Children don’t learn nursery rhymes any more, do they? I think mine stopped around This Little Piggy during maternity leave, before handing them over to a succession of lovely eastern European au-pairs who probably assumed The Wheels on the Bus was traditional.
In fact – the wipers on the bus go swish-swish-swish… purlease! – was written in 1939 by an American called Verna Hills, who died in 1990. And while 1939 is effectively the Middle Ages in the USA, by no stretch is this a nursery rhyme for any of us who grew up on Ring-a-ring o’Roses or The Grand Old Duke of York. Though, on second thoughts, maybe that’s a good thing?
When it comes to “Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold/ Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old/ Some like it hot, some like it cold/ Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old…” you can envisage a classroom of four-year-olds collectively rolling their eyes and muttering “WTF?” To which my answer would be: “Well, boys and girls and little non-binary friends, ‘pease porridge’ – also known as ‘pease pottage’ or ‘pease pudding’ was a kind of yummy olden-days porridge… made from peas!” Then I’d sit back and enjoy the collective Munch scream. After which I’d presumably be sacked.
However, Bury St Edmunds’s Modern Brit destination of the same name must be doing something right (perhaps banning children?) as it celebrates its 10th birthday this very month. Formerly a pair of cottages, internally PP has a cosy hunkering-down-over-a-bottle-of-red atmosphere.
A family affair – chef Justin in the kitchen and his wife Jurga front-of-house – PP is terribly pleased with its oven: “In our efforts to be more sustainable, we have recently started cooking primarily, but not exclusively, in the ‘Bertha’ charcoal oven… effectively an indoor BBQ.”
The four of us were seated by the door, next to a highly distracting shelf of cookery books (yes to Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food – though perhaps the new slimline Kerridge now disowns the idea of “man food”; New British Classics by Gary Rhodes, not so much).
The menu, which changes daily, is robustly seasonal though not obsessively sourced-within-20-metres-of-your-table (scallops from Cornwall, ham from the Basque region). It also contains the words “cured jowl”, never a sexy come-hither.
Then, of course, everybody asked me what the Patlican Kozde was, as though I am some sort of expert! It is in fact a Turkish dish of mashed, smoky-flavoured aubergine, ideal for “Bertha”, so I decided to order it despite the fact that “You hate aubergine!” said my partner, opting for sautéed snails, bacon and bone marrow with parsley, onions, capers and garlic butter. “Ssshh!” I hissed.
Our friends Caryn and Ian chose the smoked herring, candy beetroot, pink fir potato, horseradish and dill and the duck liver parfait, chutney, pickles and brioche respectively.
Everybody rated their starters, but we’d waited 30 minutes to get our orders in, by which time it was grazing 9pm so I was actively grumpy. Indeed, service throughout was a peculiar combo of smilingly slapdash and overly solicitous – if you leave me to wait for ages and then constantly ask how everything is, I won’t even politely disguise my eye-rolling.
Ian was told that his “10oz Angus onglet steak, grilled in ‘Bertha’, with fat chips, confit shallot, landcress and béarnaise” was in fact now a flatiron instead of an onglet. Oh, and they’d just run out of béarnaise, but “it will come with a jus…” I couldn’t help observing that any pink steak is likely to come with a “jus”.
“What’s ‘landcress’?’ asked Ian (like I was meant to know!). “Probably not watercress?” I offered, like a pro.
Thing is, I do know my stuff… up to a point. However, I do not have a vast memory bank of arcane foodstuffs and/or things written in languages I don’t understand. I also think that pointlessly overwritten menus make the readers mildly resentful, especially when the restaurant then fails to deliver on the béarnaise-essities. In the event, Ian loved the cut of his steak but did feel the regrettable lack of sauce.
Meanwhile, my “Breckland” – a chunk of Norfolk venison loin with fondant potato, butternut squash purée, beetroot, golden raisins and harissa – was a winner, generously proportioned (five pinkly quivering slices of Bambi) and gorgeously, richly autumnal, right down to the colouring of those raisins. Caryn’s chickpea falafels, with “Ezme salad (spicy and Turkish, for the record), tahini dressing, pomegranate and yogurt was pronounced “very delicious”; while my partner’s fegato alla Veneziana amounted, of course, to the markedly less sexy-sounding liver and onions, which nonetheless worked offally well for him.
Having successfully steered clear of the pig’s jowls, by 10.45pm we were stuffed, sated and ever so slightly sleepy. With no call for desserts, and having shared just the one modest bottle of a lovely dry Gassac rosé in solidarity with our designated driver, the bill was very reasonable, too.
I’m no poet and I know it and it’s really pretty sad/ Especially when you hear I had a lyricist for a dad… however, the owners have clearly missed a trick by not opening Pea Porridge in Norwich. Notwithstanding this, East Anglia’s nursery-rhyming lost opportunity is Suffolk-folk’s gain. Happy 10th birthday, then, to a likeable little local that really has no need of its mildly gourmand-y pretensions.