The King of Inns
Getting lost isn’t usually a good thing but if, like me, you miss the right-hand turn into the town centre of Holt and can’t turn round for another mile, the first place you’ll come to is The Kings Head – a sprawling country pub housed in a jaw-dropping Georgian manor. As soon as my tyres hit the gravel and I see this absolute beauty, spinning the car around is no longer a priority – upstaged by a convenience break, a quick snoop around, half a pint and a homemade black pudding scotch egg.
That was a month ago when it was un-seasonally sunny and the fields outside the hotel-cum-bar-cum-pub-cum-restaurant were bright green and dotted with black cows – the heart of the countryside just a gravel’s throw from Holt (lucky, lucky residents).
Today, autumn has well and truly hit and, as I step outside the car, my nostrils inhale a waft of wood fire that makes me happy there’s a bite in the air. I’m early so take a peak around the outside area which is vast and includes an enormous country garden with plenty of bench-style seating, a wooden play area for kids that could win an eco award, a BBQ Shack for summer burgers and beers, a gravelled area outside the grand house with more bench seating and – opposite – a rather large field that’s home to the aforementioned cows.
Inside The Kings Head is a charming mix of different rooms and oh so stylish nooks and crannies, with not one, not two but three real fires and a host of different seating options, from long tables to snugs to sofas – most with countryside views through large windows. Décor is elevated beyond the gastropub norm with vaulted ceilings, thick burgundy curtains, wicker baskets containing wood (they must get through an absolute tonne of it), book shelves littered with classics and antique grandfather clocks, while anything from telemark skies to wagon wheels adorn the walls. It’s so warm and homely it’s like walking into a great big hug.
“The food here is amazing,” says a lady standing at the bar with her husband, doubtless wondering why I’m taking so many photographs. “We’ve just booked for Christmas dinner and were lucky to get in – it’s very popular.” I take a look at the special Christmas menu she hands to me and wonder if I could coax my mum and sister into coming here for Christmas day instead, particularly as three courses costs just £75 and guests are greeted with a glass of bubbly (there’s also a festive menu available between 21 November and 23 December with two courses for £19; three for £24).
I order half a Peroni and find a seat by the roaring fire while I wait for my lunch partner to arrive. The regularly-changing menu is devised by Head Chef Oliver Sanders and prepared to order using fresh ingredients provided, where possible, by local farmers, fishermen traders. Spelt flour for the homemade bread comes from Letheringsett Mill next door, while fresh milk is delivered daily from neighbouring Binham.
The Kings Head prides itself on the quality of its ales with three real ales on tap: Woodfordes Wherry, Adnams and, of course, the Brancaster Brewery which is owned by Anglian Country Inns with which The Kings Head is affiliated. There’s also a specials board and a kids’ menu.
After much deliberation I opt for the Welsh rarebit with poached egg, tomato, rocket and balsamic to start and immediately regret my decision; just look at the size of it! I could have just had this and been on my way… Is it me or does it look like the chef has created a heart-shape with the pieces of toast?
A more modest portion is chosen by dining partner Henry, who ops for the spiced grilled aubergine with crispy halloumi, sundried tomatoes, sunflower seeds and pesto. It’s gobbled up in no time leaving some room to help me out with my gargantuan portion (what a gent!).
I’m certainly glad I decided to share my starter when the main comes – an 8oz sirloin steak with garlic butter, skinny fries and a Binham blue cheese sauce. The steak is cooked to perfection (medium-well), slicing like butter, while the chips are salty and crispy; the blue sauce rich and creamy.
“The salmon is cooked perfectly,” exclaims Henry tucking into his main course of pan-fried salmon with stuffed red pepper, potato cubes and chargrilled leeks. I ask what’s inside the pepper and my question is met with a shrug, then: “it’s nice though, kind of has a Moroccan spice to it.”
As ever with food reviews, I’m full by the time it comes to dessert but feel I must push on for the benefit of my lovely readers (yes, that’s you!). I soldier on magnanimously with a chocolate marquise (a bit like a mousse) with calamansi citrus (no idea), honeycomb ice-cream and crushed honeycomb. While chocolate-orange is a classic combo (that reminds me of Christmas) will adding honeycomb make it too sweet, I wonder? Nope – it’s all gone within a matter of minutes.
As with the previous two courses , my dining companion orders the less ‘who ate all the pies’ option of Binham milk junket (again, no idea) with roasted figs and fig turnover. It’s definitely pretty and described as a mixture between a yoghurt and a blancmange. The fig turnover is a triumph, I’m told.
The Kings Head has four rooms upstairs for anyone unwilling to leave (if I didn’t have a child to collect, I’d be one of them) so I take the opportunity to have a snoop around while my Cappuccino is being prepared. Each is subtly different, making excellent use of the awkward size and shape synonymous with old buildings, from jaunty angles to low ceilings, with a vintage chic feel achieved through distressed furniture, retro furniture and clever covering of the walls.
A rich coffee later and it’s off to the quaint town of Holt just under a mile away. If I haven’t said so already Holt residents, you really are lucky, lucky people.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Families, couples, dogs and groups of large diners looking for classic British food in charming surrounds, cum summer or winter.
Not for: I honestly can’t think of anybody that The Kings Head couldn’t cater for.
££-££: starters: from £6.95; mains: from £13.95 (steak frites is £19.50); desserts: all £6.95
The Kings Head, Holt Road, Letheringsett, Norfolk, NR25 7AR. Tel: 01263 712691. kingsheadnorfolk.co.uk