World's top eaterie? A tiny café in Norfolk
That's according to Delia Smith, who has put her stamp of approval on the simple food at Wiveton Hall
Sunday 17 July 2011
Ask most foodies who is the best restaurateur in the world, and they might mention Heston Blumenthal or Ferran Adria. But the only name you need to remember now is Desmond MacCarthy. Meet the man behind the Wiveton Hall café, the tiny Norfolk coffee shop serving "Britain's best food". This was no ordinary endorsement. It came from Delia Smith, the master egg-boiler and Norfolk resident who, with £23m in the bank, can choose from the most expensive menus in the world.
Founded only four years ago, the Wive cafe – as Mr MacCarthy calls it, punning on the more famous River Cafe – has won a devoted following among fans of simple, fresh food.
Typical dishes include broad beans and fresh parsley from the garden piled on slices of bruschetta, or buttery kippers and bacon sandwiches on granary bread, all locally sourced.
But it's not just the food that has proved a hit. The café is minutes from Cley beach on the north Norfolk coast, in the grounds of a 17th-century manor house.
Wiveton Hall was bought by Mr MacCarthy's grandfather Desmond, the literary critic of the 1930s who was a member of the Bloomsbury set. He bought the house and small farm with the proceeds of his writing for a song just after the Second World war. His grandson created the café in 2007 out of a 1960s storage barn adjoining their pick-your-own fruit farm.
"The idea was to make use of all our home-grown produce," he says. This includes figs, mulberries, herbs and soft fruit in season. His interest in food comes, he says, from his 95-year-old mother, Chloe, who still helps out on the farm. "My mother is half-Greek and is an excellent cook. She knows all about Mediterranean food, and cooks in the manner of Elizabeth David." Staff include James Fitzpatrick, Ben Perk and Jilly Hunn, who has been selling fruit on the roadside for 25 years. "She is my loyal secret weapon," Mr MacCarthy says. Though he and Chloe are a hands-on presence – considered by many to be the main attraction – they employ a chef, Alison Yetman, who previously ran Yetman's restaurant in the neighbouring town of Holt.
Asked last week who served the best food, Delia Smith said: "There is one person left doing that at the Wiveton Hall café and if I could go to her restaurant I would go that extra mile because it's, well, I just think everything else has got very overdone."
She went on to criticise chefs who overcomplicate their food. "If I am in a Michelin-starred restaurant and they have done this beautiful little smoked haddock soufflé in a thimble, I would like to order a whole big plateful." She said. "No, I'm not for four-course tasting menus."
It may come as news to Heston Blumenthal, who co-stars alongside Delia Smith in adverts for Waitrose. He is famous for tasting menus that include dishes such as snail porridge and bacon and egg ice-cream.
The café opens only during the summer months, and hosts tapas nights at weekends. Kate Middleton was a visitor before getting married, and club proprietor Robin Birley has praised the coffee as "the best I have ever tasted", because it is made with unchlorinated water from a chalk spring on the farm.
Decorated in bright pastel colours, and featuring a mural by Mr MacCarthy's sister Mary, the café has lately become a social hub, hosting exhibitions for local artists. It also featured in the Channel 5 reality TV show Farmer Wants a Wife, in which Mr MacCarthy, who is divorced with children, went on a series of blind dates. But it could be Delia who puts him on the map.
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