The Salt House Bistro Sudbury (Thompson’s)

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A treasure discovered…

We head off to Sudbury to sample the delights a bistro bar and restaurant soon to embark on a new chapter in its long and interesting life.

 

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Sudbury is an attractive Suffolk market town with many hidden treasures: The Salt House Bistro is one of them. Set on an historic street, a few doors away from the house once lived in by the 17th century painter, Thomas Gainsborough, this warm and friendly wine bar and restaurant is one of the last surviving independents to be found in the town. It’s quite a find.

Owner David Thompson, who runs the bistro with his wife, Tricia, has lived in Sudbury for more than fifty years; but his journey to the Salt House has not been without its ups and downs.

From an early age, David was good in the kitchen – at least, his mother thought so! – and his first job was with Trust Houses at the Bull Hotel, Long Melford, followed by catering college and a stint in the Merchant Navy, as he made his way around the world savouring its many dishes as wells as its sights. Eventually, he returned to England and went to work at the Hilton Hotel on London’s Park Lane, before pursuing other business ventures, âہ“some good, some badâ€Â.

In 1994, with interest rates high, he faced some tough decisions, and while he left his son Daniel in charge of his main business stream, he and he rest of his family moved to Great Horkesley; David’s life changed virtually overnight.

David’s landlord was a Dutchman who owned a four acre nursery under glass, and David set about learning the rudiments of growing baby leaves – baby spinach, rocket, chard and more. By 2000, David has built a million pound business with a ten pound note borrowed from his next door neighbour. Country Salads won the Daily Telegraph national small business award for customer service and the company was recognized within their delivery area by every first class restaurant as top wholesalers in their field. David spent a lot of time in some of the best kitchens in the region talking to some of the top chefs: The Great House, Milsoms, Scutchers, The Angel Nayland, Three Horseshoes Madingley, and The Old Bridge Hotel, to name just a few.

Then, in 2004, David’s son Daniel died in a tragic car accident, and David lost the will to carry on. He was advised to merge the business with another wholesaler, but it didn’t work out, and David and Tricia lost everything they had built. Daniel, before he died, had realised his own dream – a modern bar in Sudbury. By 2008, however, the bars fortune was beginning to wane and David had no choice but to take it over. He changed its identity and introduced a bistro feel with a greater emphasis on food, using the best ingredients while keeping prices sensible.

The night we visited the Salt House, Tricia was our charming host and for a midweek evening, it was pleasantly busy with a steady coming and going of locals both at the bar and eating. The decor is simple, tasteful and manages to be both rustic and modern, while the subtle lighting and laid back music make for a chilled ambiance.

The kitchen here is compact, and so too is the menu, but for what it lacks in size, it amply makes up for in quality. You will find a mixture of tapas-style dishes alongside Suffolk ham, egg and chips, and Chicken Caesar salad.

David has a passion for sourcing food and takes a trip to Mersea every week for oysters, while his butcher brings him the best ham, local venison which he makes into burgers, and delicious treacle cured bacon.

To start, I tried chorizo with waxy potatoes chilli salsa herbs and crème fraiche. Delicious; easily as good, if not better than anything I have sampled in Madrid. The distinct flavours of the chilli and chorizo contrasted beautifully with the crème fraiche and there was some fresh crusty bread to mop up. The prime fillet steak with garlic mushrooms, big chips and salad was not only one of the best steaks I’ve had, cooked to order, the chips were amazing, and at £14.95, it was terrific value. An ace little chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream for desert (just £1.75, âÃÂ
¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Â¬Ãƒâ€¦Ã¢â‚¬Å“simply a mouthfulâ€Â the menu says) completed the trio of courses.

It’s always good to discover somewhere close to home that makes you feel at home, and I have no doubt we will be returning to this delightful bijou bistro wine bar. As if this discovery wasn’t enough, David tells me he is opening his first delicatessen next door at No.5 in just a few weeks, when the combined business will be rebranded as Thompson’s. Yet another treasure for Sudbury, one we won’t keep hidden this time.

The Salt House Bistro, (Thompson’s) 52 Gainsborough Street, Sudbury, Suffolk 01787 375752 www.thesalthousebistro.co.uk

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