

He added: “We have been lucky enough to have been on the list a few times now and as you countdown, you’re waiting to hear your name. The longer it goes on and you don’t hear anything, the nerves start creeping up.

“We are really privileged being in the top two for three years in a row but it does get nerve-wracking when you get down to the last few.”

"It makes it a real pleasure when people want to sample what you want to do.”

“This one meant more in a way because while being named number one in the first place was amazing and a huge surprise, because we had the honour of hosting last year, which was terrifying, coming first this year felt like a follow on from that because we had the spotlight on us, hosting everyone from the list.”

In the week that followed the announcement, the pub saw bookings double – a great boost for the traditionally quiet month of January.

“It’s really great for business. What we found before and hopefully will see more of this year was a lot more destination diners where people are making the trip for us and helping to establish us on the map as a destination pub,” Wall said.

“When people travel to come and eat with you, they want to try everything. We saw a real boost in tasting [menu] sales because people want to have a real experience.

“One of the biggest privileges is growing our following over the years to people who want to come and experience what we do. It makes it a real pleasure when people want to sample what you want to do.”

The Unruly Pig is no stranger to a whole host of accolades. As well as the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs, the Suffolk venue is also number 77 on the National Restaurant Awards list, was named Best Pub at the GQ Food & Drink Awards alongside being a winner of the Taste of East of England Award 2023 and featured in the Good Food Guide​.

“It does create more pressure, there’s no doubt about it but that’s not unhealthy."

This is in addition to being named Best Pub for Food​ and Best Wine Pub at the Great British Pub Awards in recent years.

While there are clearly upsides to winning prestigious awards, being held in such high esteem can also come with its challenges.

“It’s a gift and a curse because [customer expectations] go through the roof and can be unrealistic, meaning you occasionally get some unwarranted flack,” Wall said.

“It does create more pressure, there’s no doubt about it but that’s not unhealthy. Having that spotlight only reinforces the importance of trying to ensure any mistakes made are never felt by the customer.”

Individuality matters

From keeping customers happy to standing out from the crowd, Wall highlighted why he thought the pub remains unique in the market.

He said: “What can stand us apart is having our unique character and it does help that Brendan [Padfield, owner of the Unruly Pig] is one of a kind. That individuality matters.”

This is something the chef-patron emphasised when offering advice to fellow gastropub operators was to find that USP.

He said: “Find your identity, be bold and reinforce it. Don’t be afraid to stick your head above the parapet.

“You’ve got to do something people can identify with as your brand and character, whatever that might be.

“Sometimes that risk might not pay off in the early stages and we can all question what we are doing when we see empty seats but you’ve got to keep plugging away at it.”

“Don’t give up. We can all have setbacks."

General manager Ha echoed Wall’s comments on keeping things different, even when it may be the more challenging option.

“Make sure you have the key differentiator. It’s so easy to be sucked into doing the same as everyone else,” Ha added.

Learning from experiences and a thirst for constant improvement is vital, according to the chef-patron.


Wall said: “Don’t give up. We can all have setbacks, everybody suffers setbacks and you’ve got to have slippery shoulders in this game.

“We made the [Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs] list in our first year, after we opened and had the fire, then we dropped out for a while and it was a blow.

“It hurt, it was difficult and we weren’t sure we would get back on the list again. We would see people get their invites [to the event] on social media and ours never came.

“It was a little bit of a heart break, but you’ve got to keep plugging away, keep evaluating what you do.”

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