Olga Parry is from Ukraine, her husband David from Wales, extreme ends of the old Roman Empire. In those days they might have been brought together in mid Suffolk for exactly the reason they are here today: to create a Roman-roadside hostelry for good food at a reasonable price.
David is front of house-cum-barman; Olga is chef with a sous-chef, who sometimes serves at table. On the Saturday evening we were there they had a waitress too. It takes a little time from ordering to being seated – always a good sign that the food is not instant pub grub. The menu is succinct, another good sign: local game in season, local meat and poultry, with fish from the coast half-an-hour away. Vegetables too are fresh and local. There will also be at least one speciality from Ukraine. When we were there the soup was Borscht and a main was cabbage (preferable to vine) leaves stuffed with beef, pork, rice and spices.
Local has to be the watchword because Alder Carr Farm is only a couple of miles away and the food there is either from the fields or local suppliers; almost across the road is the producer of Suffolk Gold cheese. Olga sources from them or from their suppliers. Smoked fish and duck are from Pinney’s at Orford. Anyone who knows these also knows they need only treatment “with respect” as the pub card claims to become the constituents of an excellent meal.
Four different meals there over a period of two years offer a story of consistent high standards and customer satisfaction. The Highwayman is never short of customers and, despite its pictures of Claude Duval, Dick Turpin and Mary Frith only the staff stand and deliver.
One seafood platter, one crab salad, both beautifully presented, were our first experience. Since then sea bass with Mediterranean ratatouille, pork cutlets, guinea fowl supreme (literally as well as by recipe) on Puy lentils, and duck cassoulet as good as any French provincial restaurant provides, each with as much or little wine as driving would permit and a delicious dessert, have worked out at about £25 a head inclusive.
“Have you ever thought of walking over?” David asked last week, good salesman that he is. I had I said, and would at lunchtime. It’s only a couple of miles and apart from the A140 crossing as direct as could be wished.
Other diners inside and out were enjoying the chicken and leek pie, or rib-eye steak. One asked for two starters instead of a main: no problem, in which order did she want them? Opting first for both together, she then agreed to have one with her two companions’ main courses. One of these wanted both pie and chips. Again no problem.
Back to ourselves: tempted by the sea bass I decided instead for cassoulet; in fact we both did. Wine by the glass (for road safety) allowed us one large Chardonnay and one small Malbec. Only a photograph can describe the cassoulet: the earthy flavours and falling-off-the-bone duck tastiness would make anyone envious. Desserts were a mini-Pavlova and a cheesecake with raspberry fruit and coulis: delicious. Just a pity the photos are a bit out of focus.
While there were some free tables, enough were full to show The Highwayman does well. Sunday lunchtime or special days it is very busy. The trade like the food is for the most part local, though I would recommend anyone on the way to or from Norwich to call in for a meal: they may well want to return. As is plain, we do and will for as long as Olga and David are there.