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The Merry Monk in Isleham Celebrates 20 years!


Happy Birthday to The Merry Monk in Isleham, who under the ownership of the Smith family, celebrates 20 years of business this month. We caught up with Adrian, Head Chef and Proprietor to find out more about his successful journey.


So, Adrian, you’ve hit 20 years of running your restaurant, in Isleham, just 8 miles from Newmarket. Was this long stint all part of the plan?

Well I’m not sure I had much of a plan when I started out in this game and no, I didn’t think I would still be here in 20 years. However, I am immensely proud that we have been here so long, and I must credit my wife and two sons who work alongside me in the business and of course all our loyal customers.

The Merry Monk in Isleham

Who does what in the restaurant then?

I head up the kitchen and both my sons, Thomas and Jacob, have trained as chefs and so now join me. My wife Michelle has a background in hospitality, so she very much takes the front of house role. It hasn’t always been easy to strike the right balance between work and home life but somehow, we’ve made it work for us all.

How did you start in the catering game?

I was never a serious academic at school or college and to be honest did well to actually pass anything as I was intent upon enjoying myself too much! However, I’m guessing my career path was set after I took a work experience stint at the Queens Moat House in Newmarket which is now the Heath Court Hotel. There I met my wife, who was the trainee receptionist and also Robert Nobbs who was on the course with me. Ironically, he loved the posting so much, he stayed and is now the GM and we still friends. One day, the head chef didn’t turn up and it was down to me to step up. It was a sink or swim moment and from there I just knew this was going to be my chosen career and I just worked my way up. As well as making some great friends in the trade, I’ve also been taught a lot from brilliant chefs along the way.

Traditional Dining at The Merry Monk

What led you to the Merry Monk?

After various posts which included 8 years at The Plough in Ashley, and having a young family, I was ready to be my own boss. I began to look at suitable premises and my only criteria at the time was that it had to have an inglenook fireplace. When my wife suggested that we go and look at the Merry Monk, I was sceptical having known it as a pub in my younger days. Upon looking around I had two observations, it was very pink but nothing that a lick of paint couldn’t change, and it had not one but two inglenook fires. As they say, the rest is history.

The Merry Monk for Coffee and Cake

How would you describe the vibe for someone who hasn’t visited?

In winter, our log burners create a cosy atmosphere which is what I always wanted – the perfect setting for traditional, country dining. Then in summer we are kept cool by our 17th century surroundings. Plus, we have a patio which is a lovely area to enjoy morning coffee and cake and four legged visitors are also welcome. Since Covid made al fresco dining more popular, we’ve extended our drinks and nibbles menu and also serve cocktails, our signature ones being – the Classic Bloody Monks Merry and Drunken Monk. Plus, we serve Mead – naturally!

Delicious food at the Merry Monk

How would you describe your style of food?

Traditional with a modern twist. We play with French and Eastern influences and of late I’ve focussed on just providing simple food, well cooked and well presented. We’ve been in the Good Food Guide and Michelin Guide in the past but after 20 years we wanted to cater for our loyal customers and locals rather than putting our efforts into accolades and listings. After two decades you build up your own reputation and we have clearly been doing something right to still be here.

Tell us about The Merry Nook.

It is a tiny space that was originally part of the bar storage area. Someone suggested we kept it as a quirky feature and some of our regulars love to sit in there. It only really seats two, four at a push but it is cosy and with its décor and mirrored ceiling it has become a bit of a talking point. Its main user is my mother who likes the secluded ambience although I’m not sure she has appreciated that from one of the sides you can see straight in!

What would you say to young chefs out there who fancy working for themselves?

Learn what you can from whom ever you can as everyone you work with can teach you something. It is hard work and long hours and there is no denying that but running your own place is extremely rewarding and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Oysters and Rose at The Merry Monk

The Merry Monk is open Wednesday to Saturday 11 am to 3 pm and 6.30 pm to 11 pm and 11 am to 4.30 pm on Sundays. From oysters to T-bone steak, to smoked pork belly with crispy hen’s egg, deep fried with homemade brown sauce and toasted soldiers. The menu is extensive, and all served with a friendly smile.

Do add it to you list of must try places. Click here to find out more.