The Victoria, Holkham, Norfolk

Too breezy for a barbecue, and too busy to serve customers ... Richard Johnson battles against the odds at Norfolk's fashionable new eatery The Victoria
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Indy Lifestyle Online

On the seventh day, God rests. I barbecue. Which is why I own a Flashmeister Six – the only barbecue that comes with a mortgage. And its own micro-climate. In an effort to keep up with the Johnsons, my next-door-neighbour has just bought a zirconium-coated beast with six range-top burners and a rotisserie. He went for the portable phone attachment (with the local pizza parlour on speed dial), but I'm more confident in my bbq-ing abilities.

On the seventh day, God rests. I barbecue. Which is why I own a Flashmeister Six – the only barbecue that comes with a mortgage. And its own micro-climate. In an effort to keep up with the Johnsons, my next-door-neighbour has just bought a zirconium-coated beast with six range-top burners and a rotisserie. He went for the portable phone attachment (with the local pizza parlour on speed dial), but I'm more confident in my bbq-ing abilities.

I know that, for instance, "barbecue" can mean a style of cooking, a way of eating, and even what you're eating; the word is a noun, a verb, and an adjective. You can say "I barbecue my barbecued barbecue at a barbecue," and make Countdown fans laugh out loud. Indians have tandoori, Japanese yakitori, Greeks souvlaki – but it's Americans who have the right to barbecue written into their constitution. Which is why they eat an average of 100 burgers each a year.

I just picked the wrong day to bbq in Holkham. It was breezy. And in Norfolk, they say it's "breezy" even if small animals are flying through the air. So I can report that yes, the £6.50 ticket for The Victoria's "courtyard barbecue" does indeed include a burger (made with Holkham estate beef) and a single scoop of home-made ice cream. But I can't report anything else. Had they thrown in a blanket and a vacuum flask of tea, it might have been different. But Neris and I decided to take shelter inside.

The Victoria has been creating quite a stir since it was made over into a hotel/ restaurant/pub. The owners raided their parents' houses – not to mention Rajasthan – "to triumphant effect", wrote one journalist. "Style and history have fused, like a baby Babington House," wrote another. Well, let me tell you, Somerset's ultra-fashionable Babington House offers beauty treatments in a Mongolian tent overlooking a lake. And that takes money. Not just a staple gun and a forest's worth of hardwood.

The restaurant in the hotel/restaurant/ pub isn't offensive to look at, but I had been expecting a bit more. Beyond the dark furnishings, there was nothing to suggest the calm of the east. At table five, we sat in the midst of the chaos. Waitresses were screaming like short-order cooks, and I had to ask for our mineral water four times. That's when our waitress said: "I'll see if it's on its way." It felt like The Victoria was operating some archaic chit system.

There were waitresses of every nationality. And they didn't understand each other. Or me. Or the international language of service. All I wanted was one waitress prepared to say: "Yes, Mr Johnson, I'll get you that mineral water – in fact, I'll get it right now." But it was that waitress's day off. Our's wasn't exactly lazy, judging by the number of times she went in and out of the kitchen, but she didn't have any real sense of purpose.

Neris had five tiger prawns. They came with goi ga (a Vietnamese salad of marinated cabbage and chicken), lime and chilli for £7.50. The menu spelt it "gio ga" – get it right if you want your food to be taken seriously. And, by the way, even a sea bass needs more than five tiger prawns for dinner. My steak arrived lukewarm. Evidently it had been fanned too many times by the kitchen door. They magicked me another inside two minutes, which was perfect in taste and texture.

The Victoria isn't cheap. But for 10oz of ribeye this good – even if it came with pepper sauce instead of Béarnaise when it did finally arrive – £14.95 seemed fair. The sad thing was that, by then, I was too irate about my missing mineral water to really enjoy it. The table behind us had been given the wrong bill. And three men wandered in from the beer garden to chase their missing orders. Not one of the waitresses seemed to care.

The pudding menu wasn't written down. It was committed to memory – maybe this was down to the "folk tradition" of our Eastern European waitress. Neris opted for a treacle tart that tasted strongly of orange. Looking at my wheel of flavour, I'm not sure those two belong together. And I'm sad to report my trifle had no sherry. Or hundreds and thousands. And the jelly came out of a packet. Let's face it, when it comes to trifle, there's only one Nana Johnson.

Maybe I was expecting too much from The Victoria. Ever since I first saw Gwyneth Paltrow walking on Holkham Sand in the last shot of Shakespeare in Love, I have sought out the under-populated beach, backed by dunes and pine forests, whenever I can. And I had hoped to tag The Victoria on to my day trips. But I won't bother. In a hotel/restaurant/pub, something has to suffer. Unfortunately, on this particular occasion, it was tables five, seven, eight and nine.

The Victoria at Holkham, Park Road, Holkham, Norfolk (01328 711008).

To contact Richard Johnson, visit richardjohnsononline.co.uk

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