Tuesday, 11 August 2009
The Anchor, Walberswick, Suffolk
One of the main reasons we decided to spend a long weekend in Suffolk was the Anchor at Walberswick. We’d heard about their fabulous range of wines by the glass and impressive cooking and when we visited their website couldn’t click on the “book here” button quickly enough. It also had the seal of approval from the queen of Gastro Pub endorsements - Diana Henry.
We spent the day in Southwold enjoying Adnams beer, sand dunes, beach huts, idyllic sunshine and an impressive picnic of squid, octopus and smoked sprats bought from The Black Olive (which is on the Independent’s top 50 list). Before heading back to our BnB to get changed out of shorts and into something more suitable for dinner, we headed down to the estuary and caught the ferry across to Walberswick. Simon Barnes, Times columnist extraordinare and Suffolk evangelist, claims the short hop across the river is one of Suffolk’s most impressive features and we find it hard to disagree. Walberswick is a stunning village nestled into the nook between estuary and sand dunes. It’s got a heavenly feel and more than lives up to the charm of its name.
On our way back we popped into the fishing huts that cling to the side of the estuary and were wowed by the charm and kindness of the fishermen. Our favourite shack sported some unusual fish, on top of the usual suspects such as garfish and eel. It was 5pm as we left and the queues of cars gathering to collect their fish and chips was already developing. Our appetites were well and truly whet.
So we arrived at the Anchor, hoping for something to rave about. We had imagined a range of fishy specials, plucked from the day boats and served with panache. But what we got was far more prosaic and, in short, disappointing.
More often than not, I want to eat everything on the menu. But I found myself reduced to ordering fish soup followed by haddock and chips. Cowie opted for scallops followed by cod, in a repeat of the previous night. Other options on the menu included beef bourguignon and lamb stew. It seemed very odd given that we were in the middle of summer and by the sea. Given the amazing array of fish we’d seen 2 hours earlier, only 300 yards from the restaurant, we were very disappointed.
My fish soup was fine. But the rouille was underpowered. The bowl would have benefited from an injection of fish flesh, or a couple of crab claws. Meanwhile Cowie’s scallops with bacon were well cooked but nothing you couldn’t do at home after a long day at work. Both starters lacked imagination.
Where the starters failed to get out of third gear, their excellent range of wines by the glass succeeded. A fresh and expressive Gewürztraminer added life to my fish soup and a glass of fine Macon worked well with Cowie’s scallops.
My deep fried haddock with jalapeño tartare sauce and chips was poor. Whilst the fish itself was flaky, the batter had been overdone so it was brittle and dark mahogany rather than golden and light. The chips weren’t crispy and clagged. And the jalapeño tartare sauce lacked heat. I applaud the imagination, but would have preferred either a jalapeño sauce, or a tartare sauce, rather than a confused hybrid. Compared to our fish and chips the next day from Aldeburgh's temple to all things battered, this was poor.
Cowie’s baked cod was a lovely piece of fish that was beyond reproach. We just wish there had been a way not to order cod. That garfish from the other side of the estuary would have been interesting…
It pains me to write a disappointing piece about the Anchor because I really want to love it. It’s got so much going for it. Owners, Mark and Sophie Dorber, have a stellar reputation as beer guru and cook respectively. Mark’s recently set up a “beer academy” at the Anchor and is doing a fine job with on the booze front. And their collaboration with Food Safari is inspired. But as people have commented on Trip Advisor, the experience doesn’t live up to the hype which makes me think our underwhelming experience wasn’t a one off. The location is great, the wine list and range of beers are fabulous, their website is stunning and their philosophy is spot on. But their food lacks creativity and precision and, ultimately, is the anchor that is holding them back from being a roaring success.