Julian and Bart, the new owners of the Grazing Sheep on Ipswich Marina are taking the restaurant to new levels. The Grazing Sheep advertises itself as a place for coffee, healthy lunches on the go, salads, sandwiches, post-gym smoothies, weekend brunches, homemade cakes, afternoon tea and weekend tapas (these last two are so popular, they must be booked in advance), and they are proud to be vegetarian and gluten-free friendly. You can book the space upstairs for a party venue and they also offer outside catering.
I had wanted to try out their tapas evening for some time and not having had a Friday or Saturday evening free for a while (their regular tapas nights), I was pleased to see their post on Instagram announcing a Thursday night pop up tapas and wine event. My partner and I booked a table for two immediately and on Thursday, without knowing quite what to expect, we made our way along the picturesque waterfront to the venue.
When we arrived, we were shown to our table upstairs where the windows overlook the pretty waterfront which was lit up charmingly. The dining room had a very casual and industrial look whilst feeling at the same time, a little like a cosy country cottage. There were 17 of us there for the event and the mood in the room was relaxed…which could have had something to do with the copious amount of wine we were being served ;). The owner, Bart, chatted to everyone at their tables and he, along with the waiters, made everyone feel at home.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that there was a set menu for the evening which meant we didn’t have to debate over which dishes we would order to share (you can choose your tapas dishes on a regular Friday or Saturday tapas night). We were brought our first course, a glass of vermouth with an olive sphere (or ‘bubble’) on a spoon which we were totally intrigued by. I gasped in pleasant surprise as I bit into it and the olive liquid burst into my mouth, my partner unfortunately wasn’t quite prepared for the experience and ended up accidentally swallowing his whole haha!
Ed Keith from Hallgarten & Novum Wines introduced us to the first of a string of wines we would be tasting during the evening, all of which we were told would compliment the food we were eating.
We were then given a classic fly course that consisted of a set of three tapas served with crusty bread; croquettes, spicy meatballs in tomato sauce and chorizo ‘empanadillas’. The course was absolutely delicious, the ‘empanadillas’ reminded me of a mini pasty but tasted way better, the meatballs were tender and juicy and the croquettes oozed out their cheesy filling.
Ed then introduced us to another white wine, the name of which escaped me after the vermouth and the first glass of white wine, oh, and a top up of the first wine too! Julian who is Bart’s son and also the chef, gave us a little talk about the next course, the first of his signature dishes; crab cannelloni. Well, this looked and tasted exquisite, there was no pasta in site and instead the succulent crab meat was wrapped in thin strips of avocado with clotted cream and romesco, it was simply divine.
Up next was the salt cod ‘tiradito’. Julian told us that there was a secret ingredient that he would reveal to us after we had finished the course, both my partner and I tried to guess but to no avail. This was my absolute favourite of the evening despite the fact that I am not usually a huge fish/seafood lover’. Julian’s Peruvian inspired dish looked modest but it tasted divine; the cilantro and parsley oil, lemon and lime came through, stunningly complimenting the saltiness of the cod. I could easily have eaten another plate full of this, even after Julian’s announcement that the secret ingredient he had used was ‘grasshopper salt!!!! Grasshopper salt?! Who even knew that was a thing?! Apparently ‘Sal de Chapulin’ as it is more commonly known on the other side of the Atlantic, is a traditional Mexican condiment.
With another glass of a Mediterranean white wine, we enjoyed grilled garlic prawns from Argentina where, we were told, the water there enhances the sweet, buttery flavour. They were seasoned with lobster bisque and soy sauce crystals, very tasty.
After being poured a beautiful red wine that beat any high-end rioja, we were served crispy chicken, this was made with chicken skin, anchovy and homemade taramasalata. It was not something I would personally choose but it looked beautiful and I could appreciate the flavours, my partner on the other hand loved it.
Last up were the pulled pork ‘tacos’ made with Dingley Dell pork from here in Suffolk served in South American blue corn tortillas. The tomatillo, padrón pepper, lemon and burnt apple puree brilliantly complimented each other and were a delight on the palette. Julian informed us that only one in one hundred padrón peppers are hot so it’s always a bit like playing Russian roulette when preparing a meal with them.
We ended the evening with a dessert (well two actually haha) of delicious crème caramel accompanied by a glass of manzanillo. A perfect end to a very enjoyable evening.
There are two further pop up events planned for this year and you can find out about them by following the ‘flock’ on their Facebook page @thenewgrazingsheep. Booking in advance is essential.
Address: The Grazing Sheep, 15A Regatta Quay, Ipswich IP4 1FH
Telephone: 01473 210454
Website: www.the grazingsheep.com