The Peacock Inn, Chelsworth, is a beautiful 14th century timber-framed inn that reopened in June 2021 under new ownership. Truly at the heart of the community, The Peacock Inn offers something for everyone – from 2 AA rosette gastronomic delights to rooms and even a self-catering cottage. Utterly idyllic, this is the perfect place to stop for a drink, a meal, or even as a getaway for a night or two. Samantha Mattocks headed to Suffolk to find out more.
The first thing that strikes you about The Peacock Inn is the tranquillity. The building alone is beautiful, Grade II listed, with an enticing beer garden to one side. The Inn, positioned just opposite the River Brett with its 18th century redbrick bridge, is surrounded by ancient trees and sits on the main road from Lavenham to Bildeston. This is an incredibly picturesque part of Suffolk, and the jewel in Chelsworth’s crown is undoubtedly The Peacock Inn.
As you enter the building, a warm welcome from The Peacock team greets you. This is a young, vibrant team, full of energy and passion for not only what they do, but for The Peacock Inn and all that it represents. Downstairs is a bar area and a snug – where the elder men in the village come once a week to sit and catch up – a dining area, plus a function room that can be used for private events and business meetings; when I visit, a happy hen do is taking place there!
The new owners, Olly and Vickii Sloboda, who own a home locally and having visited for a drink, they fell in love with the Inn and the village. When they later discovered the much-loved building was up for sale, they jumped at the chance to become the new owners. While they have never owned a pub before, they fell in love with the romance of it all; who wouldn’t? And that romance is evident everywhere you look inside The Peacock.
The building has been lovingly restored, with many of the original features and charm remaining. There are smooth flagstone floors in the bar area and if you are taller than 5’5”, you need to duck as you walk from the bar through to the dining room, and then out to the beer garden. Peacocks of different looks and ages adorn the walls, yet the theme is subtle. There is no doubt that the building has had an elegant refurbishment, one that fits in with its surroundings, with a sympathetic modernity sitting alongside the wonderful character of the 700-year-old building.
Upstairs are four bedrooms – all wonky floors, beams, and low ceilings, with two shared bathrooms plus a toilet – and outside are three ensuite garden rooms. An added bonus is River View Cottage next door, a wonderful addition to The Peacock’s offerings. With an ensuite double plus a twin room and separate bathroom upstairs, as well as a single sofa bed downstairs, there is also an outdoor area complete with a wildflower garden, perfect for enjoying an early morning cuppa or a gin and tonic later in the day! River View Cottage offers the perfect escape with family and friends and while the kitchen has all you need, and more, to self-cater, the beauty is that if you don’t want to cook, then Head Chef, Michelin trained Sam Clover, and his team are next door ready to cook for you; and yes, that can include breakfast!
As mentioned, the team is young and keen. Restaurant Manager Jack Butler has a strong team around him who are passionate about all that The Peacock has to offer. In the kitchen is Sam, who has been Head Chef since last April and who has previously worked at The Ledbury and Pied à Terre in London as well as The Orwell Hotel in Felixstowe. Alongside him is Sous Chef Ed Jarvis, who worked at The Hadleigh Ram, among other places, and chef de partie Elliot Rendall. Between them, they have created a menu that is perfect for both the setting and the season, with Sam stressing that everyone in the brigade has a chance to get a dish on the menu. One dish that always stays, however, is Sam’s glazed lemon tart, served with Greek yoghurt ice cream. “That is my iconic dish,” laughs Sam. “I love it so much! Every chef has a signature tart, and this is mine.”
With summer now upon us, Sam will spend more time cooking outside. With the huge kerb appeal The Peacock Inn offers, it is little wonder that the team want to make the most of the wonderful outdoor space, starting at the end of June with the Chelsworth Open Gardens. As well as an outside bar, The Peacock will offer a range of ‘on the go’ food cooked over a traditional barbeque. From then on, until the end of summer, Sam will cook in the garden every Sunday while Ed leads the stoves inside. An al fresco menu will be introduced in the peak of summer, offering The Peacock’s take on Suffolk tapas, enabling guests to enjoy relaxing with friends in the garden with small plates and drinks, rather than a full meal.
Once the Open Gardens have taken place on 26 June, The Peacock kitchens will offer a reduced Sunday roast indoors, instead showcasing their cooking outside for nine weeks, with a different theme each weekend, such as pizza, barbeque, cocktails, vegetarian, and fish. There will also be a cocktail event on the last Sunday of August. Playing at the Open Gardens event and at selected Sundays throughout summer are The Billy Lund Trio. “They are a jazz band, and The Peacock has a long history of jazz,” says General Manager Thomas Moore, who prefers to let Jack and Sam take the lead with their respective teams. “Over the years, many jazz bands have played here, and the rumour is that Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London would only approve bands if they had played at The Peacock.” Whether this was a one-off moment or a regular occurrence, it all adds to the romance of The Peacock Inn and its story.
The whole team was thrilled when earlier this year, they received two coveted AA rosettes for their food. Sam says: “Everything we serve here is as local as it can be, and we are driven by the seasons. We are excited to bring in new flavours regularly – such as asparagus, and then strawberries – the latter being paired with mint to make a lovely fresh and summery pannacotta dish.
“Something that is very important to me is that the team has a good work-life balance. The Peacock is closed on a Monday and the team works four days each week – not like the chef life so many of us have known in the past where you work all hours. I want my team to have a happy life and enjoy coming to work. We are a strong team in the kitchen, and I think that shows through the food we send out.”
During the week, a table d’hote menu is on offer, with two courses for £21 and three for £27, with the à la carte menu available both during the week and on Saturday. From the table d’hote menu, dishes include cured chalk stream trout with walnut rye bread, asparagus salad and koji mayo, and Norfolk black leg chicken with creamy mash, asparagus, peas and broad beans, both of which are absolutely delicious. Among the dessert highlights is spiced pineapple carpaccio, coconut mousse and coriander, a delectable and fresh dessert that was a real winner.
Looking to the à la carte, the standout starter is the roasted quail with lemon thyme, hen of the woods, mushroom butter, rye grain and curly endive, so full of flavour and luxury. Another stand out was the Pipers farm Suffolk lamb rump with wild fennel, olive, saffron potato terrine, roasted Suffolk carrots and lamb neck boudin. Several of the dishes on the menu contained ancient grains, but in an understated way, making the diner curious to try more. I must also mention the battered plaice, mushy garden peas, koji tartar sauce, and triple cooked chips – this dish looked amazing when it went out, and we could hear the ‘crunch’ around the restaurant as people cut into the batter, it was that crisp! As well as the iconic lemon tart, so full of flavour with its lightly brûléed top, the hot Pump Street dark chocolate fondant, with a malted barley custard, was a delight, as was the strawberry pannacotta dish, complete with strawberry jelly and meringue.
There is a separate vegetarian/vegan menu, full of choice, with fresh pickled vegetable salad with Cumberland gel and walnut rye bread or asparagus tart with citrus koji mayo, radishes and nasturtium oil available among the starters. Mains include a roasted Suffolk carrots, citrus bulgur wheat, goats curd, spinach and watercress dish, or roasted cauliflower with rye cooked in ale, spinach, watercress, and a cauliflower and blue cheese purée.
Bar snacks are also available, including caramelised onion and cheddar rarebit scone – served with pickles and fruit chutney on the table d’hôte menu – also something of a signature Peacock dish – and the new Suffolk tapas menu, the full details of which are still under wraps but are sure to be delicious. The food is a perfect marriage of invention and tradition, with old flavours tweaked for a 21st century palate.
For those lucky enough to stay, the breakfast is hearty and tasty, including Sam’s homemade sourdough, and it will certainly set you up for the day. The Peacock sits on the South Suffolk Cycle Route, making it a perfect stopover. And there is a great choice of accommodation, too, and The Peacock has just been awarded four AA Silver Stars for their rooms. The upstairs double rooms each have their own sink, and each room is tastefully decorated and in keeping with the building. Whether booking with a group of family or friends who want to stay together or travelling alone, these rooms start from £70 with breakfast extra. Outside are three garden rooms, all dog-friendly, starting from £100 per room.
For those wanting something more private and more spacious, River View Cottage offers all you could wish for. With the stunning river vista, River Cottage comfortably sleeps five, and has all the luxuries you could need. The sun terrace is separate from the Inn’s garden with its old brick wall and on a sunny day, there is nowhere better to sit and relax. Available for a minimum two-night stay, prices start from £200 and can be booked on a self-catering or full board basis.
Nearby are so many hidden treasures of Suffolk to enjoy, from Hollow Trees Farm in Semer, where we stocked up with goodies for the fridge and tomato plants, to Lavenham just down the road, full of its own ancient history. Stowmarket, Sudbury, and Needham Market are all just a short drive away, making The Peacock an ideal base from where to explore the area – before returning for a delicious meal and drinks that include local gins, beers, ciders plus a great wine list.
Community remains key, however. “When the Inn reopened, we first held a villagers-only day,” explains Thomas. “They were all given a special wooden card with The Peacock logo on, entitling them to 10% off drinks and food. We want to support the community as much as they support us.” And that community support is evident through the number of locals popping in for drinks and dinner with friends. Indeed, because of the growth of The Peacock, and their longer-term ambitions, Thomas adds they are always on the look-out for people to join their exceptional teams, both Front of House and on the stoves.
At its heart, The Peacock is a humble village pub, one that is full of character and history. But it is also a destination venue that draws people to the area, celebrating all that is wonderful about this unspoilt part of the world. And that is something very special indeed.
• Find out more, including direct booking for rooms and tables, at www.thepeacockchelsworth.com