Bungay: The Fleece Inn

It is pleasingly warren-like, broken up into smaller rooms here and there, but the best bit is around the bar, where the wooden timbers show its age, logs burn on an open fire, and decorative clichés such as horse-brasses are put to good effect.

The tedium of going out to eat is one of the great problems of our times. Such seems to be the view at the Fleece Inn, where they are kind enough to address this difficulty with a diverting game of hunt-the-menu. And here their thoughtfulness becomes above and beyond the call of duty, for the game is made many times more exciting by the fact that the menus to be found number no less than four.

Aha, you may say, as you find a menu on the bar - only to realise that it contains but starters and puddings. Then, with a triumphal cry, you spot the blackboard menu - but that is only specials, and a main menu there also is. Time for pudding, and at least you know the whereabouts of the dessert menu. But what is this? A different menu of sweet things.

Those lacking in patience will be pleased to know the food is well worth the effort - not to mention the considerable effort of your reviewer, who felt duty bound to sample at least one dish from each of the menus before reporting back to you.

The Fleece is an old coaching inn, and was the Cross Keys in a former life. It was thought to date from the early 16th century until recent building work revealed 15th-century construction. It is one of the few buildings that survived the Great Fire of Bungay in 1688, in which the church opposite was badly damaged.

Inside and out, the building speaks of permanence and tradition and the quiet enjoyment of five centuries' worth of ale.

It is pleasingly warren-like, broken up into smaller rooms here and there, but the best bit is around the bar, where the wooden timbers show its age, logs burn on an open fire, and decorative clichés such as horse-brasses are put to good effect.

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The Fleece is an Adnams pub, so a range of real ales can be guaranteed, and there is usually a guest bear or two. On our last visit, Everards' Pitch Black stout was on offer, which combined with the presence of Adnams' Oyster stout meant that stout drinkers were spoilt for choice.

Indeed a quite remarkable quantity of the black stuff was being consumed that Sunday lunchtime, including by one or two ladies of an age not usually given to quaffing pints. Perhaps the black dog of Bungay, that famous hellhound of 1577, may have been described more vividly after a drop or two of beer the colour of his coat.

Across the room from us a family of five were tucking into roast dinners with relish; next to us a pensioner couple opted simply for starters followed by dessert; while on the other side a couple also in their twilight years were eating toasted sandwiches the size of doorstops.

The Real Ale Drinker opted for roast pork, which came in a generous portion along with cabbage, cauliflower and slightly overcooked carrots. There were also perfect roast potatoes.

A Yorkshireman would have shed a tear at seeing his native dish partnered with pork, but this was Suffolk, and the Yorkshire pudding was consumed in the blink of an eye.

My vegetable casserole was a hearty, no-nonsense sort of affair, served on a baked potato that achieved the right balance of crispy skin and fluffy within. The accompanying salad promised on the blackboard was nowhere to be seen, but then, salad is for wimps, so I decided to overlook the omission.

The Fleece does a fine range of proper puddings, with custard, of which it would have been rude not to partake. A sticky toffee pudding and a syrup sponge pudding were both sound specimens, though we doubted they were home-made.

For those with more modern tastes, the other sweet menu has “luxury” desserts such as key lime pie and a heart attack-inducing combination of brownies, caramel and chocolate.

On other occasions we have made short work of the Fleece's ham, egg and chips, devoured a pair of really rather good Mediterranean vegetable tartlets, demolished a bowlful of that great British classic, cheesy chips, and chomped through the world's biggest toasted sandwiches.

The toastie (which is actually toasted, not one of the squashed versions that toasted sandwich makers make) could have done without the mayonnaise, especially when coleslaw is served alongside, plus some tortilla chips in case you have any arteries left. But that was as much as we could do in the way of complaints.

A glance through the window will usually confirm that if the nearby Earsham Street Café is the last word in posh eating in the town, the Fleece has got the market in pub food sewn up.

Those who have yet to venture in will find the Fleece, and its menus, well worth hunting out.

t The Fleece Inn, St Mary's Street, Bungay; 01986 892192

t Do I need to book? Not usually. There is also a separate function room, so call them if you want to hold a big bash.

t Parking? Yes.

t Smoking? There is a separate non-smoking area.

t Disabled access? Not specifically adapted, though there are no steps so a person in a wheelchair may be able to manage.

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