There are some moments that for certain reasons are just perfect. Snapshots that make you smile every time you think about them. They’re the moments when everything just seemed to align.
You were in the right place, with the right person, everything fell into place, and the overwhelming emotion is one of happiness and the realisation that yes, this is a memory you’ll store up and cherish for years to come.
For me, that’s what lunch at Watson and Walpole in Framlingham has become. Not because it’s a great restaurant (though of course it is). Not because I stumbled on it purely by accident and only then discovered it was fab. But because it provided the backdrop to one of many highlights of a wonderful, long-overdue trip away with my mum and gave us an hour-and-a-half of laughter, happiness, great food and time together that we’ve been deprived of so much over the past few years.
A self-dubbed ‘Neighbourhood Italian restaurant’, Watson and Walpole is a relative newcomer to the Suffolk dining scene, only opening its doors in July 2020 during what many can agree was halfway along a rollercoaster ride for hospitality that still isn’t quite over.
In many ways, it’s got it all. An area where food is clearly appreciated (Suffolk is no stranger to lovely places to eat, as I discovered on our trip), a famous owner (you’ll have seen restaurateur, food writer and former hotelier Ruth Watson on the TV no doubt), and a winning concept that is proving a hit across the country, offering relaxed, neighbourhood-style dining using British produce, executed very well.
With all that in mind, it’s no surprise it was a great experience from start to finish. Yet still some restaurants don’t quite turn all those serendipitous elements into success, so it’s clearly about far more than luck and ticking a few boxes. Especially when it comes to turning a ‘nice lunch’ into the stuff of happy memories.
We start with a warm welcome from the maitre d’, who guides us past a mixture of couples, friends and business meetings to our table where we scan the menu that we’ve already pored over online on the way to Framlingham only to find that a few dishes have changed.
They should have, of course, because any restaurant that’s ingredient-led, with seasonality at its heart, has to be prepared to shift the offering occasionally. For lunch there’s an a la carte offering, a sharing lunch, and a market day lunch on Tuesdays. Something for everyone, and then some.
We start with a starter of chargrilled octopus with an Nduja and chickpea stew, the perfect dish for a slightly grey rainy day outside. It’s tempting to try the arancini, and some rather tempting sounding gnudi, but we stick to one starter to share because mum’s already read the dessert menu and it’s apparently non-negotiable.
It’s less rustic than I anticipate, and better than I had imagined. The octopus is light, with the char adding flavour as well as colour, while the chickpea stew is bold and warming, with that trademark smokiness, yet the chickpeas have retained their structure and the whole dish holds back from that ‘winter warmer’ feel, instead coaxing us gently into colder weather with a hint of comfort food that still harks back to long summer evenings.
By the end of it, we’ve already both finished our glasses of wine – Primitivo for me and Nero d’Avola for mum – and are talking about when we can next come back and how unlucky Jamie is not to be with us.
Mum’s main course decision is easy. Rabbit will forever remind her of her father, a keen forager and hunter who regularly served up rabbit for their dinners as children. This is somewhat more refined, I imagine, than grandad and grandma used to dish up, made into a ragu with pine nuts and raisins and served with a pile of pappardelle.
It’s simple yet stunning. The kind of food you want to shovel into your mouth without coming up for air because it’s that good, yet simultaneously want to go as slowly as possible so it doesn’t end. I’m lucky we were in our happy place, else she may not have forgiven my roving fork invading her bowl quite so much as she did.
My gnocchi with scampi and sautéed radicchio is a vibrant bowl in both colour and flavour, and my picture absolutely doesn’t do it justice. Probably the best gnocchi I’ve ever had, though I’m not expert, but the soft, pillowy dumplings are light, silky and smooth, without a hint of heaviness.
The scampi in the sauce brings the fresh lightness that again reminds us that it’s not quite winter while the radicchio brings an ever-so-slight bitterness that counteracts any richness or sweetness. The pasta may slightly have first prize, but this is a very close second.
A side of peas, runner beans, mint and pancetta is unnecessary yet so very necessary at the same time, soothing our need for greens whilst also providing butter, salt, fat and all the satisfaction that they bring.
I plan to leave the dessert queen to her foray into the pudding menu, then all is lost when I see a very large tray of the homemade tiramisu carried out solemnly to a table nearby, where a huge portion is dished up.
It’s everything I hope it will be, and more. The right texture, simple but well balanced flavours, and a bloody huge portion. Of course, the theatre just adds to all those moments we’ve stocked up from that visit and I’ll forever smile at that hefty hunk of creamy goodness being shovelled onto my plate.
Despite Watson and Walpole’s best efforts, mum still won’t be won over by tiramisu, so goes for wood-roasted Victoria plums with chilled zabaglione and crushed amaretti – something that I can’t help but think is a clever riff on a classic crumble and custard, yet in my own personal view so much better. Unsurprisingly, it gets mum’s nod of approval and also seals the deal on her thumbs up for our little find.
It’s safe to say we don’t want to leave. I have a second glass of wine and palm the driving off on to mum for the afternoon. We have coffee. We chat, laugh and hug. We talk at the maitre d’ and quiz him on the restaurant. We talk some more. Then suddenly we look up and realise lunch is over, everyone else has left and we probably should too.
We leave hand-in-hand, interrupting each other with an instant verbal replay of every moment of that memorable meal. Marvelling at the service that made us feel special yet relaxed, food that was homely but refined in many ways, and an experience that somehow made us feel like we were both in Italy and England at the same time.
A couple of weeks ago Watson and Walpole wasn’t even on my list. It was a chance encounter, a lucky find. Yet for me, the site of fabulous memories to last a lifetime. You can’t have those, they’re mine that I’m stashing away for years to come, but you can have their food. And I suggest you do. Soon.
[Disclosure: We paid in full at Watson and Walpole. They didn’t know I was a blogger]