Wiveton hall Café, Holt, Norfolk

Has Wiveton Hall’s café rightly earnt the thumbs-up from Norfolk’s queen bee?

Nowhere in Britain divides opinion quite like Norfolk. Most counties come with a ready-made, dinner-party-safe prevailing view. Berkshire? Bucolic, unaffordable. Derbyshire? Lovely hills. Cornwall? Too long a drive, but worth it when you get there. Norfolk? Ask the person on your left and they’ll say it’s flat, featureless and totally without merit. Ask the person on your right and they’ll say that its luscious flora and coastal heritage are the envy of England. Ask either of them when they’ve had too much to drink and they’ll give you the opposite view, except stronger.

On at least three Norfolk-related matters, however, most people now seem to agree. First, Delia Smith’s still got it. Second, Stephen Fry (a native) is  a genius. And third, Wiveton Hall’s café is one of the best restaurants in Britain. Curiously, the first two points are true, the third is false, yet the reason people hold the third to be true is that Delia herself made the claim.

Yes, barely a year ago Delia was asked what she made of the march of Michelin restaurants in Britain. “On the whole,  I am not a great fan. I like the 1970s the best, really,” she 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.”

So your correspondent has come the extra mile, and on first appearances, this is a gorgeous place to eat. Five years old, it sits in a converted barn behind a vast stately home bought long ago bought by Desmond MacCarthy, the literary critic and journalist, back when literary critics and journalists could afford such things. It is just along the road from the lovely village of Cley. At the end of a long drive, you can see a vast fruit farm, pigs, chickens and a sunset to nourish the soul.

Inside, pastel pinks, yellows and blues combine with children’s art to create the impression of a giant nursery, and the kids running joyfully around seem to agree. Mostly, however, the clientele is of an age when they might well appreciate the large fonts on the menu containing weekday breakfast, weekend cooked breakfast, children’s menu, afternoon tea and a reminder that the lunch menu is on the big board in front of you.

It’s commendably short, with just  a few starters, mains, and in-betweeners (desserts are separate). And here, I am afraid, we search in vain for the wow factor. It’s reasonably priced – you can  get a decent bottle of Sauvignon for £12.50 – but not spectacular.

They front-load the best stuff. The celeriac and apple soup (£5.50) is very thick and slightly sweet, and the crispy whitebait with home-made garlic and lemon mayonnaise (£8.50) has our fingers lunging at the generous bowl in which they come. The Wiveton duck-and-ham hock terrine (£7.50) comes with a spicy, warming autumn chutney and excellent brown toast. Morston mussels steamed in cider (£11.50 for  a large portion) are good, but well short of the stunning bowlful you get at the Anchor Inn in Morston, a few miles away.

But all this sets the bar very high, so what follows is underwhelming. The wild rabbit and mushroom tagliatelle with cream, tarragon and Parmesan (£12.50) doesn’t have enough of the latter two in my estimation, and the pasta is overdone. The roast pork belly and loin with Wiveton veg and roast potatoes (£14.50) suffers from the opposite: the veg is delicious (particularly sweet, vinegary red cabbage) and the crackling is good, but there’s so much pork that neither Matt or Orazio, two of my generally hungrier friends, can come close to finishing it.

After this, the desserts (a date-and-walnut sticky-toffee pudding) and a dark-chocolate and amaretti biscuit torte and cherry glaze are fine rather than thrilling. But the coffee, apparently made with unchlorinated water from a chalk spring on the farm, is proper and classy.

Wiveton Hall café doesn’t, then, emphatically settle disputes on the merits or otherwise of Norfolk. It is  an attractive, reasonably tasty and  more reasonably priced restaurant. The term family-friendly could have been invented for it. But if you’re thinking of spending Christmas in Berkshire, don’t change your plans on this account.

Other Norfolk Nights

The Neptune 85 Old Hunstanton Road, Old Hunstanton, tel: 01485 532122 - The Mangeolle family’s 18th-century coaching inn is really making waves – very fresh fish dishes make up much of a menu that’s realised with skill, care and imagination.

Lavender House 39 The Street, Brundall, tel: 01603 712215 -This village restaurant  in a thatched building of character is back on top form now that proprietor Richard  Hughes is back behind the stoves.

The Gunton Arms Cromer Road, Norwich, tel: 01263 832010 -This lovely, three-year-old rural gastropub is set in a large deer park. The food is cooked on an open fire in the dining room, and local venison is a speciality.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
News
news
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week