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Transcript of eating out eating out · PDF file Blackbirds at Woodditton was recently closed for eighteen...

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    The Three Blackbirds telephone 01638 731100 36 Ditton Green Woodditton Newmarket CB8 9SQ

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    It is hard to imagine that The Three Blackbirds at Woodditton was recently closed for eighteen months, so strongly is it now back on the map. The very essence of a village pub, in style and substance, sitting, as it has done since 1642, plumb in the centre of Woodditton, this is just the sort of place whose days are supposed to be numbered yet it prospers like never before.

    Passing through the trim little flint walled garden, which is busy with lunchers when the better days come, you enter by the central door and turn left for the pub. There’ll you find a cosy oak-beamed bar, log fire burning, with real ales, pork pies, pickled eggs, shove ha’penny tables and real LOCALS, drinking beer and talking to each other. Imagine!

    Turn right and you pass into a seventy cover restaurant arranged over a meandering ground floor and mezzanine (The Gun Room), providing many varied options for dining from intimate tête a têtes, to grander private hire parties, without one impinging on the other.

    There’s a lunch and a dinner menu that is refreshed frequently, usually supported by two or three really interesting daily specials. The overall style is classic gastro pub, with an occasional novel twist but there is a real local pub side to what they do so everything is available from a pork pie and a pint or a sandwich, all the way up to a gastronomic celebration. And for many locals it’s their canteen where they can get a reliable and affordable lunch or supper as an alternative to cooking at home. For these regulars there are certain stalwarts of both menus that can generally be relied upon to be available. I’m a sucker for their take on mussels that they serve in chilli, lime, green curry and coconut milk; the Newmarket burger is as good as you’d get anywhere; they do a really good standard fish and chips (though theirs comes with

    crushed minted peas); and I have a friend who comes down for the sales, often with his teenage son, who gives us no peace until we’ve taken him for their slow cooked pork belly. Chef Stephan Andrews does not really promote a signature dish, but if he did, the pork belly might well be it. More importantly; all of these standards are priced to attract regular customers (main dishes start at a tenner).

    Their wine lists are comprehensive, affordable and really well thought out. They comprise three sections of white, divided into France, Italy & Spain and the New World with only one wine in each section priced at over £30. There is a similar pricing policy for reds which are divided into three French regions, Italy & Spain and the New World. Champagnes and fizzy wines go from very affordable to a celebration Dom Perignon (well they are the nearest good restaurant to Newmarket). And importantly they offer a wide range of choices in wines by the glass. Which brings me to dinner.

    I don’t think I have ever invited the waiting staff to select the wine on my behalf – not that they wouldn’t always make a better job of it, it’s perhaps more the case that a little knowledge and a lot of ego go a very long way – but as a special treat to me, dining on behalf of CB8, I was placed in the very competent hands of General Manager Laura Gaveika, who tailored the wine choices to the dishes prepared by Stephan. I’ve got to say it presented something of an epiphany for me. If you’re interested in finding out about wines and challenging your fixed ideas about what’s right and what you like, it’s a brave way to go. I’ll be doing it again.

    With an entrée of pan seared scallops sat on a sweet potato puree she brought a Piquepoul de Pinet. If you have not previously come across this little gem of

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    a wine, you are not alone. This well kept secret of the Languedoc, is, as its name implies (literally ‘lip-stinger’) full of citrus freshness and acidity which complements perfectly the natural sweetness of scallops, particularly here, where they have created such a sweet dish of them.

    Then a robust medoc to accompany pan fried pigeon breast on an edible bird’s nest. The novel twist here was a goat’s cheese and lavender mousse. This fragrant diversion will not be to everybody’s taste and I could not quite adjust to the idea myself – I found myself anticipating the tangy contrast of crème fraiche, rather than the melodious flowery parfum that was actually delivered. But we must applaud the chef, pigeon needs this sort of originality. And besides, it’s Spring.

    A spicy, full of flavour Tempranillo came next alongside roasted pork tenderloin, bubble and squeak, and wild mushroom and Madeira sauce - a creamy comforting dish made interesting by the aromatic zing of slow cooked red peppercorns. But I was favoured by the dish of the day; end of season venison loin roasted in espresso and liquorice with fondant potatoes, wilted spinach and a rich berry jus. Again, it may not suit everyone, but it did me. I can’t understand why venison isn’t universally popular. It’s much leaner than beef and so much more disposable to taking a strong marinade, or sitting in a rich fruit jus, but will work equally well as a straight roast. This was a great piece of meat in really talented hands. Recommended.

    Now, on a personal level, two courses like that are something more than an ample sufficiency for me, so, it was only in the name of research and the need to see a project through that we went to the third level. It comprised a lemon tart with a lovely dollop of homemade rhubarb jam, and

    a gently warmed chocolate brownie with vanilla ice-cream together with two delicate little glasses of Montbazillac – I have always had a little trepidation over pudding wines, since the time I took a potential client for lunch and suggested having one, ‘don’t you fancy something sweet, cold and heavy to go with this?’ I asked, whereupon she

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    slid her hand across the table to mine and said, ‘oh just like me you mean?’ Laura’s glasses, were, by contrast, absolutely appropriate and in the right proportions. This is a prospering little place. I don’t recall ever going there since it’s re-opened, as you did in the old days, to find yourself alone in the restaurant. This quiet Tuesday

    night in Winter still attracted a busy pub and six tables of diners. And though it has all the attractiveness of a village local, it exudes the air of a professional establishment. There is something about the way that the chef adds ingenious touches to classic dishes; the confidence with which they use mismatching crockery

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    and quirky furniture; the assuredness of the staff, that tells you they’ve been there before and they know what they’re doing.

    If, like me, you went and had a look at the Three Blackbirds when it was for sale, you can only stand in wonder at the feat of renovation that they have pulled off. If you are a local, it probably felt like a long time without the village pub, but now that it’s back, it’s as if it’s never been away. Long may it stay that way.

    The Three Blackbirds 36 Ditton Green Woodditton Newmarket Suffolk CB8 9SQ

    Telephone 01638 731100

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    For a special celebration book the private dining room