In the quaint countryside of Suffolk, nestled amidst rolling hills and picturesque landscapes, lies a culinary gem that has earned its place as the crown jewel of gastropubs for the second time. Welcome to The Unruly Pig, where gastronomic excellence meets the warmth of traditional pub culture in a harmonious fusion that captivates the senses and delights the palate.
We sat down with chef-patron Dave Wall and general manager Jackie Ha to discuss what makes this modern British pub the best in the UK.
How did it feel when the list was being announced and it became clear the Unruly Pig was back in the top spot?
JH: “It was an absolute honour and really unexpected. After being second last year, it was a great achievement.
“To be named number one twice in 2022 and 2024 was really unexpected and I’m really proud of the whole team.”
DW: “We have been lucky enough to have been on the list a few times now and as you countdown, you’re waiting to hear your name. The longer it goes on and you don’t hear anything, the nerves start creeping up.
“We are really privileged being in the top two for three years in a row but it does get nerve-wracking when you get down to the last few.”
“This one meant more in a way because while being named number one in the first place was amazing and a huge surprise, because we had the honour of hosting last year, which was terrifying, coming first this year felt like a follow on from that because we had the spotlight on us, hosting everyone from the list.”
What does it mean to you personally and as a business?
DW: “It’s great for business. What we found and will hopefully see more of this year, was when we were named number one before, [we had] a lot more destination diners, people making the trip [to see us] and establishing us on the map as a destination pub.
“When people travel to come and eat with you, they want to try everything.
“We saw a real boost in tasting sales because people want to have a real experience.
“One of the biggest privileges is growing our following over the years to people who want to come and experience what we do. It makes it a real pleasure when people want to sample what you want to do.
JH: “[It was a] highlight for our careers to win an award like this and great for the team to be recognised.”
Why do you think you’re number one/what sets you apart from other top gastropubs?
DW: “What can stand us apart is having our unique character and it does help that Brendan [Padfield, owner of the Unruly Pig] is one of a kind. That individuality matters.”
JH: “It’s all about having that uniqueness that sets us apart. Having a wine list with 40 different wines by the glass, cocktails made from scratch, having a different offering to everyone else.”
Where does your inspiration come from?
DW: “Italian is key inspiration. That didn’t come easily as my background was classical French. It took me a little while to change my way of thinking. It was a learning curve.
“There are loads of operators on the list I have taken inspiration from on their approaches, their styles, how they go about things.
Dan and Tash (Smith of the Fordwich Arms and the Bridge Arms near Canterbury, Kent) were quite major inspiration for me. I met Dan six or seven years ago and we hit it off straight away. We have made lots of friendships in the Top 50 circle, we looked at what they did at the Fordwich and then later at the Bridge and liked it.
“They were doing higher level of pub cooking. At that time, we still had quite a diverse menu and probably a bit too big. They probably inspired me to scale down our menu and concentrate on what we were doing.”
JH: “We do try to go to gastropubs to see where competition is and having comparisons to the people who are on the list.
“We try and take a little bit of inspiration from everywhere we go.”
Why are gastropubs so important?
DW: “In the the financial climate right now, it’s hard. There are a lot of people getting hit by huge increases on their mortgages, food shopping. It’s crazy how expensive everything is.
“We are more affordable than a multi-Michelin star restaurant in the city, it’s a way people can still go out and socially enjoy a meal without having to break the bank.
“Remaining accessible in bleak times is important. Relaxed but still high-end dining and the gastropub is a perfect vessel for that.”
JH: “It brings communities together, having that place to go and eat. It means when people to come for staycations they know there are lovely places to go and eat.”
What is your definition of gastropub?
DW: “A gastropub is a pub that is led by its food offering. It doesn’t mean you can’t go for a beer as well.
JH: “It has got to be food-led but you’ve still got to have good quality beer on tap. It’s important to have a local offering too.
What one piece of advice would you give to other gastropub operators?
DW: “: “Find your identity, be bold and reinforce it. Don’t be afraid to stick your head above the parapet.
“You’ve got to do something people can identify with as your brand and character, whatever that might be.
“Sometimes that risk might not pay off in the early stages and we can all question what we are doing when we see empty seats but you’ve got to keep plugging away at it.”
JH: “Make sure you have the key differentiator. It’s so easy to be sucked into doing the same as everyone else.”