“Good honest local food” says the Marlesford Farm Cafe & Shop, a pleasant stopping-off point on the A12 for those travelling towards Lowestoft from the direction of Ipswich, or vice-versa. I’ve eaten at the Farm Cafe on several occasions, most often for breakfast. On no occasion have I been disappointed, largely because the ingredients are excellent, the craft of the dishes is fine, the service is warm and efficient, the attention to detail worthy of note, the value for money better than most, and the experience sufficiently inviting that you want to return; no cafe can do more than that.
There is a rich British tradition of cafes, from greasy spoons to chip shops to country establishments of this type, something we should be proud to continue. Their prevalence and popularity tell you the format works; their informality tells you not to expect the height of sophistication. But then good fresh ingredients, simplicity and lack of pretension is so often a better way to eat than restaurants whose chefs show more ambition than talent, since to do simple things well is a goal many eating places attempt but not all deliver.
On this occasion I visited with my mother on a weekday lunchtime, the establishment being open from breakfast to High Tea at 4. The menus and specials board offered everything from brunch to sandwiches to salads to pies to pastas to excellent cakes and more besides. From what I could see, all looked to be well-presented and tasty, mostly generous in portion size (the pie reminded me of my recent trip to the White Hart.)
The main dining room overlooks green fields and is perfectly pleasant, albeit with tables slightly too close together for comfort. My chair almost locked horns with that of my neighbour at the table behind at one point, though thankfully without spillage.
Our waitress was excellent throughout, of the friendly-but-not-wasting-a-second school. Some might prefer a chin-wag, and doubtless she could have talked about the menu and its ingredients at length, if so engaged, though her performance provided a brisk and efficient antidote to several places where I’ve recently had to beg for service.
My mother’s choice was an afternoon cream tea, furnished around monstrous fruit scones that proved to be soft and moist inside. With this came butter, a pot of whipped cream, two jars of Suffolk jam, plus an excellent cup of strong black Americano with a superb crema (the brown froth topping.)
I was split in several directions but eventually chose a comparatively modest and slender slice of homemade tomato, pesto and local goats cheese quiche, served with a dainty composed salad, one including delicately cubed roasted squash, beetroot (a Suffolk specialty) and the current vogue grain, giant couscous. Arguably this could have been augmented by a carb option (jacket potato, chips etc.), and doubtless would have been had I asked.
In order to thrill the palate yet further, the cafe offers a comprehensive collection (several shelves worth) of condiments, comprising mostly but not entirely Stokes brand sauces, chutneys, pickles, mayonnaises, dressings and relishes. Perhaps homemade versions from a local farmhouse kitchen might have been more fitting, but the choice of products tells you the cafe cares about quality.
For under £15 you could not argue with that simple lunch, though maybe it did not demonstrate the highs of the kitchen. For that another visit will be required to try a proper main course.