'It's a very proud moment' says Michelin Star Pea Porridge owner
- Credit: Archant
With the devastation the pandemic has brought to the hospitality industry over the past year, one Suffolk restaurant has reason to celebrate after being awarded the county’s first Michelin Star in 40 years.
Pea Porridge in Bury St Edmunds has achieved the prestigious culinary accolade 10 years after being given the Michelin Bib Gourmand award.
“It’s totally amazing – it's not quite sunk in just yet to be honest. It’s a very proud moment, and something I didn’t expect,” says owner Justin Sharp, who runs the restaurant with his wife Jurga.
“Michelin spoke to me Friday last week, asking if I could join in a live presentation ceremony. I asked why, but they were keeping their cards close to their chest. They then sent over an email with all of the Zoom log-in details, explaining what to wear.
“As it’s been a decade to the week that we won the coveted Bib Gourmand award, I thought they wanted to talk to me about that, and the 10 years of that. In my mind, that’s what I was geared up for - but it was one better. It’s just totally surreal.”
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While his eatery is the only Michelin Starred restaurant currently in Suffolk, Justin certainly hasn’t let the win go to his head, and chalks his success up to his no-frills, honest cuisine.
“Every restaurant is individual in its own right, and I certainly wouldn’t say we’re better than anyone else. There’s lots of us doing our own thing here in Bury and we all get on well together – there’s no real rivalry. We’re always talking about menu ideas, or we go for a coffee whenever we can. It’s a nice vibe in the Bury culinary scene and I’m glad to be flying the flag for it.
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“What we do here and how we go about our daily life is different to what a lot of people think the Michelin remit is.”
You won’t find fancy linen table cloths at Pea Porridge, or 10 different types of hand soap in the bathroom. Justin prefers to let his food do the talking – and the results have undoubtedly spoken volumes.
“We’re very informal and rustic. There’s no real technique with gadgetry, we’re not flash or pretty with our plating up techniques - we focus purely on the produce and the flavour.”
And this hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Michelin Guide, with Justin’s ethos paying off in the best way possible.
Last year, Pea Porridge had a total menu overhaul by introducing Moorish-inspired cuisine to its offering – something that has certainly gone down a storm during lockdown.
“When we first reopened, we changed tack and came back with a new emphasis and focus. We changed our style, and embraced the flavours and ingredients that are commonly found in places like Morrocco, the Middle East and Sicily. With a lot of hard work, effort and graft, we managed to create something really special and unique.”
With a focus on more international fare, Justin and his team certainly haven’t abandoned their Suffolk roots, and strive to champion local suppliers by utilising their ingredients wherever they can within the menu.
“We’re a small business, but we love working with like-minded business of a similar size who are hands on and share the same passions as we do. Working with these local suppliers is both a pleasure and a joy.”
Regional ingredients include fish sourced locally from Suffolk’s coastline via A Passion for Seafood, game and meats from Lavenham Butchers and cheese from St Jude.
“Whatever we can use, and whatever catches our eye, we’ll be on it straight away. That’s how we’ve always worked. Suffolk’s cheese in particular is world-class, and would stand up on any cheeseboard.”
So, what does the future hold?
“It’s hard to think too far into the future, but as soon as we can open, we’ll be open, and continuing to do what we do. We’re not going to change anything - why would we? We’ve gotten to where we are with what we do. We’ve got a fantastic customer base and if we start changing things, it would take away the unique aspect of what we are here.”
With Justin’s passion for local food helping shine a spotlight on Suffolk, what does a Michelin Star mean for not just his business, but the county as a whole?
“It’s just amazing for Suffolk. We hope it will attract people to Bury St Edmunds who might not have come here before, to come eat with us and the other restaurants in the area, and to make a weekend of it. The future is bright for us, the future is bright for Bury St Edmunds and also the county as a whole. I can only see positives moving forwards, and we definitely need some of those at the moment.”