A couple of months ago I was commissioned to write a feature for a new coffee table book about food, travel and driving holidays in the UK. The book which has now been published on behalf of Infiniti Cars, includes a feature from Roots and Toots. Below is a snippet.
The article is about my ultimate foodie staycation or holiday in Norfolk, if you’re not from these parts. Norfolk really is one of the loveliest places in England to holiday, even if you happen to be local. Not convinced? Read on.
Sadly, the coffee table book went to print shortly before the devastating news about the The Ingham Swan fire. The restaurant, which features in this article, is currently closed but rest assured that The Ingham Swan will soon be launching pop-up events soon and have already confirmed they’re looking to be back in business by next year. It’s important to support local businesses wherever possible, especially after something like this has impacted such a talented business – so make sure you include The Ingham Swan on your hit-list for 2018 and beyond.
So here it is – my guide to the ultimate foodie couple’s Norfolk staycation. It involves two overnight stays, one in each of the two corners of North Norfolk and an ambitious appetite for seasonal dishes cooked by Norfolk food heroes.
A NORFOLK HOLIDAY: ONE COUNTY, TWO APPETITES, FOUR WHEELS
Leah Larwood hasn’t fallen far from the tree. She was born in Norfolk and apart from a decade eating her way around other more exotic parts of the world, she finally concluded that there’s no place like home. She is now a freelance writer by day and also blogs about travel, and food from her roots, at www.rootsandtoots.com
HOLIDAY AT HOME
Norfolk, my Norfolk, is more than just home. The reason I feel so connected to this county is because of its rich and varied backdrop. It’s shaped by a strong sense of community, independence and nature but what I possibly love above all is the buzz of friendly people you encounter here. When I moved back to Norfolk nearly four years ago, it was clear that things had changed, including the food scene. I returned with an even larger appetite for good food and a drive to revisit all my favourite sweet-spots around the region. I now love where I live so much that I enjoy holidaying here too.
A STAYCATION FOR FOODIES
Spoilt by 93 miles of expansive beaches and countryside steeped in legend, Norfolk has all the ingredients. It’s safe to say that it’s not just Norfolk’s plate that has changed over the last 20 years. As a nation we want to eat out more now. When I was a teenager it was a very different story but during my time away, a culinary revolution has taken place across the land.
It’s an exciting time for foodies. Yet as a local it’s not every day you visit Michelin Star establishments. Here’s a good excuse to tick a few things off your local fine dining list. Forget about passports, airport parking and delayed flights, the money you save can be spent on some of the finest food you’ll find. So where do you begin such a journey? There’s only one place.
FIRST STOP: DINNER AND ROOM AT THE INGHAM SWAN
First of all. I like getting into the car, shooting off to explore our country at the weekends but the North Eastern part of Norfolk is a soft spot we don’t venture to enough. The Ingham Swan is a fourteenth century coaching inn quietly located where North Norfolk coast meets the Broads. It’s a beautifully secluded corner for a delicious meal and an overnight stay.
With a strong emphasis on seasonal ingredients, the Ingham Swan offers fine dining which is served in its relaxed, low-beamed dining area. Its award-winning Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant is a tribute to modern British cuisine. The menu uses hand-selected seasonal produce straight from the soil. With the help of an established local farming family, the Ingham Swan chefs have an active role in tending to and selecting what’s grown at their nearby farm. In fact, it’s worth trying the restaurant’s rrecently launched tasting menu: ‘A Taste of Our Farm’.
We stayed in one of the Ingham Swan’s four retreat-style rooms housed in a beautifully converted stable. It’s offers relaxed escapism, a place where you can contentedly sleep off your feast.
The talented Head Chef, Daniel Smith, who featured on the BBC2’s Great British Menu 2016, has a love of Norfolk’s rich coastal larder. He is unafraid of bold flavours. Offering an inspired menu which changes daily. Although there’s clearly flamboyance in every dish there’s also a very down to earth quality too. It’s very thoughtful cooking and a great deal of emphasis has been placed on provenance.
We had a wonderful evening at this idyllic thatched pub, it was less of a gastro-pub cum watering hole (which was what I’d anticipated) and more of a super relaxed fine dining experience with outstanding service.
Of course, the breakfast on offer is just what you’d expect. There is an excellent range available, including vegetarian options. Freshly squeezed juice, yoghurt, cereals including the Ingham Swan’s very own muesli, toast (with homemade bread fresh baked daily), scrambled eggs with smoked salmon or the Full English with Dingley Dell welfare-friendly outdoor-reared Suffolk pork sausages and bacon.
NEARBY: SEA PALLING & THE BROADS
Due to its positioning, nearby Sea Palling beach always boasts such great kite flying weather and then there’s Happisburgh with its iconic lighthouse, which is always a beautiful site. We often head here to blow out the cobwebs after a big breakfast and before a short drive over to the Broads. Embarking from Wroxham, a morning boating along the still waterways is nothing but good for the soul.
SECOND STOP: THE LONG LUNCH AT THE WILDEBEEST
Norfolk has changed over recent years. Although it’s easy for us to think that the chain restaurants have staked claim on our high streets, Norwich is one of the few cities in the UK that has such an active role in championing independents and local produce.
Now it’s over to the other side of Norwich – to another fine independent eatery that became under new ownership around eighteen months ago by Daniel Smith of the Ingham Swan.
It’s a 40-minute drive through the Broads and onto the pretty villages surrounding South Norfolk, to Stoke Holy Cross near Norwich. The Wildebeest, originally a traditional pub, is the place to come for the ultimate long lunch on its al fresco terrace.
It’s clear to see that the Wildebeest also takes real pride in creating consistently fresh and delicious meals and where local produce is also high up on the menu.
Its seasonal menu brings together dishes using the freshest ingredients to showcase the best of local produce. With the help of an established local farming family, their chefs have an active role in tending to and selecting what they grow.
A set three course lunch is £22.50 and for this you’re able to gain a good sense of its overall offering. Starters include dishes such as its roasted celeriac soup with toasted pine nuts & chives and for main, a thyme pressed potato terrine, salt baked swede, Tacons celeriac, confit egg yolk, potato puff and apple salad is enough to make any vegetarian fall of his or her chair.
NEARBY: COUNTRYSIDE & LOCAL PRODUCE
There really is no place quite like Norfolk. There’s a sense of freedom and openness as you drive amongst the uninterrupted green, dotted with medieval churches. I find the power of Norfolk’s green expansive spaces in summer, restorative and freeing. Especially when the roads are mainly quiet and the fields tinged in sun.
It’s then an hour’s drive from Stoke Holy Cross to Morston. Take the scenic route along the Holt Road and pick up some locally made chutneys, jams, breads and cheeses from Byfords in Holt. Other farm shop favourites include: Back to the Garden and Wiveton Hall both also near Holt.
THIRD STOP: SUPPER, ROOM AND AFTERNOON TEA AT MORSTON
Finally, after all that food, now it’s onto somewhere relaxing to quaff a Pimms on the lawn and a place to recharge, on yes, more good food. With luxurious bedrooms and an English country garden, this seventeenth century hall has been sympathetically restored to unrelenting standards.
After all the good food so far on this foodie journey, it’s probably advisable to opt for a light supper at this stage. Or you could go the whole hog and sample the renowned tasting menu. It would be a sin not to. Galton Blackiston’s restaurant at Morston Hall has been a holder of a Michelin Star since 1998, also has three AA rosettes and is named in the top 100 restaurants in the UK.
Yet I won’t review Galton’s tasting menu for you today. Instead I want to tell you about the cake. I’ve been a great lover of Morston Hall’s afternoon tea for some time now. During pregnancy, I tried all the major afternoon aeas in Norfolk and this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. So before you depart from Morston Hall the following day, its advised that you leave room for the icing on the cake – and the cake itself, around six of them.
Here, afternoon tea is either served by the log fire in the winter or outside in the walled garden during the summer. Michelin quality extra touches and the overall feeling of fullness you leave with as you climb into your car. At £21 per head, it’s a mere snip when places such as the Ritz and Claridge’s charge around £60 per head. Galton Blackiston knows how to elevate the humble cream tea. Lavishing three tiers with triple-decker sandwiches, a plate of lightly fried potato woven quail’s egg and a generous supply of homemade fruit scones with Morston Hall raspberry jam and clotted cream. Then follows the petit fours and small cakes.
Just when we thought we’d popped our last button, they brought us each a delicious plated dessert, a custard egg tart with poached rhubarb and hazelnut crumble. Our faces lit up with joy like street windows. The sweet, rich egginess of the filling was perfect with the light, melt-in-the-mouth pastry. Washed down with Assam and Darjeeling tea.
NEARBY: NORTH NORFOLK
We’re very lucky here in Norfolk. Spoilt for choice with stunning coastline, picture-postcard countryside and blessed with the warmest and driest weather in the UK. Summer in Norfolk can often feel very far-flung.
TOP 3 NORTH NORFOLK BEACHES
After all that food, it’s time for a few beach walks. My three favourite beaches include:
- The uninterrupted views of gleaming Blakeney, located just a short drive from Morston
- Then from here a 20-minute drive westward along the coast road to Holkham National Nature Reserve’s beach
- Followed by a further 20-minute drive continuing west to RSPB Titchwell Marsh Reserve’s beach. Each beach is around 9 miles apart from one another.
IN A NUTSHELL CRABSHELL:
OUR NORFOLK FINE DINING STAYCATION
Journey time: Over two days – 1hr 27 minutes (79 miles)
Dinner and a night’s stay at the Ingham Swan
Kite flying at Sea Palling or boating on The Broads
Late (long) lunch at the Wildebeest
Drive through countryside, stop at farm shops
Supper and a night’s stay at Morston Hall
Drive then walk around North Norfolk beaches
Afternoon Tea at Morston Hall
A short, content drive home