The complete foodie guide to Norfolk

The complete foodie guide to Norfolk

by Polly Robinson 17 December 2019

Polly Robinson sheds light on the best restaurants to grace Norwich and the rest of Norfolk, a gem of a county on England's east coast.

Polly Robinson is a Suffolk-based food writer and PR.

Polly Robinson is a Suffolk-based food writer and PR.

I remember visiting Norwich for a university open day and being told the city had a pub for every day of the year, with some to spare. Nearly thirty years on I imagine many of those pubs have fallen by the wayside, but what the city has gained in that time is a diverse and impressive food scene to match the its renowned cultural reputation.

In recent years the colourful open market has been revitalised by the arrival of street food traders serving churros, empanadas and Thai curries, alongside the traditional mushy peas and jellied eels. There’s more than one artisan bakery, several coffee roasters and a handful of classy restaurants.

Beyond the vibrant cultural hub of Norwich, Norfolk’s rich and diverse farmland and coast produces some of the best produce in the country, from asparagus and strawberries to Black Norfolk turkeys, Holkham venison, Cromer crabs and Brancaster mussels. There’s free-range pork, coastal samphire, traditional orchards and dozens of microbreweries using local barley malted in the county.

Norfolk’s chefs like Galton Blackiston make the most of this abundance (‘everything on the menu at Morston Hall is designed around what’s available locally and in season,’ he says) and many of the county’s chefs follow suit – perhaps because a few of them have worked at Morston Hall before setting up on their own!

There are cosy cafés for wet afternoons and country pubs to warm up in after a blustery seaside walk. But for me, the restaurants below represent the pick of the bunch when eating out in Norfolk.

Morston Hall, Holt

It’s twenty-one years since Morston Hall was first awarded a Michelin star. In that time other restaurants have come and gone, but Galton and Tracy Blackiston and their team at Morston Hall continue to serve a daily-changing seven-course menu. The smart flint and brick house has comfortable rooms and beautiful gardens (which produce some of the restaurant’s fresh produce) set within minutes from the quay where you can take fishing and seal-watching trips or explore the stunning coastline on foot.

The food, however, is the reason to visit Morston Hall. Classical cooking with a modern touch is beautifully presented and makes the most of local produce with a particular interest in fish and seafood. Dinner is served starting with canapés in the gardens or the elegant lounge, while lunch is only available on Sundays. Star dishes might include a butternut squash velouté with Kings Lynn brown shrimps; wild Stiffkey sea bass or local Middle White suckling pig.

morstonhall.com

Upstairs at No 1 Cromer, Cromer

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Head down the road from Morston to Cromer if you fancy trying Galton Blackiston’s less formal (and more affordable) take on Norfolk seafood and fish. Downstairs, No 1 Cromer is a fish and chip shop serving freshly battered cod or haddock and chips to eat in or takeaway. Upstairs at No 1 offers something more international, but still with its heart in the best local produce. Savour the views of the beach and pier as you enjoy tapas-style plates of crispy Indian fried squid, cockles caught in the Wash; fishcakes made with the resident Cromer crab; Korean pork belly and Baja fish tacos with pea purée. Galton has even teamed up with local brewery Norfolk Brewhouse to create his own range of local gluten-free bitter and lager to go with the food. Puddings are worth making room for, or pop downstairs to Ice Cromer for local ice creams and doughnuts.

no1cromer.com

The Neptune, Old Hunstanton

One of only two Michelin-starred restaurants in Norfolk, The Neptune Inn at Old Hunstanton is a restaurant and rooms owned and run by Kevin and Jacki Mangeolles. The couple have lovingly converted a Georgian coaching inn with muted colours and stylish touches. Kevin’s creative cooking makes the most of seasonal local produce, such as Brancaster lobster, Norfolk quail and seasonal fruit. The elaborate nine-course tasting menu itemises the individual components of each dish but belies the ambitious and technical approach – think Norfolk venison with butternut, lovage cream and pumpkin seeds, or truffle Pecorino with sultana and hazelnut. The à la carte menu includes the likes of soused mackerel, cucumber, oyster mayonnaise and caviar and almond iced nougat, coconut and lime sorbet and blackberry.

Service is relaxed and unhurried and the experience can be even more laidback if you book yourself into one of their four bedrooms.

theneptune.co.uk

Benedicts, Norwich

In Norwich, Morston Hall’s former head chef Richard Bainbridge and his wife opened their own restaurant in 2015. On one of the city’s most eclectic streets with a big shop window, wooden floors and stripped-back decor, Benedicts is a stylish contemporary spot for lunch or dinner; a sophisticated oasis from the hustle and bustle of Norwich’s bars and shops.

Richard hails from Norwich and his menus demonstrate his pride in his home county with local meat, game and seafood, dipping into neighbouring Suffolk for incredible aged sirloin from the dairy cows of world-class cheesemaker Fen Farm Dairy, as well as organic grains from Hodmedod’s. Richard’s Michelin training (including a period at The Waterside Inn) is evident, but the cooking is relaxed and ingredients are allowed to shine. New season Norfolk red-legged partridge is paired with spätzle, pomegranate and hazelnut, and there are always vegetable-led dishes like his celeriac mousse terrine with baby onions, young leeks, carrot purèe, and wild garlic sauce.

Richard has taken part in Great British Menu twice and appeared as a veteran judge, while his winning dessert Nanny Bush's Trifle (inspired by his grandma) remains a stalwart of the menu alongside classics like spiced rum savarin and milk chocolate mousse.

restaurantbenedicts.com

The Ingham Swan, Ingham

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Another Norfolk born-and-bred chef to have done his time on Great British Menu and served as head chef at Morston Hall is Daniel Smith at The Ingham Swan. Two years ago the Grade II listed, fourteenth century thatched former pub was devastated by fire, but from the ashes this smart restaurant with rooms rose eighteen months later. Considered cooking from Daniel and head chef Alex Clare make this restaurant well worth the journey to the north east of the county. Big flavours feature on the daily changing menus, with dishes like fried chicken mousse with wild mushrooms, crispy chicken wing and Parmesan crisp or chorizo roast hake fillet, crushed new potatoes, courgette, spinach and beurre blanc. Alex’s signature fillet of beef with potato terrine, pancetta, celeriac and spinach is usually on the menu too.

theinghamswan.co.uk

The Gunton Arms, Thorpe Market

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Deep in the historic 1,000-acre deer park of Gunton Hall, south of Cromer, The Gunton Arms is a pub with rooms styled like the country house you wish had been passed down through your family. Opened by former Hix head chef Stuart Tattershall in 2011, The Gunton Arms sees London weekenders rubbing shoulders with locals playing pool; there are dogs, wood smoke and good beer to show that it’s a real pub. It’s when you spot the walls adorned with art by the likes of Damian Hirst, Tracy Emin and Lucian Freud – testament to the fact that the pub is owned by a London art dealer Ivor Braka – that you realise this pub is one of a kind.

The flagstoned dining room is named the Elk Room after the impressive set of antlers hanging above the huge centrepiece sixteenth-century fireplace on which chef Stuart cooks huge slabs of venison from the estate, along with Blickling beef and Blythburgh pork. Steaks are served with goose fat roast potatoes for added decadence.

You need to arrive at The Gunton Arms with an appetite, but there are tasty bar snacks like spicy wild boar sausages with chilli jam and Blythburgh pork crackling as well as lighter dishes like crab pasta with chilli and coriander and mixed beets with pickled walnuts and Binham Blue. There’s seafood as well of course: Cromer crab and mussels and King's Lynn brown shrimps. Puddings are just as delightful – try the buttermilk pudding with Gunton honeyed figs, or the Norfolk raspberry and almond tart.

theguntonarms.co.uk

Titchwell Manor, Titchwell

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North Norfolk is not short of pubs with rooms and glamping sites to accommodate the visitors that flock from London and the Midlands throughout the year, but if you’re looking for a little bit of luxury and formality, head to boutique hotel Titchwell Manor, which boasts uninterrupted views across the nearby RSPB reserve to the sea.

Titchwell Manor is a family affair, owned by Margaret and Ian Snaith whose son Eric heads up the kitchen. There are two dining rooms decorated with bold colours and contemporary furniture: the Eating Room and the more formal Conservatory overlooking the gardens. Over two menus the “Classics” and the more formal eight course “Conversation” menu. The food comes courtesy of two menus (‘Classics’ and the more formal eight-course ‘Conversation’) and is exquisitely presented.

titchwellmanor.com

Wiveton Farm Café, Holt

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On the edge of the Cley Marshes, surrounded by the fields and orchards of Jacobean manor Wiveton Hall (made famous by the BBC series Normal for Norfolk), Wiveton Farm Café celebrates produce grown on the farm and surrounding area. Colourful chairs and floral tablecloths give it a quirky, charming atmosphere which spills outdoors under the tall pine trees in the warmer months.

It’s everything that you would expect from a café with sandwiches and quiches aplenty, but they’re a cut above. There’s more, too – think slow-roasted black tomatoes on toasted sourdough or Weybourne crab salad with homemade mayonnaise. It's simple food packed with homegrown flavour.

In summer the café opens for evening food and there’s weekend tapas and regular pizza evenings during the school holidays. You can pick your own strawberries, raspberries and asparagus when in season and take homemade chutneys and jams home from the small farm shop. It can get very busy, so booking in advance is recommended.

wivetonhall.co.uk