Written and reviewed by Richard Bryant
Drive past The Carpenters Arms and there’s barely any hint at what lies behind the pale brick facade. That fleeting view might register it as a nice, traditional village pub. But go to its glass-fronted side entrance and all is revealed - a bold, bright and light extension and refurbishment that has dramatically added more space to a hitherto small bar and restaurant.
The decor is lively and conversation-making; a blitz of rich oranges and mustard yellows for seating, cushions in vibrant shades, plus a wall of what looks like painted multi-coloured petals. Since the open plan kitchens and restaurant look out onto a lawn and stepped flower beds, the intention of bringing the outdoors inside works very well.
Chestnut video featuring The Carpenters Arms refurbishment
While the history of the building is celebrated with exposed beams, warm oaks and open fires, it’s the glazed extension, incorporating an old stable, that adds the real architectural wow factor. No doubt it’s fostering “have you been to the new look Carpenters?” chatter among the restaurant going cognescenti of Cambridgeshire and West Suffolk.
We ate there on a sunny spring Sunday lunchtime with almost every table full and a real cross-section of diners, young and old, families and couples. Communal seating tends to work best when a restaurant is buzzing and discussions are in full flow, as was the case here. In fact, within seconds we had started up a conversation with our next door table who had also brought their dogs along making our corner a harmonious mix of happy hounds and contented diners.
Not long after being seated beautifully presented and tasty starters ‘Smoked Mackerel Caesar Salad’ (an especially generous portion) ‘Burrata, heritage tomatoes, courgettes and pesto’ plus ‘Smoked Salmon with celeriac remoulade and avocado puree,’ were swiftly consumed and enjoyed.
This being Sunday, one of us had to try the roast and ‘Old Spot Pork Loin, roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables, Yorkshire pudding, crackling and apple sauce’ was a triumph. Meanwhile the ‘Chalk Stream Trout, fennel, broad bean and Cromer crab bisque sauce,’ was a light and flavoursome alternative to the meat choice while the vegan in our party liked that the ‘Roast Romanesco Cauliflower, white beans and cashews’ carried a certain sweetness due to the pickled raisins.
Desserts of ‘Tosier Chocolate Torte with Fen Farm mascarpone’ and ‘Strawberries and Bungay Cream’ were delightful little indulgences. Some food writers can be a little cynical about the constant place name dropping on menus, but Chestnut will point out they are championing local produce and long may that continue. Staff were unfailingly polite and up to the mark during what looked like a pretty hectic and long lunchtime, so credit to them. It should also be worth noting that four new-look bedrooms at the Carpenters make this a very good base for exploring Cambridgeshire.