PUBLISHED: 17:11 07 January 2019 | UPDATED: 17:11 07 January 2019
Food and drink editor Charlotte Smith-Jarvis visited the award-winning Sail Loft found between Southwold town and harbour.
Ah, what a gorgeous place to be. Despite a biting wind (the kind that attempts to blow you into the road while you walk), the sun was pouring into the Sail Loft – a pub/restaurant found betwixt Southwold town centre and the harbour, flanked by a grassy coastal meadow and the sea wall.
Winner of Best Family Dining in our food and drink awards, we expected a family-friendly vibe here and certainly got it. There was a warm welcome as we walked in the door.
We hadn’t booked but were seated immediately on a table for two with a couple of extra chairs perched on it – not ideal but we weren’t expected and it was nearly Christmas after all.
I spotted high chairs for little ones instantly, and a beautiful terrier seemed happy at the table next to us. It really did feel like an unpretentious spot for walkers and folk with toddlers in tow.
The menu was very extensive, and while we looked through it a bowl of free olives arrived to the table. A nice touch – and I’m the only one in our family who likes them so that kept me happy.
Our kids consider themselves garlic bread aficionados and have to order it wherever we go, so to placate them we started with baked garlic ciabatta bread. What arrived was a crusty ciabatta roll, oozing salty, garlicky butter. Wickedly good and so drippy our waiter thankfully noticed and brought over a water bowl before my son dared to wipe his hands on his jeans (which he always tries to do despite having a napkin).
Alongside the garlic bread we ordered the hummus which can be so hit and miss – too thick, grainy, lemony, not enough seasoning. But the kitchen had got it absolutely on the money. Theirs was whipped, with a featherlight texture, the chickpeas enhanced with a kiss of garlic and seasoning. It was so good we wouldn’t give it back. “I want to dip some chips in it!” I told the waiter.
I’m afraid things went rather downhill after that.
Fussy son ordered the Texas burger without coleslaw or mayo, with skinny fries not chunky and with the smoked cheese on the side (kids).
It came out without any of the amendments so was sent back.
Next out was hubby’s fish and chips, which he greedily tucked into. The portion looked a little disappointing in size compared to others we’d seen come out of the kitchen but nonetheless it was a spanking fresh piece of fish in a delicate non-greasy batter. Chips fluffy as you like inside with a crisp exterior and decent tartare.
However, a quarter of the way through, a member of staff came and told us actually the burger was for the other table and that my husband was also eating that table’s fish and chips. Oh dear. Well, there wasn’t a lot he could do about it at that point. Cue us looking over to the adjacent table where one of the diners was looking longingly at hubby’s plate.
Eventually the rest of our food (yes it truly was this time) arrived. The burger came in a decent bun and the pulled pork on top was really great. Super tender and with a sauce on the piquant rather than the overly sweet side. All the component parts were obviously good quality, including a wonderful smoked cheese. However the burger was very thick and cooked all the way through rendering it tough.
In addition to the fish and chips, we tried two other seafood dishes. My daughter loves all seafood and her eyes lit up when she saw the lobster bisque risotto with prawns on the menu. Initially it looked very appetising. But…the rice was almost raw in places. Not al dente, but chalky and uncooked. And there were powdery lumps in it too. It rather lacked that velvety, brandy and wine laden unctuousness you expect from bisque. Also, the small prawns on top seemed a bit mean at the price tag of around £15. It would have been better to have two to three king prawns or crevettes as a crowning glory.
I ordered the potted mackerel and toast. This should have been a harmonious meeting of dense shredded, seasoned fish bound with a little butter, with a thin layer of butter over the top.
What actually arrived was a very cold bowl of shreds of mackerel in a wet, almost salad cream like dressing, under about 1cm of solid butter. It just wasn’t anything like you’d expect potted mackerel to be in its classic form, and needed a better description perhaps on the menu?
Towards the harbour at Southwold just a little way out of the main town. The setting is really lovely.
There was a very genial feeling when we walked in. At one side is a pub-type area and the other side, where we sat, is all glass with rustic furniture. It very much felt like a muddy-boots and dogs kind of place. Indeed there was a lovely terrier at a table near to us. We loved the fact it didn’t feel pretentious.
A range of local ales and ciders on tap. I had a drop of Aspall Cyder and my husband tried the seasonal beer St Nick’s from Lacons. Now that was a good beer. Hoppy and lively, with a smooth finish and barely a hint of bitterness. In fact, I could have drunk it.
There was no wine list or drinks list on the table, so you have to ask at the bar, which I always find annoying. We all felt there could have been some local soft options – juices, cordial or maybe Breckland Orchards fizz?
Our waiter initially seemed a bit shy but warmed up as the meal went on. He noticed we needed a finger bowl with our snacks which was appreciated. Later on one of the other members of staff didn’t hesitate to remove the meals which had issues from our bill.
Clean and pleasant.
The restaurant is on one level, and there is a wide access door to the toilets where there is a disabled loo.
Minus the pate and bisque our bill for garlic bread, hummus, a burger and fish and chips plus drinks came in at just over £50 which is on the steep side- but then this is Southwold so prices are going to be a bit dearer.
It has to be that hummus. How scrummy.
I felt disappointed there were so many let downs during our visit. I know, from visiting his other location The Bell at Sax, that the owner is a great chef as we’ve had some very good food there, so I’m not sure what happened on the day we went. That said, there were over 23 main dishes/starters on the menu, plus several specials which is rather ambitious for any kitchen. I can only hope it was a one-off as this place has such a nice feel and some elements were well made. We will go back and try it again later in 2019.