Muddy Eats: The Duke’s Head, Somerleyton, Suffolk
With a small, but perfectly formed menu using locally-sourced products, an idyllic country estate setting and roaring fires in winter and glorious grounds in summer, The Duke's Head might just be the perfect country pub.
Tucked away off a teeny country road that leads to one of the prettiest and poshest villages in Suffolk, Somerleyton, (it has it’s own marina, don’t cha know!), this red brick pub (part of The Somerleyton Estate) is a hidden gem. The estate is investing lots of money in the area with the Fritton Lake Private Holiday Club and its two pubs, The Fritton Arms and The Duke’s Head benefitting from all the innovation. The Duke’s head has been run by Tara Smyth and chef James Santillo since March 2018 and is known locally for its seasonal and flavour-filled menu. The pub still retains its original historic country charm with a bare-boards bar, exposed brick walls, mis-matched country furniture, painted panelling and a woodburner and welcomes post-walk muddy wellies and dogs.
It’s a bit of a Tardis inside with several different dining areas and beer gardens with countryside views over the marshes and River Waveney out the back. The main bar area is cosy and unpretentious, and most importantly on the freezing January day that we visit, warm thanks to the roaring wood burner, which also heats up the adjacent dining area with its own bar that would be perfect for a private lunch/event.
There’s also a light, bright area towards the back of the pub with access to a light-flooded summer conservatory. The decor is shabby chic throughout, which makes for a lovely relaxed vibe.
With all these different areas, plus that lovely summer room and sweeping lawns The Duke’s Head manages to be both a winter warmer and a summer stunner, so you can visit anytime of year and make the most of it. Kids and dogs are very welcome and there’s plenty of space for them to stretch their legs, as well as many country walks that start directly from the pub’s front door when you need to exercise off the gourmet grub.
What we love about this pub is its loyalty to the local area. Everywhere possible local produce is used, including the four local ales on tap at the bar – Adnam’s Ghostship, Woodforde’s Wherry, Green Jack Brewery’s Trawlerboys and Bull of the Wood’s Inca Gold. If the amber nectar isn’t your tipple of choice, there’s plenty of other options to whet your whistle including a comprehensive wine list (not all from Suffolk, don’t worry!) and plenty of local and world gins.
Onto the food, at last! And you’ve probably already guessed it, yep it’s pretty much all locally-sourced. This is not just average pub grub. You won’t find any bog standard fish and chips and basic burgers here. The Duke’s Head is a gastropub, with the food being the main reason you’d go out of your way to come here. Being a random Friday in January, we opted for a shared starter (we still have those Xmas lbs to shift you see) of bread and butter. It wasn’t your average bread though, but black treacle bread with homemade butter. And it was delicious.
Other starters include: whipped cod’s roe, smoked paprika crisps; scotch egg, mustard mayonnaise; jerk pigeon skewer, date ketchup; and Jerusalem artichoke soup, Binham blue, kalettes, chestnuts. Told you it wasn’t your average pub food!
As a vegetarian some gastropubs can be extremely disappointing, serving up barely-thought-about and tasteless risottos. But, The Duke’s Head surpassed my expectations with two tempting options, and I eventually plumped for the herb-roast celeriac, truffled mushroom sauce and purple sprouting broccoli. Any chef that can make a celeriac taste as good as that one did is a genius in my book.
As this pub is a stone’s throw from the Norfolk border, Muddy’s Norfolk Editor Helen joined me for the feast and fortunately for my readers eats meat, so could confirm that the chop and loin of Texel lamb, creamed celeriac and lamb gravy was just as delectable and perfectly cooked as my veggie number. Even the healthy-looking side of colcannon (an Irish dish of cabbage and mash – I had to look it up!) was moreish. If you’re after something a little less full-on, there is a burger too, although make sure you’re hungry…
Talking of being hungry. How about indulging in their feasting menu with sharing options like Rib of Belted Galloway beef, house butter, chips, Clinks Farm leaves and Pig’s head for two, apple ketchup, trivet potatoes, bashed swede. Henry VIII eat your heart out!
At the bottom of the menu you’ll find an impressive list of where your food has come from, so if you’re interested in food mileage and reducing your carbon footprint and your reliance on produce that has come from overseas, you will love this place.
We didn’t have space for a pudding (and were trying to be good), but the list really did its best to tempt us to break out January diets with the Sticky Toffee Pudding, Jamaican 75% chocolate mousse and Neal’s Yard cheese board being the hardest to resist. Oh well, there’s always next time.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Anyone who loves a good pub classic with no frills, but wants something more interesting and special to eat than your usual pub food. It’s a perfect place to lunch or dine if you’re staying at Fritton Lake Retreats or an idyllic spot to stop at on the way or way back from the Suffolk coast. Combine a visit here with a snoop around Somerleyton Hall in the summer too.
Not for: Those looking for a fancy dining experience or a glam vibe. This is a muddy wellies rather than a muddy stilettos kind of place – a truly lovely traditional country pub through and through. If you’re after a constantly changing menu, then this isn’t the place to come to over and over. Menus change seasonally, but because of the focus on local produce a lot of tried-and-tested and successful dishes remain the same.
£££: Well priced, considering the quality of the food and the commitment to buying from local producers. Starters come in at around £6.50 a pop, and the most expensive mains are £18 with the exception of the sharing feasting platters that are around £28 for two people. Desserts vary from £4 for Aldeburgh Ice Cream up to £7.50 for that aforementioned chocolate mousse. The children’s menu, which includes Flounder fish finger, chips & garden peas and The Duke’s cheese burger & chips are all priced at £6.50.
The Duke’s Head, Slugs Ln, Somerleyton, Lowestoft, NR32 5QR