Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk is one of the many charming towns in this region with a welcoming vibe and much to offer a visiting foodie. This year sees the 1000 years since the founding of the Abbey by King Canute, and many special events are planned throughout 2022. We visited Bury St Edmunds to find out more about this market town, and to discover its foodie secrets within. Samantha Mattocks shares the nourish experience of this iconic town.
For many, Bury St Edmunds is the point where the A143 meets the A14 – to the smell of British Sugar. However, turn left and take time to explore this beautiful cathedral town, one that is rich in history and also full of hidden foodie treasures; more of them later.
For those who don’t know, the Anglo-Saxon town of Bury St Edmunds, originally called Beodericsworth, is named after the original Patron Saint of England and King of East Anglia – King Edmund. St Edmund’s Day is celebrated every year around the world on 20 November – the date of his death at the hands of Danish invaders in 869. This year, to tie in with the 1000 year celebrations, there will be a Spectacle of Light taking place at the Abbey – where the shrine of St Edmund was once one of the richest, and most famed, pilgrimage sites in England. It was in 1020 that King Canute had a stone church built for Edmund’s body and the first abbots arrived.
Now, the Abbey is in ruins although the magnificent Norman Tower still stands proud. Built between 1120 and 1148, the tower faced the great west door of the Abbey. One of the oldest, and most complete, Norman buildings in England, it is an iconic backdrop to one of the main roads through the town. The tower doors close every evening around sunset, shutting the 14 acres of peaceful gardens off from the bustle of nightlife.
With a thriving market held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, Bury St Edmunds remains an important cathedral town. There is a slower pace compared to Norwich and Ipswich, and this works well in Bury St Edmunds’ favour. There is a friendly feel and, in every shop, café and restaurant, you are welcomed warmly.
We stayed at the iconic Angel Hotel – an impressive ivy-clad former coaching inn located almost opposite the Norman Tower. The hotel is currently going through a major refurbishment and, having drawn on its Georgian roots and refreshed the ground floor – the bar, the restaurant, and lounge – the rooms upstairs are now having the same treatment. Indeed, the ground floor, with its discreet lighting, installations of angel feathers, and luxurious velvet seating, offers opulence whether you are visiting for drinks or dinner, or staying as a guest. When you add in a brilliant cocktail menu, the surroundings and atmosphere all made a real buzz in the evenings, and after the last two years, it was great to hear people enjoying themselves.
With The Angel Hotel as our base, we set off to explore and our first stop was No 5 Angel Hill, run by Charlie and Tanya Athorne. No 5 offers the best coffee and is the perfect spot from which to sit and watch the world go by. As well as lunch and brunch specials, No 5 also offers freshly made cakes and fancies, including gluten-free and vegan options, and an extensive wine menu. There are rumours that they may be bringing back their evening dining, when guests can sit outside and enjoy the ambience as the sun sets over the abbey; what could be more perfect than that?
Bury St Edmunds has a plethora of eateries, enough to suit every taste and every budget. This includes Suffolk’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, Pea Porridge, where owner/chef Justin Sharp and wife Jurga serve the kind of food that they love to eat. 1921 Angel Hill is another dining hot spot where tables book up quickly, and these are just two of the many iconic restaurants in town. However, we chose to share lunch at Wright’s Café on Cornhill Street – home to the posh toastie and first encountered at Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival. You need to go hungry here as the toasties are huge! We shared The Suffolk Reuben with home-cured salt beef, dill pickles, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and melted Swiss cheese with a side of fries. Jugs of water were provided as standard, and we enjoyed a couple of Wright’s cocktails – a Black Forrest White Russian, with Monmouth Espresso, East London Co vodka, homemade cherry reduction, Discarded Vermouth and textured oat milk, and an Elderflower French 75, with Hendricks, St Germain, lemon, sugar, and prosecco. Wright’s was busy throughout the time we were there, and it is easy to see why – big flavours, generous servings, and classic dishes and drinks all done with a twist.
A leisurely stroll around Bury St Edmunds followed and St John’s Street has much to offer the foodie visitor. First there is Beautiful Beers, a fabulous shop with the widest range of international beers I have ever seen – plus Tim Tams! With over 450 beers available on the website, and goodness knows how many in store, this was a fascinating shop, even for those who don’t love beer!
Just down the road was another foodie find in Walker’s Cheese Ltd. Owned and run by chef and cheesemaker Nic Walker, this small but perfectly formed cheesemonger has a range of traditional and less well-known cheeses, including Nic’s own, Lord London. With offers on his Cheese of the Month, Walker’s Cheese is well worth a visit – especially with such great beers at Beautiful Beers, many of which would pair beautifully with the cheeses!
England’s smallest pub is in Bury St Edmunds, and no visit would be complete without a swift gin and tonic in The Nutshell. Measuring just 15’ x 7’, The Nutshell is also home to some amazing artefacts, many of which have to be seen to be believed!
Bury St Edmund’s has a real mix of independent stores and restaurants, and we spent a happy hour or so wandering around the town and enjoying the atmosphere before heading back to The Angel to get ready for our evening, when we were dining at La Maison Bleue.
First, we enjoyed a cocktail in The Angel, and they have a great range of cocktails on offer, including their signature Abbey Garden, with Suffolk gin, cucumber, elderflower, and apple. Then, we made the short walk around to La Maison Bleue – you can find out more about our amazing meal by clicking here.
After a peaceful night’s sleep, we woke to the sound of the cathedral bells ringing and made our way downstairs for breakfast. The Angel Hotel has a great breakfast offering, and we were lucky to have a window seat in the restaurant, overlooking the abbey walks and the Abbey Gate. After a breakfast of crushed avocado, poached egg and toast, and natural yoghurt with granola and honey, we headed off into Bury St Edmunds once more to explore its history.
Our first stop was St Edmundsbury Cathedral, originally St James’ Church, built within the precincts of the abbey, and which became a cathedral in 1914. This vast and beautiful cathedral is still very much in use, and you could spend half a day there and not see everything. Recent additions include The Millennium Tower, completed in 2005, and the magnificent painted and gilded vault, added in 2010.
From there, we went to The Northgate, part of the Chestnut, for lunch and where we were thoroughly spoiled! You can find out more about The Northgate here, and suffice to say chef Grieg Young has created a beautiful menu full of flavour. We enjoyed whole cooked beetroot with goats’ curd mousse, herbs and pickles along with slow baked pumpkin with pumpkin seed hummus, crispy sage, and pickled shallot. We also got to try his smoked potato terrine, with black garlic aioli and a fried hens’ egg, a dish he has spent a long time perfecting. For mains, we had Aylesbury duck breast with duck leg pastilla, malt glazed roots, and quince hot sauce, and Sutton Hoo chicken with white bean, roast artichoke, chard, and roast chicken cream. Unsurprisingly, neither of us had room for dessert but Greig did persuade us to try some of his egg custard tart with fig leaf caramel – a delicious melt-in-the-mouth dessert that was lighter than air.
After another stroll around the town, and a few essential pitstops, such as Wooster’s Bakery and buying some of their incredible malt loaf. We also stopped at Baskerville’s, a vegan café and bar, and enjoyed the ambiance there with a mint tea.
It was time for dinner at The Angel. We started with a cocktail in the bar, this time a Copperfield with vodka, pink grapefruit, and fresh thyme. It is worth mentioning that The Angel has an early diner offer – three courses with a cocktail for £29, available between 5pm and 6pm Monday to Friday, and a few people were taking advantage of this.
We enjoyed dinner in the main restaurant, starting with cod cheeks with braised Puy lentils, salsa verda and crispy Parma ham, and pan-fried scallops with cauliflower, black pudding, and apple. For our mains, we had monkfish fillet with picked mushrooms, baby spinach, parmesan purée, saffron-poached potatoes and a clam butter sauce, and a rather large wild venison pie with garlic and rosemary new potatoes and root vegetables; it did defeat me! We also couldn’t resist the ‘posh chips’ with truffle oil, parmesan and béarnaise. We had just about, somehow, saved room to try desserts, and we enjoyed grapefruit panna cotta with yoghurt sorbet, honey and almond, and an affogato with hazelnut and almond biscotti. This was all enjoyed with a 2020 Tuatura Bay Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand, and it went perfectly with all the dishes. The Angel Head Chef Aaron Jackson cooks great dishes with great flavours and, having joined late last year, there are more delights to come on his menu.
Following another peaceful night’s sleep, we enjoyed breakfast before heading home, with me choosing one of the desserts from the night before to try – malt loaf, Comté cheese, honey, and fig. Maybe a little sweeter than I imagined it to be, but it was a rather delicious to start to the day with some peppermint tea. We then headed back to Norfolk, ready to detox, but looking forward to returning to Bury St Edmunds and enjoying all that it has to offer very soon.
- To book a room or table at The Angel Hotel, visit www.theangel.co.uk
Look out for their upcoming supper clubs in the vaults, as well as special events throughout the summer.
- For further information visit www.burystedmundsandbeyond.co.uk