The Anchor, Walberswick
It is rare to find an establishment that cannot be faulted in any point, no matter how exacting one’s standards are – yet that is what we were overjoyed to find in The Anchor, in the long and pretty village of Walberswick, on the beautiful Suffolk coast not far from Aldeburgh and popular Southwold.
There has been an inn on the site of The Anchor for centuries, but the current building, intended as a hotel, dates from the 1920s. It is a warm and welcoming building – comprising many different, small rooms and bars, some with log fires blazing away, one painted an enveloping red, another a radiant peacock blue with colourful artwork on the walls and dark wooden furniture. The area in which we were seated featured panelled walls in an almost greeny beigey colour, distressed-looking wooden floorboards, wall lamps casting welcoming glows on the panelling, and bare wooden tables and chairs with comfortably padded seats. Fresh flowers and a pillar candle on each table create an elegant but cosy ambience – and, refreshingly, oh how refreshingly, there is no piped popular music booming out its intrusive beats. Owner Mark, wife Sophie and their daughter (as mature, self-assured, friendly and confident a teenager as one could hope to meet) welcome one very warmly indeed, offer drinks and are on hand to answer any questions that one might have. Other inviting and pleasing touches include paintings of local scenes on the walls and a vase of roses on one of the counters. Our table looked out over a courtyard garden, with tables and benches placed out for any brave enough to essay the unpredictable British weather.
Mark brought us a bottle of mineral water – sparkling, which I don’t usually drink, but so gently effervescent that I actually found it immensely refreshing and palatable, along with the menus. Here, one finds a sensibly-lengthed menu, with five starters, three different oyster options under a special oyster section, seven mains – from smoked haddock to a tempting-sounding veal carbonnade, four good choices for children, and some light bites (nuts, olives, bacon and cheese potato wedges and suchlike).
Bread came – gorgeously chewy, soft-crumbed bread with a strong salted flavour; dangerously moreish and with creamy salted butter (impressively, made by Sophie) – as well as a glass of champagne for me, freshly squeezed orange juice for Mr Marshall-Luck and a delicious local apple juice for young Tristan.
I had my eyes on the halloumi fries for a first course, and knew as soon as they were brought that I had made the right choice – slightly molten, chewy, salty cheese on the inside, and the lightest, perfect crunchy batter on the outside. They were accompanied by a salad with a salad dressing that should be bottled and sold – ever so light and cleansing. That the salad included slivers of avocado merely increased the delight. A superb dish.
Husband Rupert had a seafood platter as a starter; a delicately flavoured oyster, exquisite crab tartlets (with almost meltingly light pastry) and halibut cheek (complemented by a sauce which was piquantly-enough flavoured to make an individual statement, but not so much so as to overpower the fish) were the ‘stand-out’ items, but everything on the plate was beautifully prepared and presented.
And when we were brought the most unusual and exquisite beer to try with our starters, I couldn’t refrain from exclaiming, with a silly Cheshire-cat grin, how much I enjoy reviewing places like this. The beer in question – the Belgian St Bernardus Wit – features coriander and orange peel, in a very pale-coloured beer with a light cloudy-golden hue. There is a good strong nose of spice, with a little citrus and hops. The taste of this wheat beer is both light and high but also extremely fully-flavoured – the coriander and orange are definitely discernible, as well as a very pleasant floral element and a touch of honey. In fact, The Anchor’s beer list is ridiculously good (four A4 sides, covering beers from Austria and England to the Czech Republic and USA, with, to my utter delight a special section on Trappist and Abbey beers).
The wine list is equally good, with wines broken down by types (e.g. aromatic whites, Chardonnays, French country, “Spicy & Esoteric” reds – meaning the wonderful Chateau Musar for one, or Pinot Noir & Burgundy) – and a fabulous range of wine styles and prices. There are also sherries and dessert wines.
Despite the fact that the natural wine pairing for fish would be a white, or a lighter-bodied red, we nevertheless told of our preference for a strong, spicy, dark, full-bodied red, and were brought a Ridge Geyserville 2010. This outstanding wine has a deep purple colour with ruby hues at the edges and a full, rich, mature nose of plums and cherries, with a hint of tamarind and liquorice. With 68% Zinfandel, 20% Carignane and 12% Petite Sirah grapes from California, on the palate it has the best of all of those grape varieties, with an immediate soft fruitiness of plums, cherries and blackberries which then open out into an all-pervading burst of smoke, oak and ash. There is a good dose of spice, although nothing unbalanced or overwhelming, and the smooth taste leads to a long, lingering and dry finish. It is a forthcoming, honest and immediate wine that rewards one from the first sniff, all the way through to after the very final sip. Extremely impressive.
My husband’s steak was a superb example of its kind (and Mr Marshall-Luck is immensely fussy about his steak). It had a slightly smoky flavour, and the meat was rather drier than one usually finds – but this is by no means a bad thing, as it means that the taste is very clean and not masked by any hint of over-fattiness. The fat that was present was just enough to enhance the flavour and to provide a leavening of the texture. The accompanying sauce lent a piquancy to the whole, and the hand-cut chips were also admirable – fluffy and light on the inside, with a crispy skin: certainly a very sophisticated addition to the dish.
I had chosen the lemon sole – this was presented, without the head, as a whole fish, in brown caper butter and with new potatoes. The fish itself – fresh off a boat from Southwold – was one of the best examples I have tasted this side of Cornwall – gloriously fresh, beautifully tender and yet wonderfully flavoursome. The butter worked extremely well, lending its salty taste. It was a canny move that has paid off well for The Anchor to avail itself of the services of a Rick Stein-trained chef. The new potatoes were rather firmer than I would usually choose to have them, but they were by no means too hard, and had a gently sweet flavour; while the curly kale that provided the third element of the dish was gloriously salty and worked brilliantly with both the fish and the potatoes. On the whole, this was a dish that could not be faulted in any way.
For dessert I failed to resist the chocolate fondant – a dish that one often finds in restaurants, but rarely done as well as here – clearly, it had been made with top quality chocolate, for it wasn’t too sweet, as they can often be, nor was the middle too molten (another regular pitfall), but this gently oozed out of an otherwise firm pudding, with a good solid exterior. Salted caramel ice-cream (from a local producer) was the perfect accompaniment – the sole drawback to its gloriously creamy, rich, salty flavour being that Tristan, having eaten his father’s ice-cream, now started on mine – but eagle-eyed Mark, noticing my loss of ice-cream, kindly ordered Tristan his own portion!
Mr Marshall-Luck’s Danish apple and cinnamon cake (accompanied by vanilla ice-cream, snaffled by the Young Master) was delicious – the flavours were beautifully balanced, the texture just substantial enough to contribute to the comforting impression of the dessert, and the chunks of apple added an excellently-judged dimension. The whole was finely complemented by the butterscotch sauce – which was not overpowering, but deliciously creamy and smooth.
We had been brought some Black Chocolate Stout from Cerveza to taste with the desserts, and this worked perfectly. A dark brown colour, and with a nose of malt, it has a taste of dark malt and hops, but also with a strong coffee and chocolate flavour; it works exceedingly well with chocolate in particular, as the name would imply.
One further delight was the gift of a bottle of their own Harvest Ale to take home at the end of the meal – and this truly was one of the finest ales I have ever tasted – a perfect balance of bitter and of a beguiling underlying sweetness; with fruit and hops in abundance. Utterly delicious and well-presented as well: an extremely fine ale.
All the food at The Anchor that can be locally sourced is – especially the fish and all the meat, as well as plenty of excellent vegetables. Any items that they feel are better from abroad are sourced from other countries, such as France or Spain (the olive oil, for example) – which I find an admirable policy – using local wherever possible, but not eschewing imports in the search for the very finest ingredients. It cannot be doubted that the food at The Anchor is of an exceptionally high standard; and yet this fabulous food comes in the warm and welcoming guise of a pub, where one would be as at home with a half a pint, as with a three-course meal. Service is faultless and atmosphere and ambience are of the glowing kind. And those halloumi fries! And exquisitely-cooked sole and steak! And that beer list-to-die for….! I am now very much hoping to head back to review their rooms as well, which I have no doubt will be as fine as everything else at The Anchor. I look forward to reporting back soon, and, in the meantime, I commend this pub to you all with the highest possible acclamation.
Em Marshall-Luck is QR’s Food and Wine Critic