Another Helping went on holiday recently.
Just across the road from me is a funeral parlour. It was the same business, bar a change of name and a lick of paint, almost 50 years ago when I worked here for a local newspaper. Once a week the undertaker, a tall, thin figure dressed completely in black, would emerge with a list of what he called his ‘stiffs,’ the newly departed.
Armed with it, it was my job to knock, uninvited, on the doors of those considered worthy and ask politely if I could interview the widow or widower, or the children, for an obituary for the Beccles & Bungay Journal or, if they were really important, its big brother, the Eastern Daily Press.
Half an hour and a cup of tea usually covered a lifetime. On good days I could rattle off two obits in an evening. “See you on the ice,” said my undertaker friend, handing over the list and shaking hands. He had a wicked sense of humour and a frigid handshake.
The undertaker’s is still there. Opposite was an old fashioned ironmongers but that has long gone. You’d never guess, unless you peered at the menu, that this harbours a Catalan restaurant, quite the oddest thing to find in Beccles, a Suffolk market town just across the River Waveney from Norfolk.
The place is now a deli, Bailey’s, and the restaurant upstairs is called Upstairs at Bailey’s. There’s not a whiff of Spanish as you walk past the newly baked Victoria sponges (although you might note the Serrano ham) but this is not yet another place trying out tapas, Anglo-style.
The owner, the globe-trotting Xavier Esteve, is a coiled-spring of a man, serving from table to table, effortlessly making small talk and charming the pantalones off his customers. Within minutes you learn he came to Suffolk so his English wife could be near her aged parents.
He thought it might be for a year or two until Time did what it had to do (I thought of the undertaker’s list) but Time didn’t. Xavier was an active man, bored, kicking his heels in a small town so he bought a deli, did well, moved premises and opened a café which became a restaurant at weekends. It’s authentic. He’s not the only Espanol on the premises. A couple of young Spanish chefs are in the kitchen.
Three lunchtime courses cost a bargain £13.50 and if portions are small they are beautifully presented and taste, if that’s possible, of sunshine. My starter was a fillet of cold, slow-cooked mackerel on a tower of cubed apple and melon surrounded by a pool of gazpacho. Summer in a bowl. My wife has sizeable parmesan gnocchi, draped with an intense sundried tomato sauce, propping up a couple of prawns.
It goes on delightfully in the same vein: cold hake, a Spanish favourite, with wasabi mayonnaise (not too fiery) with apple and a peach puree, roast lamb (hot) with a leek mash, apple sponge (the Catalans like their apples) and a dessert which is a fusion of pina colada and panna cotta. Xavier says the menu gets more Spanish on the Fridays and Saturday nights it is open.
We are not the only people from Sheffield who have made their homage to Catalonia. A couple from the city who have a holiday home in Southwold are regular visitors. The seaside town is where George Orwell lived while writing A Clergyman’s Daughter.
If you’re in the area you might like to check out the Fox & Goose, Fressingfield, modern British cookery (duck rillettes with foie gras bavarois, trio of pork, hake with roast cauliflower) in a building dating from 1509 and a view of the churchyard from our table. The Crown Hotel at Southwold does great beer (it’s owned by Adnams) and pretty nifty fish and chips.
If you prefer them alfresco take a trip to the harbour and walk along the river bank opposite Walberswick to a wooden shack called Mrs T’s which does them wonderfully well. You order, pay, get a ticket and go for a stroll for 10-15 minutes in busy periods.
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