Sunday, August 23, 2009

Baby one more time!

I had it all sorted, my bags are packed and I'm ready to go. For the first time the sun has barely got his hat on and the big blue sky has been overrun by great white fluffies. I guess it means it is time to get back to life and back to reality. I toyed with the idea of making a visit to Cley again with vague thoughts of securing one of those venison pies for later and then as I went to collect my bags to catch an early Coasthopper back to King's Lynn I caught sight of the lunch menu and I succumbed. Why not extend this idyllic stay at Titchwell Manor just for a little longer, there are plenty of trains, it will an age before I can see the sea and taste the salty air again. And really I'm not quite ready to get back to the world of dusty tubes, burgeoning inboxes and the general hullabaloo of London living and working... well not for a few more hours at least. And one final excuse, if I need it, is that I'd already decided that I'd get the just before 4 o'clock train home when I made plans yesterday, this extra indulgence just makes that a reality.
In the meantime I have more of that delicious smoked salmon, cream cheese & chive risotto to tuck into. And it's still as yummy but compact and bijou and oh so good.
The main on the fixed price (set) menu today is slow cooked pork belly, apple purée, potato & cream cheese rosti. D was gutted when the last of the pork belly and crackling was snaffled up at the Yurt on Friday night and she had to switch to chicken instead. I don't know what she would have made of this one. For one thing it was devoid of crackling which, I realise that once again I'm in the minority here, is not a massive loss on my part. But I know D and LLcT would have been bereft. However before you rush to condemn Eric and the Titchwell Manor restaurant I can confirm that there was indeed crackling, and I'm sure plenty of it, with the roast loin of Berkshire pork on the Sunday lunch menu yesterday. With that assurance out of the way I can tell you why this piece of porcine perfection was so wonderful. It was a nice compact size, it had a juicy, meaty melt-in-the-mouth texture and a little bite from the mustard seed glaze. The accompaniments were a pleasing dollop of fresh apple purée and more excitingly minute cubes of a punchy apple jelly. The cream cheese in the rosti (I might say potato cakes as the potato was sliced not grated) just added a general unctuousness to the whole proceedings. There is also a meaty slick and a few artistic drizzles of gravy crowning an attractive and delicious dish. There was a lavender panacotta, meringue and crystallised nuts to chase it all down with but even I thought this was one decadence too far.
I can while away the time until the next hopper... there's no rush in the little hideaway I discovered yesterday. As Titchwell Manor looks over the fields, the marshes that make up the RSPB bird sanctuary and then the beaches beyond I'd been hankering after a little extra height to inspire a drawing. My kindly waitress told me of a seating area upstairs furnished with both the view and a handy telescope to examine it all further. I could indeed spot lots of birds but without MC's handy guide I couldn't tell you what they were. Stately and very white, no not gulls,  something more marsh-waderish. Perhaps you can see why I don't do a 'twitching' blog. This little enclave was the perfect spot to draw, write some blog texts and rather randomly play a guitar hero-esque app on the iPhone. And, dare I say it, totally rock those riffs and yes, those dials were up to eleven! My Sweet Home Alabama was sweeeeet!
But I digress. After my delicious (extra) lunch I was chatting to Mark Dobby the Restaurant Manager about how much I thought they deserved Michelin star but he was concerned it would stifle Eric Snaith's creativity. Would the Michelin pendants appreciate you being able to select from a set menu, go more creatively a la carte or mix and match with the slightly simpler bar menu. Well whatever those rubber tired guys think I think Eric (and sous Ben) and Mark and all his team deserve to be showered with a multitude of accolades.
I've had just a wonderful stay at Titchwell Manor, a relaxing, chilled place with the finest of fresh, local food and really charming staff to ensure your stay is divine. If you're in the area drop in for lunch or dinner or both - I know I did.

PS - Yummy photos added now, how gorgeous does that pork look!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The coast is my oyster

Before I get too settled in my elegant room I have some missions along the coast and avail myself of the Coasthopper - the handy local little bus service. In my preparations for this trip I considered most contingencies, rain (I packed a raincoat and umbrella) lots of layers and devices to entertain during the inevitable wet and inclement weather. But I didn't count on the days of huge blue skies with the occasional little white fluffy. In fact I'd not considered North Norfolk skies at all and I've been bowled over by their vastness and majesty. I can so see why they refer to the 'big blue sky' here, it really is mesmerising and I taken reams of photographs. The beaches, the fields and the skies have even encouraged ne to capture them artistically (does drawing on the iPhone count?) I love the flatness here, that's why the sky seems endless - there are no towering tall buildings, hills and other impediments to vie for your attention and hinder the view. Despite being such a city girl I did spend many years in the shadow of the Pennines and had the Peak District almost on my doorstep. I'm used to more rugged terrain and the looming hills that often held onto their snow long after ours had melted away into our memories. On an expedition in search of suitable rocks to grace our new rockery I was so surprised to find them still snow capped when I couldn't recall when I'd last seen snow in our garden Here in Norfolk you feel that you've gained a vantage point if you're sat in a people carrier or indeed the Coasthopper. And it's a great way to explore all the local villages. My only niggle is they finish too early to avail of their transportation after dining out.

The hopper conveniently stops at all the places we've also found ourselves at in the last week - the Orange Tree in Thornham, the Jolly Sailors at Brancaster Staithe, Burnham Market, the Cley Smokehouse, the Victoria Inn at Hockham and Wells-next-the-Sea. There's even a stop near The Big Blue Sky which is one of my destinations today. The airy shop is full of objects made in Norfolk and has books about the history of the villages along the coast which I would if I could, pictures of those endless blue skies again, driftwood hewn serving board (also enormously tempting), wooden puffins that D has an eye on, intricate jewellery and one particular piece of shell art I've been hankering for and it's a heart shaped sculpture that will just be perfect for my bathroom. It seems to capture my falling in love with this patch of English countryside and coast and how it caught me unawares when I had a big hole to fill. And I do so adore heart-shaped things.

After my purchase I wonder off back in search of the bus stop but curiously can't find one on the opposite side of the road to where I got off and whilst I'm dithering I see the hopper approaching me and wonder how to make it stop knowing it's half an hour until the next. Almost as if the driver has read my mind he brakes to a stop next to me and asks if he can be of service explaining that there isn't always bustops in these parts. I'm very impressed, that doesn't happen where I come from!

To the manor borne

On waking up from our final night in the cottage we break up the cleaning tasks by a final foray to the Yurt. When we had dinner last night we asked to reserve a table and 'our' table is duly waiting for us. Despite MC's obvious leaning towards his full English we all plump for their ever so excellent sausage sandwiches. We already know that with D and MC with their foresight of bringing their fridge can stock up on these Arthur Howell sausages in Wells. They have also decided to purchase two dozen bottles of Coxes Orange Pippin apple juice that I'm jealously chasing my sandwich down with. After years of normally finding apple juice just above acceptable it was a joy to find one that I loved so much. There is a small fear however that LLcT wouldn't appreciate the finest of this juice and consume it rapidly in a few thirst quenching guzzlings. I can't consider adding further to my already burgeoning luggage by indulging in some bottles to go for the train journey home, that could push me over the edge!

With the cottage all suitably ship-shape again we grab our luggage and part ways. D and MC are off for a couple of nights at the Neptune where we enjoyed a wonderful dinner on our last visit. Then they are booked in for a couple more nights at an Alastair Sawday recommended B&B in Wells-next-the-sea. Feeling that I've gate-crashed their holiday long enough I've booked two nights in 'Basil' at Titchwell Manor. I'm specific about the room as this a major part of Titchwell Manor's charms; they have the original rooms in the main building with panoramic views across the marshes. They also have thirteen new rooms built around their gardens and I was completely taken with the idea of living in Basil for the next two nights. They suggested coriander but not actually liking coriander I thought this could taint my stay so settled on the way more acceptable Basil. And it is very acceptable with a lovely room of wonderful textures and muted natural tones. There are rich stripy rugs on a flagstone floor, a mohair throw here a stack of corded cushions there and luxury - real fuchsias. There are comfy leather armchairs, stone based lamps, a driftwood mirror and even a flat screen TV. The bathroom is gorgeous also with stone tiles of chocolate and biscuit colours, fluffy robes and towels and all manner of yummy White Company toiletries. There's an intriguing crescent shaped window that if you are bothered by the light you can stop with a suitable crescent shaped cushion - how thoughtful! You even get a little trowel attached to your key; though I don't think I'm expected to earn my keep amongst the rosemary and lavender beds outside my window.
For those little home comforts they have provided a tray of bottled water, fair trade Earl Grey teabags, hot chocolate, espresso coffee, a chic Villeroy & Boch teapot and cups and even little home made biscuits in a jar. I think I'm going to enjoy it here!

The only tiny thing I'd like is for their wifi to be extended to their rooms, and that's only because I've been so Internet deprived this week. My work BlackBerry was sadly pretty well connected but Apple on it's O2 network had small brief flickers of connectivity but most of the time was bereft of outside contact. I was shocked really, it's not as if really we're in the wilds or totally cut off from civilisation but O2 can't drum up a decent phone mast or two. And yes I appreciate that many would dream of being cut off from phones and the www but I've realised how many times you use them to make life a little easier. Ringing to make a restaurant reservation, the handy locator if you get separated whilst exploring the higgledy piggledy shops, the obligatory 'happy birthday' text message and then when I have to think about going home, checking train timetables and tube connections at the other end. Maybe I don't normally holiday in places that are remote enough but the only time I can recall being mobile phone-less was whilst out to sea on the Northern cities of Europe cruise M and I did two years ago. All is well though because at least the Internet lack can be sated by retiring to the comfortable lounge or bar in the manor house and I will be able to sort out travel arrangements there but still no phone, it's eerily quiet!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fish and chip supper

After the exertions of the day – browsing art galleries, mooching around boutique-y shops and languishing in a comfy hotel salon is just so exhausting!  Well to be fair D and MC have been rambling for hours so two out three have been exerting themselves, and so we reconvene and plan tonight’s meal.  Last night turned out to be a bit of a disappointment and we’ve got plans for tomorrow night as it’s our first dinner at the Yurt. So tonight we go old school and go back to Hunstanton for good old fish and chips.  There’s nothing quite like the sea-salt in the air and the sound of persistent seagulls crying to enhance the flavour of fish and chips. We did consider walking down to the beach and getting the full fish and chips at the seaside experience but it a little nippy for such machinations so we stayed in the chippy and organised our ever so necessary chip shop accoutrements. D and MC just had to have mushy peas, which I cannot abide and spent many a childhood chippy-visit dodging as the thought of the original D’s mushy peas spilling and tainting my beloved meat and potato pie on the car journey home was terrifying. But whereas in those days some buttered white bread would be awaiting my return here a buttered bap is my vehicle of choice.  The lure of a chip buttie is really too much to resist and with the chips lavishly doused with malt vinegar and salt it’s a fine fish and chip supper. Oh I do like to be beside the sea!       

The hostly charms of the Hoste Arms

D and MC are keen to walk off some of the meals we’ve enjoyed this week and me being as usual unsuitably shod for any given occasion I opted to explore Burnham Market instead.  I want to have a look round the shops, now they’re open and also visit the art gallery to view the Jeremy Barlow exhibition.  I’d picked up his catalogue at the Jolly Sailor as was taken by his obvious love of the local landscape which I’d also been inspired by and also some lovely Parisian, Provencal and Venetian scenes.
The shops are those lovely little ‘tardis’ style boutiques which seem to have room after room crammed with intriguing objects to browse amongst for hours.  I was very restrained, I could have easily added even more wonderful little accoutrements for the table but bearing in mind both my limited luggage space and perhaps more importantly the getting full to bursting crockery cabinet at home I resisted.
When the sky bruised alarmingly and the much anticipated rain finally fell it seemed only fitting to seek refuge in the warmth and Moroccan styling of the Hoste Arms.  It was conveniently lunchtime, the menu looked very alluring and joy of joys I could also avail myself of their wifi.  I realised how deprived I had felt, my ambitious plans to blog as I go around North Norfolk was entirely thwarted when I realised I could rarely get a flicker out of my O2 network and there seemed a dearth of open wifi connections I could piggy back off.
The menu just looked so wonderful, how I wished we’d eaten here last night instead of the disappointing Lifeboat.  I don’t know whether the after effects of aiming to think French last night when ordering had lingered but I was immediately drawn to both Gruyere cheese & leek tart, truffled baby spinach and the Truffled chicken liver parfait, fig & grape compote, toasted brioche.  Both are available as a main course but how much more indulgent to have one of each as a starter portion.  That duly organised I settled down in my big comfy settee, with a stack of reading materials, a finally happy iPhone and a glass of local cider.  Rain, what rain?
I wasn’t disappointed with my choice, the parfait was gloriously smooth and tasty, the sticky figgy compote moreish and the sweet brioche just the perfect vehicle for all that creamy unctuousness.  The tart hidden under a carpet of verdant spinach was cheesy and yummy and exceedingly good also.  I was very happy!  I was luckily just at the end of their lunch and I could luxuriate in their Moroccan themed lounge watching the awfully attractive families that frequent this village pour in and order bulging stands of afternoon tea sandwiches and pots and pots of tea, whilst uploading a few blog posts and downloading a few new apps.  And I have to give props for the very impressive toilet facilities.  It was an enormous room fully armed with all the usual necessities but also hairdryers and lots of lovely delicious smelling lotions and potions.
It seemed wrong to leave so I rounded off my meal with a decadent warm dark chocolate fondant, chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream.  It came embellished with a shard of sugar work and was rich and melty and very fine. I’ve really enjoyed my respite (and connectivity) at the Hoste Arms and hope to avail myself on their fine hospitality on another day – maybe even take a room there!  Two forks for the food and a couple of tines for the wifi – clearly I need to be plugged in more than I ever realised!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lifeboat Inn - Out!

Being such a lover of French food it’s never difficult to think of an excuse to whip out the white fluted-edged plates and bee tumblers and rustle up some French bistro delight or indulge in the finer culinary artistry of a soupçon of haute cuisine.  And generally on August 19th I find an excuse to go French.  Perhaps others would plump for Bastille Day or hide a little china king in a cake for Epiphany but being singular I go come over all French on this day and get out the pearls to celebrate Coco Chanel’s birthday. And being here with the ever wonderful D and MC I thought they’d like to join me in this fête.  I have no idea what Coco thought about food, French or otherwise but she did utter some marvellous statements, my favourite being - “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.”  And on top of all that wisdom I am a huge fan of her camellias, the quilted leather and that indefinable “je ne sais quois”.
In the quest for our own ‘classy and fabulous’ dinner we decided on the restaurant at The Lifeboat Inn in Thornham.  D and MC have eaten here on previous occasions and we have a choice of the unbookable bistro part or the restaurant and seeing some of the restaurants tables around these parts get snapped up quick so we go for more ornate restaurant menu. The Lifeboat Inn prides itself on the view out to sea but I can't see the sea from the window next to our table as there are fields full of those round hay bales stretching as far as the eye can see. Perhaps I need to be peering out of one of their bedrooms above to see beyond the golden fields.
Being in that French frame of mind I'd been pondering the chicken liver pâté and melba toast on the chalkboard from the bistro part of the pub, but it seemed cheating when we were sat in the restaurant with the ‘finer’ tale d’hôte menu so plumped for the chicken, ham and chorizo terrine with a spiced tomato chutney.  I did mention my concern about the tomato chutney and the said they would leave it off.  What they did instead which was much nicer was to drizzle my plate with a fruity Cumberland sauce instead.  Which complemented the terrine very well and dare I say would work way better than the chutney would have done.  Biased moi?
For my main course I was able to be a little more Gallic and ordered prime fillet of beef with a wholegrain mustard mash and a wild mushroom brandy and peppercorn sauce.  In reply to the waitress’ usual question when ordering a steak, I replied rare – seeing I love both steak tartar and carpaccio I clearly don’t have a problem with how little my beef is cooked.  But when it arrived after a curiously long wait I was disappointed to see that someone had either overruled my choice or just messed up their timings as it was well into the ‘medium’ spectrum possibly nudging ‘medium to well’. I know one of the best ways to fall foul of a kitchen is to diss their ability to judge steak doneness so I let it pass as I suspected such a mention would have also put me to back of the queue for tickets and we’d already been there a while. 
D and MC fared better with their Baked lemon sole with duchess potatoes and a lemon and caper butter and an Oven roasted rack of English lamb with Lyonnaise potatoes and a minted gravy.
 An observant reader might spot the theme on theme in the main courses and that was chives, not super finely snipped chives to ass a little mild onion bite to the dish but long stalks of chives.  I guess I’m in favour of an insistence on edible garnishes.  When chives are presented as thus I’m not entirely sure if I shouldn’t painstakingly slice the chives into more acceptable rings, place between by two thumbs and blow to see if I can make that squealing noise a blade of grass would or just push to the side of the plate.     
For dessert I wanted something clean and fresh and no tarte citron was to be had so a trio of fruity sorbets were procured to cleanse my palette.
I wasn’t overwhelmed by The Lifeboat Inn, we had an unbelievably long wait for drinks on sitting down, we spotted other diners going to the bar and coming back to their tables armed with their beverages are wondered if we should also.  The request for a jug of water was studiously ignored and as the sun set and the restaurant plunged into gloominess it was even harder to attract the eye of the slightly harassed looking waiting staff.  I think it would be too harsh to hint that the Lifeboat needed a life belt or was sinking more that they have some great competition around here who are trouncing them in the food and service stakes.  Perhaps they could be accused of resting of their laurels of past years, as they seemed popular but it lacked so much lustre.  It was certainly not bad but if my taste buds need rescuing I’d call many of the other tastier options along the coast.

Next-the-Sea or even In-the-Sea

MC feels the need to catch a few more waves before we go out to dinner but it seems a bit of a palaver heading back to Hunstanton beach so instead as we are staying next-the-sea we go and check out the sea closest to our cottage. The beach is accessed via the local golf course – fore! – and the links turn into dunes which turn into the beach. The soft dunes are very difficult to traverse; apparently it’s good for the calves though!
The beach is easier to walk on as the sand is more compact. We meander over to the sea’s edge and at least I can say I did dabble my toes in it and as I always suspected, it was chilly! But as we marvel at how fast the tide is coming in we turn around to see we are being cut off by the rapidly advancing tide flowing in behind us also. We grab our bags immediately and wade across the fairly fast flowing water. It was barely ankle deep but surprisingly speedy but finds its level quite quickly. A small boy and his father had in anticipation painstakingly built a sand island to stand on top of and try a spot of King Canut impersonating. I’m not sure if they were entirely successful.
We enjoyed the impromptu paddle but I wonder how many unsuspecting visitors who venture here to admire the sunset are suddenly surprised to find their possessions being whisked off further down the beach whilst they’re taking the plunge.

In search of crab

With our minds firmly on thoughts of crab sandwiches our only consideration is where to partake in such crustacean consumption. We immediately leave Hunstanton as we know they do good fish but Sunny Hunny doesn't conjure up images of spanking fresh crab.
Instead we headed further along the coast and perhaps a little excessively all the way to Brancaster Staithe Harbour. Well we know there’s a hut dispensing the crabs that only a few hours ago have been sidestepping their way all the shoreline. Letzers Crab Hut supplies us with fat baguettes crammed full of crabby goodness which we consume sat dangling our legs over the wall watching the boats in the mud. The tide seems so very far away, we can hardly see it on the horizon. I am learning that this is another unique feature of this coastline, for much of the day the sea is very far away and the incredible flatness means that huge tracts of land disappear when the tide rushing in unimpeded. We vow to check out high tide later before dinner.

Sunny Hunny

As this is supposed to be the sunniest day of the week we've designated it 'beach day'. D had the foresight to pack beach towels (whereas I would never have believed they’d be necessary!), we grab sunglasses, hats and reading material and head forth for Hunstanton. This is the first time I've been to 'sunny Hunny' and it hasn't rained but that thought doesn't seem to jinx the day and a veritable stream of sun worshippers snake down the short sandy descent to the beach beneath the dunes and cliffs. It is certainly a popular spot, everywhere we look families are eagerly erecting all manner of constructions designed to enhance their beach experience. As I said previously we didn't really do English seaside 'en famille' whilst I was growing up but I do remember white sands on a Greek island, golden sands and possible shark spotting in Perth, Australia and brief bursts of baking on Pensacola sands but what I don't recall is this vast batterie of accoutrements accompanying us on these forays. I'm sure there was a bucket and spade occasionally and I know for sure we had a polystyrene board for 'pretend' surfing in Perth but definitely not all this paraphernalia. I will concede that the most popular item is pretty useful, a windbreak. From every unclaimed patch on the beach you can hear the tap, tap, tap of generally frustrated fathers trying to hammer the windbreaker supports in the stony sand with mallets, hammer and more desperately shoes. Though I am beginning to understand the necessity it would be better if there were quieter, once they’ve been erected you would think they’ll just their job protecting you from the wind whipping down the beach but whereas a canvas breaker would probably just do that sadly the majority are gaudily striped plastic that flap, flap, flap in the persistent breezes which makes it sound like they’re huddled beneath a giant crisp packet. And then next to these windbreaks little tents were mushrooming up everywhere, more tapping and banging in of tent pegs. I certainly don’t remember tents when I was last on a beach but I was assured that this was another device to both shelter and aid sun enjoyment.
Maybe to be fair as our rare seaside excursions were very far from home so such excessive accessorising wasn't entirely possible even if we'd been so inclined. I guess that pesky little wind on this beach does require a little curtailing and I guess the only good thing about this excessive territory bordering is that we are protected marginally from the wind's unbroken path even, I suppose, with all the noise it was worth it.
MC was valiant enough, or crazy enough, to brave the sea. Being much wiser about sea temperature in England even in August I opted to corral the abundant pebbles into more pleasing shapes instead. As rare as this uninterrupted sun-worshipping is we are now feeling the urge to abandon our plot and go foraging.
There's an awful moment whilst we hear a mother has lost her little 5-year old girl on this now very crowded beach. It's a heart-stopping time, the anguish on the mother's face as she yells herself hoarse crying desperately for her daughter drives all thought of food from our minds as we wonder what we can possibly do to help. The best we can do is hold our collective breath and join the many others is scanning the beach, dunes and beyond for the purple swim suited escapee. After what seems like and eternity a cry of joy is issued across the sands and an ecstatic and tearful mother appears clutching her daughter close to her possibly for ever more. We are all hugely relieved the drama is over and we can vanquish the dreadful fear of those stark front page headlines tomorrow and go back to thinking of crab sandwiches. At least all we have to do is shake off the sand from our towels and grab our bags, another reason I am glad we didn’t come fully loaded!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I spy Cley

Studying one of the handy guidebooks we picked up in Sheringham we decide that a trip to Cley-next-the-Sea might be in order to procure some provisions for a table picnic back in the cottage tonight.
Cley is unusual on two counts, one - it is pronounced ‘cly’ not ‘clay’ as non-local visitors often mispronounce it and two – it is no longer ‘next-the-sea’ as land reclamation has rearranged the landscape somewhat to cut it off from the coast. And there's a third thing, instead of a typical self-catering cottage you can stay in a seven roomed windmill here.
On our journey we spot a wonderful nod to the local vernacular with a couple of unique road signs around Wiverton (home of the ‘bonkers’ café) to encourage motorists to calm down their speed on the winding lanes and probably raise a smile or two in the process also!
There’s some lovely local pottery and jewellery on show but the main point of our excursion is smoked goodies and pie and other stuff.
Cley Smokehouse is packed with freshly smoked delights and soon our shopping bag is bulging with smoked Barbary duck, kiln roasted hot smoked salmon, potted shrimps, venison pâté and a new taste for us – smoked mussels. D isn’t as fond of smoked comestibles as MC and I but agrees that the mussels are very fine. The smoked haddock looks alluring also but we can’t really incorporate it tonight’s meal and it doesn’t keep particularly. But if we were planning a fish pie it would certainly find its way in there.
Next it’s across the road to Picnic Fayre, a fabulous cornucopia of a multitude of the usual deli delights plus their own unique delights. MC samples their spice paste and peruses the shelves whilst D and I complete our haul. First in the bag is a wonderful plump lavender loaf which we are assured will go with all our savoury bits, roasted broad beans, artichokes in oil, the last two of their special venison pies, herby crisps, Mrs Temple’s Binham Blue for the resident mouse and a rather scrummy soft Cheddar which sadly I cannot recall the name of.
There are some enticing deserts, syrupy treacle tarts, gooey chocolate cakes and voluptuous apple pies but we decide that should there be any room left after all this we have the standbys of chocolate truffles and rather a lot of ginger bears.
We return with our wares and lay it on glass plates on the extravagantly decorated table, I didn’t think until afterwards that it would have looked nicer on the bare wood but at least if there had been any mess, it would have been easier to deal with. You can tell we don’t live here because there is not a cheese board nor cheese knife to be found amongst the copious cupboards and drawers. Our collective kitchens back home are awash with a multitude of cheesy accoutrements but this won’t hamper the cheese consumption it is just duly noted.
As we dine in style we ponder the highlights of our ‘foraged in’ Cley banquet. MC and I agree that the smoked duck, sliced ever so finely atop the wonderful lavender bread and the venison pies win – the guide book listed these pies as one of the top ten things to do whilst in North Norfolk and they are seriously good – worth the trip alone! The venison is gloriously moist and meaty with a light pastry and adorned with a pastry ‘V’. The venison pâté from the smokery and the soft, tangy Cheddar from the deli are both very tasty also. The smoked mussels are considered a success but in small quantities. MC, our resident mouse, has no issue lavishing the local Binham Blue on his bread and we all declare it a fine spread washed down with Drove Orchards Cox’s Orange Pippin apple juice. There’s even a little left for lunch tomorrow should we want, though I suspect that fresh-from-the-sea crab sandwiches will somehow win the day.

Eggs, wood, pigeons and flint

Today we are off to Holt again. On our last trip to Norfolk Holt became the shopping mecca of our trip and MC is concerned D and I will run amok and binge ourselves in their lovely shops like we (apparently) did last time. But he needn’t fear we are perfectly capable of restraint! As it turned out we ended up with one a mere couple of household fripperies between us. D had a bowl made from a wood called purple heart with a silver ball set into the rim from Lapwing Woodturning whilst MC discussed all things shiny wood and woodturning tools. He’s thinking of ‘turning’ his hand to some curvy wood projects and was looking for advice on lathes etcetera. It is amazing what things of beauty are realised from all this little bits of wood and refreshingly we are encouraged to touch to entice us to make purchases. We taste some delicious wines again from Adham’s and I resist (just) the urge to add another picnic hamper to my collection. D acquires a vibrant pink spoon which as lovely as it is I am very allergic to. That last few years it has been astonishing how many items of kitchen paraphernalia has been ‘enhanced’ by the addition of silicon and to a lesser extent latex. I am sure it has wonderful non-slip and non-scratch properties but as it irritates me so much I try and limit contact. I love my silicon whisk but only because the handle is metal, and my oven gloves only have the rubbery stuff on the outside so my hands are safe but rubber washing up gloves, a pan with silicon hiding underneath the handle or an all silicon spoon would be way beyond my tolerance.
We ponder the Thornback & peel pigeon wallpaper in Ginger Rose and are intrigued by the suggestion for its deployment in a boy bedroom, at that moment coincidentally LLcT calls D so we can scare him with such musings. It may actually go with his new charcoal and silver curtains but he needn’t fear. I was hoping they’d have the pigeon and raspberry jelly bag that I still hanker for but they only had the rabbit and lettuce.
But staying on the raspberry theme the only purchase I actually make is an Orrefor Swedish crystal tea-light holder in the shape of a raspberry. And wonderfully tactile and weighted it is. I’m tempted to consider another use so it can retain its tactilability which lighting a tea-light would inevitably dissuade.
We stop for refreshments at Byfords which claims to be a café, deli and posh B&B. Well we don’t need a bed but sustenance is definitely in order and MC and D share an impressive meat platter whereas I am drawn to the Eggs Benedict which are two words on a menu always to fill me with joy. And these are an excellent component of the dark art of Eggs Benedict making with an unctuous herby hollandaise and the yolks just that perfect level of golden ooziness. The cakes enticingly arranged in their windows look good also if we were in the mood for something sweet. They soon get moved however, the wasp-tastic explosion North Norfolk is suffering from is making such an enticements way too risky.
As we wander around Holt I am drawn yet again to the unusual construction of many of the cottages – the white Norfolk flint and bricks.
The rounded flint pebbles appear to be set in a strong mortar and then bordered by bricks. Normally the bricks are red matching the tiled roofs but occasionally they are painted white. It gives the walls a very neat appearance and clearly some of the newer builds are continuing the tradition.
Even the cottage where we are staying in Holme-next-the-Sea has a similar style but after further research it appears that this is slightly different as it’s a form of hard chalk called clunch, hence the less pronounced texture on many of this village’s walls compared to those in Holt above.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wish you were here?

Feeling all nautical after our pizzas we swing by Wells-next-the-Sea so we could have a little stroll along the sand. It looks like a busy day of sun worshipping has occurred here but the beachcombers have all but left in search of restorative fish and chips and probably a couple of glasses of the very good local dry cider. All that remains are a few dog walkers and hardier souls.
Somehow it looks all very far away; maybe the quintessential beach huts in their pastel coats belie the fact that we are on more exotic shores.
But there’s no denying this is a picture postcard place especially when the sun graces us with such bounty.
The tinges of red sky again as the sun set bodes well for tomorrow, I am having to put my scepticism on hold; apparently we do know how to do summer here.
As a matter of random local knowledge - the ever erudite Stephen Fry stars in a TV drama called Kingdom set in the fictional Norfolk town of Market Shipborough. Market Shipborough is actually a melange of several locations around this parts, the harbour piece being supplied by Wells-next-the Sea.

Hot stuff!

The day starts with another little meander Yurt-wards. MC has declared that he couldn’t possibly have a full English breakfast ‘every’ day but after D and I order the haddock with tomatoes and the entirely tomato-free sausage sandwich respectively he relents. He figures that we might have other plans for tomorrow so he better get another full English in!
I wash my sausage sandwich down with the tastiest apple juice I’ve ever had – no acidity, metallic taste or gassiness of some others just – you won’t believe this – lots of apples! And Cox’s Orange Pippin to be exact; a damn fine juice and incredibly moreish!
Due to two (what turns out to be entirely mistaken) beliefs that a) there is a dearth of Lloyd’s banks around this here parts and a sudden urgent need for one and b) the weather will be a bit iffy we sally forth for Norwich. We locate the bank, no thanks to my google maps which bizarrely believes I’m currently strolling around Bury St Edmunds and persists in trying to direct me there and as it’s about 40 miles away and it thinks I’ll make the journey on foot it recommend a handy 13 hour itinerary. Maybe the satellites were busy that morning!
Whilst in Norwich it seems appropriate to seek out one of their famous exports (Delia Smith being the other) and go in search of the mustard shop. Colman’s have been producing their hot golden elixir since 1814 and the factory is just outside Norwich. The mustard shop is, as one would expect, dedicated to all things mustard, there are powders and ready made mustard, some with even more added kick, mustard pots and spoons and a whole host of mustard-abilia in cabinets. It didn’t seem to be like the mustard shop in Dijon where you could take along your favourite mustard receptacle and pump (in the style of a beer tap) your mustard of choice directly into it, but it certainly the condiment available in every form possible. Coincidentally I surprised ‘new’ S with a little hamper full of mustards and a little chilli for his birthday which he would have spotted on his chair today on his return from New York (jealous, moi?) and couldn’t resist the urge to add another one squeezy bottle of Colman’s English to the collection. Well he always said he liked mustard!
After a little explore around Norwich’s lanes we stop for a cup of tea and a bit of refreshment, I go for the rather random garlic mushroom and Parmesan quiche, MC a pork pie, D a ham sandwich not realising that these were served up which a large and some would say extremely eclectic salad. A single sliver of radish okay, a single shaving of kiwi fruit – a little odder! The quiche was tasty though, quite unusual by not having the mushrooms distributed throughout the custardy mixture but just buried in the middle like some dark fungal treasure. MC was defeated by his pork pie, though at least he had plenty of mustard to accompany it with.
On the journey back the sky is still gloriously blue and I find I am curiously drawn to the fields and especially the round hay bales. Bearing in mind I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever considered a hay bale of any shape previously I believe I haven’t come across one of these before. They are rather striking and I do spend quite a lot of the journey trying to capture a field of a few in all their majesty. Not really being in a position where I can easily get right in there with the bales I am struggling to find a suitable vantage point in all this flatness but it’s fun, and dare I say, slightly perilous trying. Those cars can whiz along the pavement-less winding lanes. I guess being such a city girl the countryside is holding a certain new allure. The more mundane cuboid bales seem very pedestrian now I only want round ones!
I was also rather taken with a windmill which is also rather glorious!
At we get back to our little stretch of the North Norfolk coast we’ve read about the pizzas at the Jolly Sailors in Bradcaster and think it will be worth a try. They have one of those wood burning ovens and everything smells very promising. Unusually I find something on a pizza menu that I can order unadulterated and so without really thinking I ask for a Letzer’s Fish Calzone – garlic base, smoked salmon, smoked haddock, prawns, peas and mozzarella. It turns out to be a bit like a fish pie encapsulated in a pasty and as promising as it started off it just became all a little stodgy. The pizza base seems pleasingly thin but the whole calzone thing was mistake, just too much dough I think. If I could have started from the beginning and just forget the whole pizza pasty malarkey I think I would had continued with the garlic base, then perhaps a simple ham and cheese. D and MC loved their pizzas mine was sadly a bit cloying and defeated me quite early on. But I will conclude that it was my poor ordering and not the fault of the calzone per se – I just now realise that I don’t like calzones. Well at least I know for next time!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Clockwork orange!

As we return from our steam-filled day we pull up outside the Orange Tree at Thornham as we are drawn by a banner claiming their national award for their pub food and send MC in to bag us a spot for tonight. Duly secured we return to the cottage to chill and then spruce ourselves up. We pondered taking the little Coasthopper so no-one has to stick to soft drinks but the last bus leaves a whole five minutes after we are due to sit down for dinner so cancel that idea!
Unusually they don't bring round the bread basket, not a problem but it has been many hours since our full English and the mint choc cornet in Sheringham is also distant memory. But fear not it is not long until I'm looking down at one of their specials - a bowl of steamed Brancaster cockles, Chadonnay and black pepper cream, gremolata and spiced salami. I had something similar on my last trip to these parts at Titchwell Manor, not surprisingly I feel that urge to hit the seafood when I'm this close to all that salty water and sea air. I like the addition of salami which adds a little piquancy and colours the cream. The cockles hit the spot but are a bit of a faff to deal with but hey, when at the seaside…
D in a similar frame of mind goes for the Crab Tempura which is lengthily described as soft shell crab, slow cooked belly pork, chicken satay, pinapple and chilli salsa.
MC being not so inclined plumps for the Pressed Norfolk Rabbit & Ham Hock Terrine with toasted pumpernickel bread, warm carrot pannacotta, caramel prosciutto crisp. We all feel that our week of Norfolk culinary excellence has well and truly kicked off. Bring on the mains!
I go for the Pan Fried Organic Sea Trout – Fresh Norfolk pea & our smoked salmon risotto, pea velouté, marsh samphire - continuing the fishy theme and making sure I get my first taste of the luscious samphire in.
Despite what you may have heard, samphire is worth the effort, but I’d abandon the knife and fork. Tuck your napkin in if you have a sauce and extract the scrummy green goodness by scraping the fronds on your teeth and discarding the tough core. This was worth the effort! The whole dish was very nice; I am not adverse to risotto as a one of the elements to a main dish not just the main feature.
MC stays with one of his favourite themes - Roast Rack of Sandringham Estate Lamb Petite ratatouille, roasted Piedmont pepper, lemon couscous, tomato & rosemary consommé. He assures me it was lovely but to me it is so wrong on just so many levels – tomato, peppers, did I mention tomato and couscous.
D’s still riding the seafood wave and goes for the Pan Roasted Norfolk Skate Wing - chorizo and spinach croquettes, lobster bisque, pickled wild fennel but panics slightly when realises that she has had some wine and has also been enjoying that lobster bisque. D is one of those people who suffer badly when consuming seafood and wine in the same meal, the bisque is avoided just in case.
To round off our meal I have a White and Dark Chocolate Terrine – mille feuille of Norfolk raspberries and coconut macaroons. D has the coconut macaroons for later.
I am pleased to see that the mouse is back and MC is curiously drawn to the cheese board. Cheese is apparently big in these parts and he gets frozen grapes, Binham blue, Wells Alpine, smoked poacher, crackers and gooseberry chutney.
We are all really delighted with our Orange Tree meal, a clean white welcoming place with intriguing Thai-style art and dark leather chairs. The food is undoubtedly locally sourced, flavoursome, presented well and their chef Phil Milner deserves his award and now he has another – three forks!

Oh I do like to be beside the sea

We found ourselves sat in the old first class carriage of the steam train that enthusiasts man back and forth between Holt and Sheringham. We'd been trying to find a way to spend our first full day in Norfolk and a bit of steam powered perambulation seemed a fine choice.
I've been trying to cast my mind back to see if I've ever been actually aboard a proper full sized steam train. I've travelled on various fabulous trains in the UK, Europe and the US but we've always had more modern engines to pull (and often push also) our elegant extravagantly decorated rail-running temporary homes. The nearest memory I can conjure up is the coal fire at my grandmother's (always known as little gran) house, the evocative slightly sooty air that also powered her oven. This fire was a constant fascination to me with its dancing mostly orange but occasionally blue flames and and if I was very lucky a warming meat and potato pie lurking inside the oven. We can smell the smoke and occasionally a fleck of smut drifts in the window and threatened to smudge our clothes so despite the authenticity we moved a little away from the window. We only have a short journey on the North Norfolk railway and the stations are a delight crammed with vintage luggage, old enamel signs and a cornucopia of railway memorabilia being poured over by men in railway caps and jackets bearing all sort of gold insignia. From the train we see our first glimpse of the sea beyond the corn fields. When we arrive at Sheringham - the end of the line - there's the whole process of moving the engine from the front of the train as was to the new front of the train and taking on water. This is all accompanied by enormous plumes of steam, ear-piercing tooting on the whistle and much picture taking by passengers, onlookers and steam fans.
Sheringham is rather packed, surprisingly the ding ding dings emanating from the amusement arcades means that some people are not on the beach nor partaking of the finest of crab sandwiches rustled up by Joyful West's. Rather thoughtlessly captured by the shining sun its alluring rays we have furnished ourselves with ice cream cones as we walk to the sea front and sadly have no space to chase this with crab sandwiches and i know they are very good as we had them on a grey August bank holiday on my first ever foray to these parts. The crabs (or swinners I've learnt they're referred to around here) will have to wait for another day!
We soak up some images of the beach and the crashing greeny blue waves to revisit on a gloomy wintry day back home. M always had an infinity with the sea, she said it was because she was a Pisces, I'm not sure if she saw this part of the North Sea coast but I'm sure she would have enjoyed this journey. I couldn't help thinking about M whilst we were on the train also. Our last holiday was on the Grand Luxe railway (sadly no more) exploring the US west coast treasures and all my most memorable treasured train journeys are ones we took together. Especially as we crossed paths of the dining cars on a special Sunday lunch train my mind shot straight back to happy times fine dining on the Orient Express, British Pullman and the Northern Belle.
In preparation for the days ahead we arm ourselves with sheaves of tourist information guides on the local eateries, galleries, shops, museums and touristy delights. MC is rather taken by an exhibition of tanks and D and I make a mental note of interesting shops, delis and restaurants we'd like to try. After a meander around Sheringham we board the last steam train for the days and marvel at how some children are allowed to run wild whooping and running up and down the carriage whilst their indulgant parents look on and no doubt hope their little cherubs will tire themselves out before bedtime. We've had a fun day both on and off the rails and now we just have to consult our guides books for ideas for dining tonight. Ah the tough life of a holidaymaker!