Coastal Norfolk: Dining by the sea

OUR visit was punctuated by some wonderful dining experiences, the first of which was at the Crown Hotel at Wells-Next-The-Sea, writes Emma Crowhurst.

The hotel is a former coaching inn and overlooks a quiet, tree-lined green known as The Buttlands. It was refurbished in 2002 to retain its character whilst creating an atmosphere of classic elegance. There’s a bar area at the front while the rear is an airy, light dining room with some interesting art works and books.

It’s part of the Flying Kiwi Inns, an independent group of inns and luxury hotels in rural and coastal Norfolk.

Kiwi Master Chef Chris Coubrough (from ITV’s Coastal Kitchen) is the man in charge.

I had a slate of smoked mackerel with tart red cabbage as a main. Crisp battered prawns, a little heavy on the batter, and another large slate of Asian-inspired nibbles were ordered by my friends. Mains are reasonably priced and altogether we left satisfied.

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We ate at our hired house on Friday night and enjoyed home-cooked food and much laughter.

Saturday morning dawned and we began a fabulous walk from Burnham Overy Staithe to stunning Holkham beach with its endless empty golden shores, through the delightful-smelling pine forest and on to Wells for lunch, which was a carry out from the Wells Deli.

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Some of my friends opted for the ‘Coastal Hopper’ bus back to base and then an afternoon’s shopping at Burnham Market. The rest of us carried further along the coastal path.

Once at Morston Key we left the coastal path and had to run for the bus, only to find it full. How sadly we watched as it left us at the bus stop. With an hour’s wait for the next bus and the possibility of it also being full, we hitched it home with the lovely Lynn, from Lincoln, in a shiny black limo, and us with our dirty boots! Thanks Lynn!

Dinner for Saturday night was booked at the Hoste Arms in Burnham Market. The Hoste has evolved into a ‘must visit’ destination, regularly attracting the attention of travel writers and the media. The restaurant serves local, seasonal produce with a modern British twist. A cosy and vibrant front bar appeals to residents, locals and visitors alike.

The Hoste Arms was privately acquired in December 1989 and was transformed from a pub with no bedrooms and a small dining room for 35 people, into a 36-bedroom hotel with a top class brasserie serving 150 meals a night.

The ownership of The Hoste Group transferred to Brendan and Bee Hopkins in April 2012. They first stayed in the hotel 20 years ago and have regularly enjoyed the hospitality, ambiance and excellent service for which The Hoste is renowned.

The service was excellent. Our waitress, Lucy, was a gem, as dealing with nine excitable ladies can’t have been easy.

I ordered home-smoked pigeon, puy lentils, bacon lardons, button mushrooms and caramelised red onion. The pigeon was a little over-cooked; it should be very pink indeed. It was whisked away and a second starter arrived. Good service and problem solved!

My main was a perfectly-cooked rack of English lamb, minted croquette potatoes, roasted root vegetables, curly kale and redcurrant jus.

We were in a private room in the cellar; a locked glass-fronted room at one end had a fantastic wine collection, beautifully lit and a wonderful backdrop to our meal.

Executive chef, Aaron Smith and head chef, Gemma Arnold, lead a dedicated team of 11 chefs. Using only the best local and seasonal produce, sourced from a plethora of Norfolk suppliers, many of whom are located within a 30-mile radius of the kitchen, the food represents the best of Norfolk. This has resulted in The Hoste Arms kitchen being awarded a coveted Michelin Bib Gourmand and two AA rosettes.

Our final day in Norfolk was spent again walking and building an appetite. The Holkham estate supplies beef and game to the nearby Victoria Hotel and Restaurant. Situated at the north gate of the estate, the hotel has unrivalled views of the fields full of pink-footed geese in winter and the pine forests beyond.

At The Victoria they source the freshest local produce, whether it be crabs from Cromer, mussels from Brancaster or venison, I had an amazing rare roast beef lunch and my friends haven’t stopped raving about the fish and chips. A dear little wire basket containing proper chips, which were thick cut and defiantly potatoey: golden to the eye, hot and fluffy within. The fish in a crisp, perfectly proportioned batter.

The Hoste Arms, The Crown at Wells and the Victoria at Holkham all made our weekend away a tremendous success. The journey home wasn’t too long either, making north Norfolk not only well worth a visit but very accessible.

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