As we are staying ‘next the sea’ this weekend when we surface on Sunday morning we sally forth for a final burst of the bright lights and seaside air of Hunstanton. But of course this is English summer so it quickly transforms from persistent drizzle to torrential downpour so a paddle in the sea is pretty much out of the question, not that I think we ever really considered it. So we have to resort to the other seaside activity when the deckchairs are packed away and the donkeys trot to shelter and that’s the amusement arcades. We run into the tawdry lighted hut nearest the car park, shaking off our wet tresses we change some notes into buckets of tuppences and hit the machines. When frequenting these gaudy establishments as a little girl when my grandmother would take me on a day trip to Southport or Blackpool, or even Buxton (you’ve got to love that miniature train) I used to be drawn to the one armed bandits but the fruit machines have been replaced by way more complicated ones now. So D and I eschewed those incredibly noisy things and stuck to the old fashioned 2p slot machines, the ones where the 2 pence pieces drop and hopefully knock some of their coppery friends into the waiting retrieval slot below. Though frankly the coins are considerably more likely to slip down the side and into the bowels of the machine, an action which sadly makes all the right noises but doesn’t give up the goods. But despite the terribly unlikely odds D and I are determined to stick to these machines and inexplicably put untold effort into procuring a little plastic skeleton. One slipped out of D’s grasps and committed suicide down the side of the machine but after further 2 pences were rained into the slot she succeeded in winning one, why this pleased us so excessively is hard to explain perhaps it’s a memory of all the times these machines robbed us of our pennies as children, especially those giant hooks that would tantalisingly hover over a vaguely desirable toy but evade all attempts to grab said item and deliver into our eager hands. Ha, revenge is sweet!
With our vast winnings of a plastic skeleton, 2 lollipops and still with 50 pence in the kitty we felt we could now tackle lunch so much to MC’s relief we head over to Titchwell Manor. As soon as N heard I was off to this neck of the woods for a weekend she said I should check out Titchwell Manor and we were immediately inspired to add it to our culinary destinations list. It’s still raining when we arrive but we have to explore and are very taken by their cottagey looking rooms aptly named Rosemary, Basil, Tarragon etcetera encircling a neat herb garden. D is particularly taken by the Potting Shed a little wooden house with a deck to sit out and catch a few rays over breakfast – sadly not today though.
Soon we are sat cosily in the conservatory watching the torrential seaside rain lash the glass roof and the lush secret garden beyond, grateful for the Sunday roast smells wafting enticingly from the kitchen and the fact we had abandoned thoughts of coastal pursuits in favour of a good feed up. The worse an English summer can fling at you can certainly be tempered by a good hunk of beef. And it looked like the finest of beasts were on offer particularly in the form of one of the set lunches of Roast rib of 28 day matured beef, Yorkshire pudding, duck fat potatoes, red wine gravy - there was also Roast loin of Berkshire pork on offer but I didn't spot as many eager takers. It seemed all around us were appreciative noises coming from contented diners forking beef and Yorkshires.
I was very intrigued by undeniably the largest Yorkshire pudding I've ever seen and spotting a handy baby at a neighbouring table I can vouch for the interesting fact that these giants of the Yorkshire pudding world are as big as a baby's head. But to be honest I'm not as wildly excited by these batter behemoths, I wouldn't say "no" if one turned up on my plate but I don't hanker for them particularly so I opted to explore the menu further and was considerably enamoured by the thought of Organic Red Poll Sirloin (Royal Sandringham Estate don’t you know) with horseradish risotto, pea and oxtail. I know John and Gregg from Master Chef would be yelling "don't you know that risotto is a dish in it's own right, it's not an accompaniment to the main feature" but occasionally I've thought that as delicious as a particular risotto is I'd quite like to move on to another flavour.
But before our beefy loveliness we had the small matter of the starters. D and MC had both opted for the Sunday lunch menu so they had Hobson's choice of local asparagus, duck egg dressing, parsley - not I hasten to add a bad thing but having a wider menu to select from I was determined to eke out the seaside theme and plump for the Brancaster cockles with white wine, shallots, cream and soft herbs. It took me many years to appreciate the joy of the fruits of the sea and I remember the first time I decided to try mussels whilst holidaying in Dijon and became an instant convert. Oysters I conquered on my first visit to Normandy. I think my natural aversion to mussels especially had been a frequent juxtaposition of the black glistening bivalves with the dreaded tomato. Michel the chef in Dijon made a special ‘sans tomates’ version for me and I saw the light. The only throwback to those seafood dodging times is a big preference for my seafood not being fridge cold. The oysters I preferred were the ones we'd topped with slivers of chorizo and grilled rather than just shucked and swallowed and I normally leave the prawns to everyone else unless they are warm. A fat prawn wrapped in a little Parma ham, skewered and then grilled is a very interesting proposition whereas a cold and slightly flaccid one lying there suspiciously close to a tomato laced Marie Rose sauce fills me with total dread.
But the clams were tasty - fiddly I have to admit, more work than mussels but with undeniably pretty shells, albeit a lot of them.
After our starters were polished off it was the turn of the beef, bring on the beasts! D and MC’s plates were a towering glory of beef crowned with the gargantuan Yorkshire puddings which they consumed with gusto.
Mine was the more elegant organic sirloin with horseradish risotto and added peas and oxtail. It is stylish, hearty and utterly delicious. There is a yummy breaded nugget of oxtail nestling in some gorgeous risotto with three slices of pink, juicy beef – this is Sunday lunch heaven!
To accompany all our beef we have a wonderfully verdant bowl of spring greens and another of broccoli gratin which seems incredibly apt when surrounded by all glistening greenery through the glass.
With the benefit of hindsight I should have chosen the hot Valrhona chocolate fondant but wanting to go against type I chose the elderflower and lemon tart with Italian meringue and raspberries. It certainly looked pretty and summery, topped with little elderflowers and tasted okay but just not outstanding. The lemon just wasn’t tart enough, it was just a tad bland but then the main course had been a lot to live up to.
D has selected the dessert with her name all over it, the apricot consommé with almond sorbet, marzipan and basil. Not my idea of a good time but then it wasn’t my name all over it! She was extremely happy claiming it to be one of the best desserts she’d ever had. Hmm I think I may have to return to this place and go for the chocolate fondant as it clearly had my name all over it but I chose to ignore the signs.
MC went for the rhubarb and liquorice sorbet with meringue and compressed fruits; he seemed to enjoy his unusual combination.
The conservatory at Titchwell Manor is an oasis of culinary calm from the delights of the June weather outside. We all decide that we’ve eaten enough to sink a small battleship but bizarrely we still want to check out the opening of the Yurt restaurant at Drove Orchards. Though the proviso is that we don’t eat anything no matter how many delicious plates of intriguing nibbles they wave in front of us. However truth be told I did succumb to a small wedge of a Scotch egg. A proper home-made Scotch egg is a wonderful thing and if this is indicative with the Yurt has to offer on future occasions I think another visit is definitely in order. Though not today as that sliver of breaded egg nearly pushed me over the edge.
Titchwell Manor was a fabulous recommendation by N and I am definitely drawn to the place perhaps even for a visit sometime. Perhaps I can surrender to that fabulous Valrhona chocolate fondant and then give them that third fork. Not that it was lacking as truly the memory of that succulent beef will linger for a long time, I know that D would definitely not concur but I didn’t end on a high. Hmmm, I wonder if they’re free next Sunday.