Food review: Suree’s Kitchen at Number Nine, Ironbridge
Who’d own a restaurant? Long hours and fussy customers, difficult staff and low pay, VAT men who wrap chefs up in a financial straitjacket and the perils of online reviews… Pah. You’d have to be a nut job to get into restaurants. It’s a mug’s game, make no mistake.
There are, however, a small band who have no choice.
Cooking to give their customers pleasure is how they get their kicks.
They get a buzz from the thrill of service – from putting on a gig, or mini-event, every single night.
And they are rewarded in the authentic delight that puts smiles on the faces of their guests.
The brilliant Suree Coates is in the latter group. She grew up on the banks of a river somewhere in Northern Thailand and cooked at the knee of her grandmother.
There she learned how to use fresh herbs and spices to infuse maximum flavour in remarkable sauces.
She moved to the UK to study and found herself cooking for student friends, dazzling them with the sort of humble, flavoursome dishes she’d learned as a kid.
It was logical to get into the restaurant game – giving people pleasure by cooking was all she’d ever known.
And after moving from a bijou restaurant in Ironbridge, Suree found herself at the King and Thai in Broseley.
There, she was awarded Thai Curry Chef of the Year 2011/12 and South Asia Chef of The Year 2013/14.
The Waitrose Good Food Guide highlighted Chef Suree’s much acclaimed venue as Midlands Restaurant of The Year in 2016, and a ‘Hidden Gem’ two consecutive years running.
But, man, the fuss of running a restaurant.
The bills, the overheads, the staff, the goddamn hardship of earning a crust.
It takes a toll.
And last year she surprised most – but not all – by throwing in the towel.
It was time to breathe again, to get back to the stove and do it for the love of cooking.
Broseley’s loss was Ironbridge’s gain as Suree popped-up at Suree's Kitchen, a former café Number Nine, on the Wharfage.
It’s tiny – sitting about 16 guests – and is no bigger than a frontroom; I’m guessing that’s what it must once have been.
It’s simpler – and better – than the King and Thai.
Styled inexpensively, with small candles, books, bottles and simple furnishings, it has the feel of an intimate dinner party, rather than an all-singing, all-dancing restaurant.
And that intimacy is thrilling.
Conducive to relaxation and giving guests the feeling they’re enjoying something special, Number Nine is probably Shropshire’s smallest and most perfectly formed restaurant.
It’s certainly the county’s best new venue – and how about that?
One of the county’s best-loved and most enduring talents; a cook who’s been round the block more times than she cares to remember has struck gold by following her heart and doing what she wants – rather than what the industry might expect.
Good on her.
It would be disingenuous to say the food’s better than it was at the King and Thai.
After all, she was named the UK’s best Thai chef during her time there and for more than a decade she’s been the county’s number one.
The brilliance sauces, the finesse, the invention – they’re all still there.
The thing that’s changed is the menu.
Suree no longer has to pander to customer taste by serving an overly-long menu.
Now she can just kick back, source the best ingredients available and cook with passion and flair.
So on the night my friend and I visited, there were scallops with a chilli and sweet potato puree, a spicy pork number and more besides.
Not that we were buying.
We had a plan of our own – to eat as much of the menu as our bellies would reasonably allow while ensuring there was room for one green and one red curry.
And so, disregarding the menu, we asked for a selection of starters to share.
Out came a deliciously tender and perfectly scorched chicken satay with an intense, chilli-peanut dip; light, perfectly crisp, sweet-salty fish cakes with a sweet chilli sauce; a fabulous and hot spicy pork dish garlanded with fresh herbs and wrapped in lettuce along with a couple of crisp spring rolls with more sweet chilli.
The food was great and so was the service.
A youthful waitress had full command of the dining room and was busy and efficient.
Charming and polite, she kept open the lines of communication with her boss and ensured customers were well fed and made to feel special. Our mains were a vegetable red curry and a green chicken curry.
Both were breathtakingly good.
The red was hot, sticky and wonderfully creamy.
The green was fragrant, aromatic and had the gentlest heat.
They were served with Thai sticky rice, which was served enveloped in banana leaf.
We found no fault.
We’d left room for dessert though rather than choose off the menu, we once more asked if the chef could send us some sort of smorgasbord so that we could taste a variety of puds.
Two bowls dutifully arrived, one featuring a deep, rich, intense and devastatingly dirty dark chocolate pudding with beetroot ice cream.
Earthy, slightly bitter-sweet and meltingly good, it was a delight.
The other dessert featured both caramelised banana with a fabulous banana cake – the cake really was exceptional – alongside a black sticky rice pudding ice cream.
It sounds odd and it looked like a whinberry Eton mess, but the taste was divine and I’m damned if I wouldn’t order it again.
Number Nine is an unequivocal triumph from one of Shropshire’s best and most popular chefs.
Unencumbered by the shackles of running a too-big restaurant, she’s soaring high above the clouds.
Suree looks happier and more relaxed than she has in years and the food flowing from her kitchen is sublime.
Freed from the chains of business, she’s cooking with her heart and the results and breathtaking.
Catch it while you can, food that good doesn’t come around too often.
Address: Number Nine, 8 Wharfage, Ironbridge, Telford TF8 7AW