Muddy eats: The Wildebeest, Stoke Holy Cross
If you tune into BBC2’s The Great British Menu later this year and spot Chef extraordinaire Daniel Smith on the screen representing The Ingham Swan, marvel at this fact: Daniel is also head honcho at The Wildebeest in Stoke Holy Cross, bringing true the metaphor of wearing two hats (unless he transports his white chef’s hat between the two establishments, that is). As job shares go: not too shabby.
Taking pride of place in the pretty village of Stoke Holy Cross – close enough to Norwich to taxi it in for a lunchtime tipple (five miles) but rural enough to be able to smell cow dung on the approach – The Wildebeest manages to perfect the tricky combo of relaxed country pub and fine dining establishment, with oversized comfy chairs, sturdy oak tables, open fires, bright flowers and a spacious outdoor terrace.
My luncheon partners today are my mum and twin sister, Sarah, who is just about to return to Australia – the perfect Norfolk send off. We are trying the Lunch du Jour, a menu of three starters, three mains and three puds with two courses for a very reasonable £16.50; three at £21.50.
While determining what we might like, a board of green olives and spicy nibbles arrives, followed by a traditional glug glug jug of water (love those things) and some warm sourdough rolls with real butter.
The Wildebeest is known as a Restaurant with Roots, owning a parcel of land on The Tacons Farm at Rollesby where seasonal (and fully traceable) produce is grown for the restaurant. This means that absolutely everything on the menu is as fresh as it is local.
To start, my sister and I both opt for the chicken liver parfait accompanied by tomato chutney, celeriac remoulade and sour dough toast. The parfait is rich and silky smooth, while the chutney injects a nice tang; the remoulade some crunch; and the warm, chargrilled toast a wonderful smokiness – it’s a delight. I pair it with a crisp, cool New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc which is light and summery.
Skipping course one, mum dives straight into the mains and orders cod with tenderstem broccoli, sun dried tomato polenta and sauce vierge (confession time: I don’t actually know what this is and will have to look it up and report back to you – talk amongst yourselves readers…).
The skin is perfectly crisp, mum reports, while the fish is flaky and the polenta light and tasty. Silence then ensues until there is nothing left on the plate. OK, so sauce vierge literally translates to ‘virgin sauce’ and is olive oil, lemon juice, chopped tomato and chopped basil – yummy!
Being twins, Sarah and I also both opt for the same main course: confit pork belly with marsh pig pancetta, truffle mash and wild mushroom fricassee. I don’t usually choose pork but this dish is sensational: the crispy, salty skin and tender meat pair perfectly with the truffle mash which is as smooth as a baby’s behind. The triumph for me is the crispy ball of shredded pork, while tiny cubes of apple cut through the salt to deliver a sweet sharpness.
Full, but willing to soldier on, mum and I concur this time and both select the summer fruit Eton Mess – a favourite of mine anytime of the year. This is no ordinary Eaton Mess: first of all, it’s not that messy, then there is a medley of fruit – including raspberries, strawberries and blackberries – a scoop of strawberry ice cream on the top (which breaks up the massive amount of cream) and a light and fluffy meringue which I can’t actually see but is possibly half the size of my head.
Sarah, meanwhile, tucks into a generous slice of warm raspberry and almond bakewell tart with cherry sorbet. It is, she confirms, as delicious as it is pretty – I mean, just feast your eyes on this:
Waistband-stretchingly full, I am about to throw in the towel when I spot a lovely waitress pouring cream over a glass of black liquid and remember how much I love liqueur coffees. The choice of spirits is vast – Baileys, Cognac etc – but I go for Amaretto, which is both spicy and sweet. Our lovely waitress makes a decaff version for my sis, perfectly pouring the cream on top to create a thick head which stays afloat until the last drop (I believe the trick is to pour the cream over a cold teaspoon but have never once managed to perfect it).
Now unquestionably stuffed to the brim, my heart sinks when a plate of mini delights appears at the table, with zero chance of managing them. (Remember that episode of The Vicar of Dibley when, having already eaten four Christmas dinners, Dawn French is challenged to a sprout-eating competition…?).
Sarah then points out that the mini cinnamon doughnuts are warm and I immediately ask the waitress for something to take them home in – a Tupperware box promptly appears and I breathe a sigh of relief. They simply *can’t* go to waste!
I manage to heave myself up to go to the bathroom and notice that there is a good amount of stylish copper splashed around making it also worthy of a snapshot.
Walking back to my table, I try and think of a way to describe The Wildebeest and come up with, not one, but two great juxtapositions: casual fine dining in the urban countryside. Not too shabby indeed.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Couples and groups of friends looking for a fancy lunch/shopping combo during the week or on a Saturday; families after a cracking Sunday roast and casual drinkers wanting locals ales and French wines sourced direct from vineyards.
Not for: Rapid lunch-goers on a budget or city dwellers/visitors without a car or cab fare.
£££: Lunch du Jour menu: £16.50 for two courses; £21.50 for three
82-86 Norwich Road, Stoke Holy Cross, Norfolk, NR14 8QJ. Tel: 01508 492497. thewildebeest.co.uk