Thursday, 29 October 2009

A weekend in North Norfolk

My weekend was spent discovering the delicious bowl of produce that is North Norfolk. It was Y's birthday and this meant celebration was in order (if only to uphold the precedent of doing something fabulous for each other’s birthday, i.e. my birthday). We drove up to Norfolk, stopping at Sandringham Estate on the Friday and checked into our seaside B&B. We stayed at The White Horse in Brancaster Staithe (below), which is situated on the marshland coastline which is part of Norfolk's Heritage Coast (in Australia we'd call this a swamp and wouldn't dream of erecting a row of houses/hotels facing it, however I have to admit, walking along the coastal path had a certain charm to it). We immediately set off to the nearby Burnham Market, a charming little village with some great shops - both clothing and food. From Humble Pie (above) we purchased some extra virgin olive oil and delicious vanilla fudge (for a girl at work, who we then pinned to the floor and clawed said fudge out of her hand so we could eat it). We were delighted to find our favourite moscato, Innocent Bystander at Satchells wine shop (above) (and bought 4 bottles, clearing out their supply). In the interests of research we picked up a piece of shortbread and empire biscuit from Grooms Bakery (hmmm). We didn't test out Gurney's Fish Shop, although it looked very cute and rather popular. Also in Burnham Market is The Hoste Arms, which has accommodation and a restaurant - we returned to the latter on the Saturday night for Y's birthday meal.

We ate at The White Horse on the Friday night. It was a very good meal, but I was feeling rather flat, and really not in the mood for stealth-like photo taking and note making. The dining area is in a glass roofed conservatory, which is very lovely, but I was in need of comfort and probably would have preferred a cosy, wood panelled traditional pub. Nevertheless, my starter of slow cooked belly of pork with stuffed faggot was lovely, as was Y's lobster and crab ravioli (below) which was incredibly fresh. My main was pan fried sea bass with mushrooms and smoked mash. The fish was lovely, however over-powered by the mash. Y had halibut in a red wine sauce with a beetroot relish on top (below), which she enjoyed, despite being dubious at first of the fish and red wine combo. We enjoyed some local Norfolk cheeses and a muscat for dessert - a subtle goats cheese and a smoked cheddar being the highlights.
Saturday we enjoyed driving through the countryside - paddocks lined with towering trees dropping their yellow and red leaves and fields of cabbages and other vegetables I couldn't recognise as we whizzed past. Our first stop was Blickling Hall (above), just north of Aylsham. I mention this because in the car park to this beautiful house is Samphire Farm Shop (below). I do love a farm shop and this was no exception - we purchased rare-breed pork sausages (described by Gary Rhodes as the best he's ever tasted, apparently), chillies, smoked garlic, roasted broad beans (moreish and delish!) and free range eggs. I had wanted to get some pigeon breasts, but by the time we came back from Blickling Hall, they had all gone.
From Blickling we drove to Holt for lunch at Byfords which is a "posh B&B", restaurant, cafe and deli. We arrived at about 2.30pm and still had to queue for the cafe, which is obviously hugely popular. We devoured a late lunch of lamb burger with metled mozzarella, pesto mayo, flat bread & fat chips and a seafood platter (cured herrings, olives with anchovy, smoked shell on prawns, prawns in dill & lemon mayo, mackerel pate, smoked salmon, beetroot relish, brown bread). The lamb burger was the star, whilst highlights of the seafood platter were the cured herring and mackerel pate. The smoked prawns were rather good, but being used to the huge prawns we get in Australia, the effort to reward ratio hardly made the tiny prawns worth shelling!
We were very tempted by the beautiful display of chocolate sponge and Victoria sponge cakes, but had one more stop to fit in so enjoying cakes and tea was not an option (such a deprived life of hardship!).
We drove to Little Walsingham to get to the Walsingham Farms Shop just before it closed (passing another fabulous looking farm shop on the A148 between Sharrington & Thornage turn off which was a big converted stone barn). Here we nabbed a little punnet of roasted seed mix (which I would never buy in London, claiming rather that I could do it myself) and a smoked duck breast. It would have been rude for us not to also visit the Chocolate Delicatessen next door - we bought a "chocolate pizza" - a round disc of milk chocolate dotted with mini marshmallows, little balls of butterscotch, white choc chips and tiny round chocolate bites. The chocolate pizza lasted exactly 36 hours, and only that long because we had to sleep at some stage.
Saturday night was Y's birthday dinner back at the Hoste Arms. This seems to be a huge restaurant with seating areas in all sorts of rooms and over several levels. We were installed upstairs in a cosy corner, with soft brown leather chairs and a rustic wood table. This was the comfort factor I'd been longing for! Service was more engaging than at The White Horse and I think the food was a step up also. Whilst inhaling the delicious, warm bread and even more delicious butter, we perused the menu and decided on local Brancaster mussels in cream, parsley and garlic for Y, and a half dozen Brancaster oysters with red wine vinegar and shallots for me. Both were excellent - the oysters were large and so flavoursome.
For her main course Y ordered a feuillete of salmon, mussels, lobster, prawn & basil bisque (below) - it was sublime (I know because I kept sticking my fork across the table into her plate to stab pieces of seafood and pastry). I had the local Holkam venison, cooked perfectly rare, with wild mushrooms, roasted celeriac, cauliflower mash and a chocolate jus (above). I thoroughly enjoyed this dish - it was really really delicious.
To say our eyes were by this time far far larger than our rapidly expanding stomachs is quite an understatement, and yet we foolishly ordered the assiette of desserts to share, accompanied by a Rutherglen muscat. The desserts were very good, neither incredible nor particularly innovative, but very good - rosemary panna cotta with a plum sauce, lemon tart, chocolate fondant, and sticky date pudding. We waddled out of there and back to the warmth and comfort of our room on the water - we may have had a cup of tea and shard of chocolate pizza ...
On Sunday we headed home, stopping at a Castle Acre to see the castle and priory ruins dating back to 1066 (I threw that in to make it appear I am something of an intellectual history buff) - there looked to be some lovely pubs here, but we had places to be. Next stop was Oxburgh Hall before heading along the M11 home.
I hate to admit it, but convenience, coupled with our curiosity to test out Heston Blumenthal’s new menu at roadside "restaurant" Little Chef, caused us to stop here for a late lunch. We weren't particularly adventurous with our choices (a burger and a toastie), but had to concede that the food wasn't bad and definitely seemed freshly prepared - service was surprisingly attentive (the girl in charge breaking into a fast trot whenever food was ready to be delivered to tables). However, the feeling you are sitting in a dingy dining room on the side of a highway was a little hard to shake.

I absolutely loved North Norfolk - I planned the weekend thinking it would be a lovely place to go, and was bowled over by the farm shops selling great produce and the restaurants serving up excellent local food.


Dan said...

Wow - thats some weekend, you seem to have crammed a hell of a lot of foodie related treats in! In actual fact, sounds exactly the sort of weekend I drag my long suffering GF around on.
Norfolk is lovely, have you been to Norwich? suprisingly very nice with cobbled streets and loads of historic buildings (and churches - loads of churches) - Well worth a visit.

Leah said...

Well happy bithday to Yo! Sounds like you had a fabulous weekend and I am deeply deeply envious. It is so much harder to source fantastic artisan and farm products here is Brisbane...

Lex said...

Thanks for the tip Dan. We loved this area - I was so impressed with how foodie it was. I think all our weekends revolve almost entirely around food - Y has the good sense not to complain!

Hi Leah - thanks for the birthday wishes for Y. Probably not the same sort of farm shops around Brisvegas, but I did love the New Farm farmers' market at the Power House!

Kang said...

Beautiful post! I love gastro photo essays, everything looked wonderful, particularly the venison. Have you cooked any of the rare-breed pork sausages yet, does it live up to Gary Rhodes' claim :)

Happy Halloween :D

Lex said...

Thanks Kang - actually, I just posted about the sausages as we had them on Friday night. Never thought a sausage could taste that good!

Glad you liked the photo essay - now just to get my photos looking half as amazing as yours!

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