Review: Watson & Walpole in Framlingham
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Tessa Allingham enjoys authentic Italian food made with passion and love at this new neighbourhood restaurant.
The Pasta Room is where you’ll most likely find Rob Walpole, head chef, and one half of Watson and Walpole, the neighbourhood Italian restaurant that opened in Framlingham in late July.
In that upstairs room, he’ll be making dough in a reconditioned 50-year-old mixer, rolling it to translucence through his sheeter onto a bench made to his spec – it’s a precise 2.2m long – from wood salvaged during building work. “Nothing else happens here, just pasta,” says Walpole. “Just flour, eggs, water. It’s clean, focused, the right temperature and humidity.” It is entirely his methodical domain, his two long-time chef colleagues, Kris Elias and Bob Sullivan, carrying on the main kitchen downstairs.
The Pasta Room is where Walpole packs his favourite agnolotti with St Jude cheese to be served in late summer with plentiful butter, broad beans, peas and a snowstorm of parmesan, and in autumn with brown butter and sage. He’ll make bouncy tortelloni that bulge with gentle ricotta and sit in a deeply flavoured smoked tomato ragù, and tangles of long pasta, perhaps the classic and utterly delicious Roman speciality, bucatini cacio e pepe, or ribbons of fettuccine to wind through a savoury, autumnal sauce of girolles, garlic and olive oil. His love for Italian food – pasta especially – goes back to early days as a chef. “The blue River Café cookbook was the first I owned. I became obsessed.”
The ‘Watson’ element of the restaurant is Ruth Watson, formidably experienced hotelier, restaurateur and tough-but-kind Hotel Inspector. With her husband, David, she turned Hintlesham Hall near Ipswich into a renowned country house hotel in the mid-1980s, was an early ‘gastropub’ owner at the Fox & Goose, Fressingfield, and ran the coastal Crown and Castle restaurant with rooms in Orford from 1999, until the couple sold their interest to TA Hotel Collection (now Hotel Folk) in October 2017.
Watson and Walpole clearly connect, Walpole having been part of the Crown and Castle brigade for five years and head chef for five more. (He stayed to smooth the transition around the sale of the business, then worked for nearly a year alongside friend Oli Boon, chef-owner of Benoli, Norwich.). And they share a love of approachable, tasty Italian dishes of the sort delivered during the last six years at the Crown and Castle. Neither likes what Watson calls ‘got-up’ food. “Chefs using liquorice powder just because they think it’s funky is a sign of immature cooking,” she says, bluntly.
If by chance Walpole is not upstairs, check the Fuego. “It’s the heartbeat of the kitchen,” he says of the domed wood-fired oven just outside the kitchen door. It’s lit every day and used to roast, bake, smoke and sear.
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“We roast the chillies, peppers and tomatoes for a lovely smoky salsa rossa. It elevates vegetables to where they deserve to be. Even the artichokes for the dab of purée on the Loch Fyne scallop are slow-roasted in chicken stock and thyme. We’ve started doing puffed flat bread in it too, drizzled with garlic olive oil and sprinkled with parsley.”
Dying embers are used for slow cooking. “We start lamb shoulders at 400°C, then cover them with chicken stock and foil and let them cook overnight. Ten hours later the oven is still at 80°C and the bones slide straight out.” The meat is portioned, finished to order with a lamb jus, and served with baked borlotti beans and salsa rossa. It’s a Walpole favourite. He’ll cook beef brisket the same way, serving it with parmesan and olive oil mash and cavolo nero.
There’s always a ‘challenging’ offal-based dish in the mix of all the familiarity. Try calves’ liver Veneziana – postage stamp-size pieces flash-fried and served with slowly cooked onions, chicken stock, parsley, a splash of good vinegar and grilled polenta. Or a fritto misto of sweetbreads, Jerusalem artichokes and lemon with a caper aioli. “We find that people who like offal, love offal. Same with game,” says Watson. Partridge with valpolicella risotto and grapes was a recent hit.
Puddings are classics of the Italian repertoire. Homemade gelati are popular – roasted hazelnut or almond, or ricotta stracciatella, perhaps – ditto seasonal fruits, often from the Watsons’ garden, which are roasted in the Fuego and served with zabaglione and home-made amaretti. A marsala-drenched tiramisù is a swooningly delicious pick-me-up, the bitter edge of coffee and cacao tempering sweet, meringue-whipped mascarpone and tender sponge to end the meal on a high. The wine list is full of classics too, roaming Italy to offer the likes of a bright Sicilian fiano or Pugliese primitivo by the glass, 500ml carafe or bottle.
Neither of them, Watson volunteers, will ever say ‘oh, that’ll do’ when selecting produce. East Anglian favourites include Fen Farm for butter and Baron Bigod cheese, White Wood Dairy for St Jude, and Pump St Bakery for bread. Walpole looks to Hampshire and Laverstoke Park Farm for outstanding buffalo ricotta and mozzarella. “You can ‘feel’ the freshness. The buffalo are milked on the Monday, the ricotta is made on the Tuesday and it’s with me Wednesday. Incredible.”
Seafood is often from Framlingham-based A Passion for Seafood. A bowl brimming with brown shrimps, dusted with semolina, deep-fried and served with a slick aioli, comes with instructions from Stefan Babel, who has also worked with Watson for many years. “Don’t try and operate on them – eat them whole!” And a Loch Fyne scallop, served in its shell with artichoke passato and ‘nduja found ready early autumn takers.
Watson and Walpole was just 12 days from opening when lockdown happened in March. The eventual 23 July launch was a relief, a chance finally to show patient guests the result of the £300,000 refurb of the former Lemon Tree bistro.
The space is used cleverly. A brief of ‘1930s art deco Milan meets industrial England’ is captured in the elegant logo, the slender line of metal-framed chairs, and pendant lights. Big windows flood the room with light but are north-facing so avoid creating a greenhouse. The back wall is covered in striking ‘Cocktails’ wallpaper by Fornasetti, the ‘Venetian rust’ colour in the design picked up in the leather covering the low-backed banquettes that divide the main dining area.
“I ordered them in the February, didn’t see them till July,” says Watson. “I was so nervous about the colour coming back bright orange, but it’s perfect.” Attention to detail is second-nature to Watson who commissioned Suffolk ceramicist Lars Soendergaard to create crockery of the right size, shape and colour.
The restaurant taps into the Covid-heightened appeal of ‘neighbourhood’ in its spot just off Framlingham’s market square, and fills an east Suffolk gap, Watson says. “There are plenty of pubs around here but not that many restaurants. Framlingham has a buzzy feel and the community seems to have welcomed us. We’ve been busy, evenings especially.”
It’s been tough, she admits, opening four months later than planned, and into an era of reduced covers, sanitiser stations, masks for staff, and a 10pm curfew that has, she says, occasionally brought out the worst in people. She pleads for guests to be kind to staff as the witching hour approaches.
A local following is building. People are drawn by the reassurance of homemade pasta, slow-cooked joints of meat, a superlative tiramisù, and as this Suffolk newcomer faces a winter like no other, Watson and Walpole and their team are hopeful the recipe will see them through.
Watson and Walpole, 3, Church Street, Framlingham, Suffolk IP13 9BQ
T: 01728 666556
FROM THE MENU
Coppa, fresh fig and treviso with chestnut honey dressing £8
Chargrilled octopus, Venetian potatoes and salsa verde £8.50
Wood-roasted beef brisket, olive oil and parmesan potato puré, cavolo nero £18
Fettuccine with girolles, mushrooms, garlic and olive oil £14.50
Wood-roasted apple passato, chilled zabaglione, amaretti £7.50
Tiramisù – a real pick-me-up £8
Open Wednesday-Saturday lunch and dinner, and Sunday lunch. A sharing menu of small plates (£15, min. two people) is available at lunch as well as the à la carte, and there are separate vegetarian-vegan options. A bottle of house wine costs £19. Average spend £35 a head, excluding wine and service.