Unique cafe has even more to offer this spring

Darsham Nurseries will be open every Friday and Saturday evening from Easter weekend. Picture: Contr

Darsham Nurseries will be open every Friday and Saturday evening from Easter weekend. Picture: Contributed - Credit: Archant

At the weekend, Darsham Nurseries started a whole new era of evening dining - we find out more...

Lola Demille and Thom Eagle - chefs at Darsham Nurseries. Picture: Contributed

Lola Demille and Thom Eagle - chefs at Darsham Nurseries. Picture: Contributed - Credit: Archant

In 2014 Suffolk tourism bods scrapped their slogan 'the Curious County'. But the fact remains there really are some curious things to discover in Suffolk. From ancient burial mounds, to a giant shell sculpture on the beach, via a pretty cool new dinosaur-themed American golf course at Ufford.

If we look into the food world there are some curiosities and surprises to find too – but perhaps one of them stands out more than others.

When you think of the food offering of a garden centre or nursery, you'll probably conjure images in your mind of Victoria sandwich, bacon butties and so-so cups of tea. But roll up to Darsham Nurseries, just off the A12 heading northbound, and you'll discover something rather quite different.

Now moving into its fourth year, the café here was thrown into the spotlight in its second week of opening, when critic Tracy Mcleod gave it a five star review in the Independent. A real boom for the county – and one that led to the chef at the time being head hunted and leaving for pastures new just a year later.

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'We closed for a few months while we found the right people to replace him,' said manager Michael Holland, 'and they were Lola and partner Thom. She has developed the menu to be more robust. More Middle Eastern, near Eastern and Mediterranean food.'

Last weekend the café launched an evening menu, with the team excited to be open every Friday and Saturday night going forward.

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'We tried a few evenings last year,' added Michael, 'We opened every other Friday and Saturday in the summer which was very well-received so we thought we'd like to open every Friday and Saturday forever, starting at Easter, which is mostly an expanded menu from lunchtimes.

But once a month there'll be a special meal, such as the first one for Easter which was a lamb feast. We'll go on to focus on areas such as Istanbul, or Sicily.' Examples of dishes from the evening menu could include poatger fritti misti and tahini yoghurt, Roman gnocchi with braised greens and Coolea, and lamb chops with spring shoots and wild garlic aioli.

And on the third Thursday of every month the café will celebrate the food of Turkey and the Levant, with Mezze and Mangal Night (the first one is next week, April 27).

Priced at only £25 per person, the flavour-packed menu will show how home-grown and locally-sourced ingredients can shine when combined with the exotic, fragrant herbs and spices of the Med.

Typical plates will include Isot chilli, sweet peppers and walnut, lamb, pistachio and sour cherry kofte, spring herb pilaf, roast cauliflower, spiced butter and herb yoghurt, and halva ice cream with pastries and cardamom spiced coffee.

'Lola and Tom live and breathe food,' Michael said, talking of the kitchen's success. 'Thom has a blog and he's particularly enthusiastic about pickling, and smoking and fermenting things, which means he gets a lot of media attention on his own. And Lola's food is quite individual. So much care is taken over every element so when it comes together there's a fantastic feast in every mouthful.'

Menus at Darsham are informed by the seasons. Today around 80% of vegetables and salads used in the kitchen are grown at the nursery, with Lola working closely alongside the garden team, planning in advance what they should grow based on past successes. Fish is sustainable and from Maximus. Salter and King in Aldeburgh provide the kitchen with meat. And charcuterie comes from Marsh Pig. So all food here has a real sense of place and locality – as well as seasonality. No two weeks are the same when it comes to the menus.

Talking of which, as well as evening openings, the team is gearing-up for another new offering for 2017 – afternoon tea.'We are going to be doing an afternoon tea type offering,' hints Michael. 'From May we have a pastry chef coming on board. It will be a Darsham take on afternoon tea with lovely different flavour on the icing of the cakes and introducing smoky flavours and maybe chilli.'

Are you curious?

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