Review: The Bull Freehouse, Troston - 'Excellent food, produced with passion, in an idyllic country pub'
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Our food reviewer Mark Heath and his wife Liz visited the new-look Bull Freehouse in Troston for a Friday lunch. Here's what they made of it...
The day has finally come, friends. We can venture out, faces covered, and boldly go where few have been since December - the inside of an eatery! Simple pleasures.
For our first meal out since the start of November, we chose the newly-refurbished and relaunched Bull Freehouse in Troston - and boy, were we glad we did.
The pub, in a tiny west Suffolk village, had been closed for three years before foodie friends Ben Davenport and Sam Darling, who boast a wealth of experience in the industry, took over last autumn.
The result is what I'd call a proper country pub - think exposed wooden beams, open fires and comfy seating - with a rapidly rising reputation for great food.
It was the latter we'd come to run the rule over, booking for a late Friday lunch, accompanied by our trusty hound - the Bull is dog friendly, too.
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We were seated in the bar area - the bar itself looks seriously impressive, if you're taking notes - and met by the waiting team, all with faces covered, which was good to see.
You know when you walk into a premises and feel straight away that it's your sort of place? That's exactly how I'd describe our first impression - welcoming, cosy, stylish and yet traditional, all at once. And first impressions are important.
To business. Having perused the Bull's extensive drinks offering - the pub also has a microbrewery, by the way - I ordered a pint of Amstel, with my better half going for a large (are there any other sizes?) Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
To start, I went for the crispy pig's cheeks, with Liz opting for the hoisin and sweet chilli crispy beef.
Our dishes came out incredibly quickly, and as introduction to the Bull's food, were very impressive.
My pig's cheeks were crispy without being crunchy and beautifully cooked, moist and falling apart to the touch. They sat atop a mustard, fennel and apple salad, with generous dollops of apple ketchup completing the plate.
Pork and apple is obviously a classic combo, and this was a great take on it - the sweet richness of the pork offset by the fresh crunch of the salad and the tang of the apple. Really good eating.
Across the table, Liz was similarly smitten. Her beef, served with an Asian salad and ketchup, was like the best takeaway version of the dish you've ever had, but refined and improved tenfold.
Again, the beef had just the right amount of crisp, was wonderfully tender and worked so well with the hoisin and sweet chilli sauce and salad. It's been almost a week since we visited, and not a day has passed without her making mention of it in reverential tones - which has to be a good thing.
A great start then, and on to the main event. With any mention of asparagus being one of my major food weaknesses, I eschewed my usual yearning for meat and plumped for the spring vegetable risotto.
Liz, meanwhile, went for the roast fillet of cod with triple-cooked chips.
Again, the food came out swiftly, and we dug in. My risotto, topped with the aforementioned English asparagus, and featuring wild garlic and lemon sorrel, was very much a departure from what I'd normally order.
But it was a delight. Well-cooked and not at all stodgy as so many risottos can be, it boasted an embarrassment of vegetable riches throughout, broccoli and courgette adding to the line-up, plus a lovely savoury crumb atop the dish, adding texture. Top notch stuff.
Liz's fish, too, continued the success story. A goodly, meaty chunk of cod, perfectly cooked and flaking apart on the fork, with an excellent helping of chips, crushed peas and tartar.
Not battering the cod, as is the usual pub approach, really made the dish feel a cut above the traditional offering.
And so, after months without it, the age-old discussion returned - could we accommodate a dessert? Would not doing so be a dereliction of duty to you, dear readers?
As is so often the case, we settled on a compromise. We'd bravely share a dark chocolate and amaretti ganache, with chocolate soil and white chocolate ice-cream. Heroic, I'm sure you'll agree.
First point of order - this dish looked sexy, which always feels more important in puddings, doesn't it?
It was delicious too - the ganache was absurdly rich and indulgent, the ice-cream melty and, umm, creamy, and the soil bringing texture.
Honestly, I don't think we could have managed one each! We duly polished a single helping off with aplomb though, and it served as a fine end to a cracking meal.
I've already mentioned the pub's microbrewery and fine drinks list, plus the very welcoming bar.
Well, I'm reliably informed that said bar hosts more than 120 spirits. Now there's a challenge... I also noticed the rare sight of Corona on tap, complete with a column of limes - in the sun, that's a tempting prospect indeed.
While the food is tremendous, and there are many other strings to the Bull's bow, Ben is keen to stress that, above all, it's a pub.
“We don’t want to be pretentious," he told our food editor. "We’re not a pub masquerading as a restaurant. If you want to come in for a pint and a packet of crisps or a Scotch egg, great. But if you want a bottle of Pommery and a five-course tasting menu, we can do that too.”
There is a small car park to the side of the Bull, if you can get in.
I'd imagine, as the pub's reputation grows, that could become a struggle!
The Bull is closed on Mondays, open for drinks only on Tuesdays and serves lunch and dinner Wednesday to Saturday (12noon to 4pm Sundays).
Our meal came to £62. For food of that quality, I think that's fair.
I loved my risotto, a welcome, tasty departure from what I'd normally order. Liz, meanwhile, is still banging on about that crispy beef.
Excellent food, produced with passion, in an idyllic country pub.
Our food reviews are always independent. They are the opinion of the reviewer based on their experience of the venue when they visited. The establishment is not aware of our visit, is not informed we intend to write a review and bills are paid by the reviewer. The choice of places reviewed is also independent and is not based on venues which do or do not advertise in our publications.