This East Anglian region is one of Britain's best kept secrets as a foodie destination, says Henrietta Greene.
Stand aside Ludlow, Padstow or even Bridport – the North Norfolk coast is where it’s at. Long known for its glorious beaches, birdwatching, seal trips, marshes and brisk winter winds, it is fast becoming the area to eat, shop and generally enjoy food. What is also so impressive about this area is what the French call ‘terroir’ – the connections that are established and maintained between the land (and sea) and what is served or sold.
Every true food-spot has to have a smattering of Michelin stars, so here I offer up two. The Neptune, a charming, simply styled restaurant, which also offers rooms and breakfast, has a thoughtful, enticing menu that includes Poached Thornham oysters and Sedgeford leg of lamb, lamb sweetbreads, broad beans & potato purée horseradish cream. What’s more, it is fairly priced.
Morston Hall, also boasting a star, is on a far more lavish scale. Galton Blackiston, the chef/patron, and his wife, Tracy, are warm and welcoming, the rooms luxurious and the food considered and confident. A real treat is to cram in the kitchen for one of Galton’s half-day cookery courses.
But any hotspot must also offer a range of styles and prices for eating out, and this coastline has them in abundance. Wiveton Farm Café (and adjacent shop) is a gem. Decorated with shellscapes, tables spill around under the trees – it is the perfect cabin in the fields. Serving local, seasonal food (most of the produce is own-grown) cooked in a loose, eclectic style, it is the place to hang out. The view over the marshes is fabulous and when the sun is shining I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather be.
Other favourites include The Wiveton Bell for Cromer crab cakes and battered haddock using Yeatmans, a local beer. The Orange Tree is a suitably relaxed pub with rooms which has a similar approach to its food, and the summertime barbecue in the courtyard at The Victoria packs them in – with good reason.
If you want to buy produce for a picnic or to cook in, there’s plenty to inspire, particularly fish. As well as Gurney, a brilliant fishmonger in Burnham Market, the coast road is littered with fishmongers, fish shacks or mobile vans, usually family-run, selling crabs, lobsters, local cockles plus the catch of the day. Look out for The Blakeney Crab Shed and The Fish Shed.
As for farm shops and delis, possibly the newest kid on the block is Walsingham Farm Shop, but its growing reputation is more than justified. There’s local meat at the in-house butchery and great locally made cakes, jams and juices. The well-established Humble Pie, probably the first-ever deli on the coast, remains as fresh and determined to get the best as ever. Also impressive are The Wells Deli and Picnic Fayre, which is famous for its Norfolk lavender bread.
Drove Orchards bottles and sells about 12 different varieties of juice from its own-grown apples, and The Real Ale Shop at Branthill Farm offers well over 50 different bottle beers made by Norfolk brewers – the unique selling point here is that they all use barley grown on the farm.
Finally I must mention Jules Jackson at De-lish. In his tiny shop at Wells-next-the-Sea, he fusses over, cures and teases out the most extraordinary collection of cured meat, hams, salamis and sausages. Certainly a man to watch, but just one of the many whose dedication and passion contribute to Britain’s latest, worthy food-spot.
All leading airlines, including British Airways, offer direct flights to London, from where Norwich is about a three hour drive.
GREAT PUBS WITH ROOMS
FRESH FISH TO GO
FROM THE FARM