‘Feast for the eyes and belly’ - Why this artisan café is well worth the visit
- Credit: DONNA-LOUISE BISHOP
Nestled in the heart of rural north Norfolk, Alby Craft and Gardens is a place I have visited many times over the past decade.
Situated between Cromer and Aylsham, it oozes with a relaxing and creative vibe that you’d be hard to come by in any other eatery in Norfolk.
As well as being home to a gift shop, fine art and craft galleries, beautiful botanical gardens, and much more, it also boasts a delightful and quirky café, the Artisan.
It first opened its doors back in February 2020 – at least it tried to. After a highly successful launch, it was thrown in at the deep end of something called the coronavirus pandemic. You may have heard of it.
But despite the stresses of learning to negotiate a food and drink business within new government guidelines and restrictions, Artisan has gone from strength to strength.
It describes itself as being "a modern cafe set in a beautiful old barn conversion, within a relaxing setting, offering homemade artisan-style food with locally sourced produce", and it totally lives up to its promises.
On arrival, we were greeted with the usual hand sanitizer, clear instructions of what rules we needed to follow, and the choice of seating either inside or outside. The sun was shining so it was a busy afternoon, despite being mid-week, but we were lucky enough to get a coveted table outside.
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We were quickly brought menus that offered absolutely delicious sounding meals and made our choices before heading indoors to order where I was greeted with a stunning array of freshly made cakes, sausage rolls, and cheese scones with an elaborate parmesan headdress.
My partner opted for the Artisan burger with a homemade brisket burger in a bun filled with cheese, bacon, and caramelised onion, served with fries and ‘slaw (£12.95) while I went for the vegetarian flatbread pizza (£9). We both picked a Broadland Orchard posh pop (£2.15 each) with my partner choosing ginger beer with chilli while I had elderflower. These were the perfect refreshments on a sunny day.
It did not take long for our food to arrive and we were served by the friendliest of staff. They were all very knowledgeable about the food and seemed even more excited than us by our choices!
My partner, who reluctantly gave me a (small) bite of his burger, said it was one of the best tasting burgers he had ever had – and I completely agree. It was meaty with a traditional brisket taste and had a lovely texture. The slice of cheese was thick and the whole thing comes together really well. The fries and ‘slaw were also beautifully presented, well made, and yummy.
I wasn’t jealous for long though. My vegetarian flatbread pizza was a treat for the tastebuds. Loaded on a thin and crispy bread base, red, sundried, and sweet green tomatoes filled the top, with sweet onion chutney and halloumi cheese adding to the depth of flavours. I could eat this meal every day for the rest of my life and never get bored of it.
Unsurprisingly we finished our meals quickly and were left with huge smiles on our faces. It would have been rude to leave without taking a little something away with us so I ordered a slice of Victoria sponge and a cheese scone to take home, along with pleasant memories of a wonderful lunch and a vow to return soon.
I cannot emphasise enough how much this place is a feast for the eyes as well as the belly. Art from local artists is displayed in every corner, while the food itself looks like a piece of creativity. It is welcoming, relaxing, quiet (despite being near the busy Cromer Road), and is packed with oodles of charm.
Sandwiches and Hasselback potatoes range from £7.95, while the bigger lunches hoover around the £12.95 mark. The produce is fresh, and often local, so I felt it was reasonably priced for what we got. There is also a kids section for £5.95.
There is an extensive list of hot drinks here with choices of flavoured coffee and different teas, including fruit and herbal. They also offer a large range of Broadland Orchard posh pops.
Roomy, clean, and perfectly functional.
The site does have a variety of different levels but there are signs pointing disabled users in the best direction. There are also options on the menu for gluten-free dishes, vegetarian and vegan.
Friendly yet down to earth. It did not feel like we were being served, but rather treated and looked after by a group of very welcoming hosts.
Where do I start? As well as being located in the perfect setting, the food was sublime and the staff was also lovely. But if I had to choose, I would say the menu. There are some absolute treats listed on there and it has clearly been well thought out.
Well worth the drive out, especially if you want a decent and relaxing bite to eat. You may even get lucky and meet the resident peacock on your visit.
Our food reviews are always independent. They are the opinion of the reviewer based on their experience of the venue when they visited. The establishment is not aware of our visit, is not informed we intend to write a review and bills are paid by the reviewer. The choice of places reviewed is also independent and is not based on venues that do or do not advertise in our publications.
If you like that, try this:
1. The Orangery Tea Room at Ketteringham Hall, near Wymondham
A delightful tea room set in the Norfolk countryside. It serves wonderful afternoon teas, including a savoury variety too.
2. Heydon Tea Rooms, Heydon, north Norfolk
Set in the beautiful and historic village of Heydon, the little tearoom has so much to offer. It is currently running a takeaway service, but it is worth a visit once its doors open. It also serves one of the prettiest–and tastiest–afternoon teas.
3. The Green Eatery, Opie Street, Norwich
Brought to you by the same people as Pizzaterian, this venture serves Indian-inspired international food from the former Namaste India restaurant. The menu has a focus on stuffed pancakes.
How you can support your favourite restaurant in the pandemic:
Takeaways - If you don't feel comfortable eating out, plenty of places are still offering takeaway meals for delivery or collection.
Vouchers - A valuable way to help businesses, you can buy yourself - or a loved one, as a gift - a voucher now to enjoy when it's safe to do so down the line.
Shop local - Make sure to support restaurant and pub suppliers, including beer, cheese and fruit and vegetables, by shopping local.
Social media - It's not an easy time for many people financially. A simple like on Facebook or follow on Instagram shows support for traders, though, and can help them build exposure.
Don't forget them when they reopen - Restrictions won't last forever, and our support should be consistent.