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Top 50 gastropubs 2021 revealed

What better week for the reveal of the country's best gastropubs than the start of lockdown easing? Here are the 5 winners in and around Norfolk - phones at the ready to bag your table.

With the timed perfection of an expertly cooked fillet steak, along comes the list of the country’s finest gastropubs just when we’re itching to get some pub lunches, dinners and drinkies in the diary.

Oh, gastropubs, how we’ve missed you. We’re salivating over the thought of that pan-fried trout/crispy pork belly/stick toffee pudding, washed down with some fabulous vintage from the perfectly selected wine list.

In the spirit of the gift that keeps on giving, Estrella Damm has this year decided to name 100 pubs instead of the usual 50.

We’re delighted to find Norfolk has 2 in the Top 50 with 3 more just over the border in Suffolk and Cambs. After what has been the toughest year for many of the nation’s pubs, forced to shut their doors or reinvent themselves as farm shops and takeaways, we feel it’s our duty to work our way around the cream of the regional crop.

So here are the fab 5. We’ll race you to the table…

The Unruly Pig Woodbridge, Suffolk (No. 10)

What they say: Named by the Michelin Guide as one of the top six food pubs in the east of England, The Unruly Pig was the highest climber in the top 50 Gastropub charts this year – in at number 10 (do I sound like Paul Gambaccini?). The pub has an Inka grill in their refurbished kitchen which enhances the flavour and general deliciousness of grilled meat and fish. Menus change frequently and produce is all super fresh from the coast or local suppliers. The Telegraph says ‘Just a damn good restaurant.’ 

What we say: Head Chef Dave Wall has worked at Bibendum, Gordon Ramsay’s Boxwood Café, Claridge’s and Le Talbooth, plus won ‘ Britain’s Best Pub Restaurant Chef 2019/20’. – so he’s a pretty good chef! The menu is the sort where you simply can’t choose as it all sounds so brilliant and is a mouth-watering combo of seasonal British food with Italian influence (Britalian!). This a modern, quirky pub with brightly coloured dining rooms, funky art and an extensive decked terrace and a fire pit too. We can’t wait to get there! 

Try this: Stout braised beef feather blade, Jerusalem artichoke, truffled mash, and cavolo nero: £23.

The Three Hills Bartlow, Cambridgeshire (No. 22) 

What they say: The highest new entry at number 22, The Three Hills is already an award-winning kitchen, with two AA Rosettes and a Michelin Plate. The menu is local, seasonal, and offers real choice from light bites to stunning mains. The Three Hills have lovely rooms too, located in the pretty 110-person village of Bartlow, it’s the ideal place for a foodie to relax.  

What we say: We have enjoyed many a lunch, the odd dinner, a truly memorable Sunday roast, and copious glasses of very good wine at this super friendly, but hugely professional pub. All areas are equally attractive and welcoming from the bar to the bright and airy restaurant to the gorgeous big garden. Whether you want a light lunch of filled flatbreads or sharing boards or something classy and delicate like beetroot tartare followed by pan-fried halibut – you will not be disappointed. That big garden will get busy this summer – so book far in advance! 

Try this: Crispy Battered Haddock and Chips with dill creamed crushed peas, triple cooked chip

The Duck Inn Stanhoe, near King’s Lynn, Norfolk (No. 43)

What they say: The Duck featured in 2019 and is back in the Top 50 for 2021. It’s also a runner up in the OFM Awards for Best Sunday lunch and was a finalist in the 2018 GQ Food and Drink Awards for Best Pub. A friendly, honest pub serving the best local produce plus East Anglian ales and extensive wine list. In August 2020 Sunday Times food critic Giles Coren gave The Duck a rave review for adapting to the times while serving “properly good” food. 

What we say: This inn’s been a village pub since the 1700s, now transformed by Ben and Sarah Handley into one of our favourite foodie hotspots, making the most of all that Norfolk deliciousness – good for vegans and veggies too! Little duckings have their own menu of top quality grub from £6.00-£7.50 and I can’t get enough malt loaf with honey and Lincolnshire Poacher Cheese at £7.50. Like Mr Coren, we love the Garden Room which he called a “cute, modern, open-sided barn, giving onto a lovely garden of apple trees and bright flowers”. He’s right, it’s gorgeous. Get booked in while you can! 

Try this: SFC (Stanhoe Fried Chicken) with ‘Holy Cluck’ sauce. £8.50

The Gunton Arms Gunton, near Cromer, Norfolk (No.49)

What they say: In 2011 art dealer Ivor Braka launched the Gunton Arms, aiming to be a top dining gastropub with a warm, traditional feel. Local seasonal food is central to the pub’s ethos and head chefs Stuart and Simone Tattersall (who used to work with Mark Hix in London) have retained a Michelin Bib Gourmand for the past six years. Surrounded by a 1,000-acre historic deer park the Gunton is famed for its Elk Room open fire on which all steaks and chops are seared to perfection.

What we say: Like gatecrashing a raffish shooting party hosted by Tracey Emin. If you’re a slightly dishevelled Helena Bonham Carter kinda gal you’ll be right at home. It’s THE place for big boozy winter feasts under huge fossilised elk horns (dug up from an Irish peat bog) and summer days lounging about with pints of ice cold cider in the deer park ordering all day bar snacks. We have Oxford Sauce with EVERYTHING. The food is epic, the art is phenomenal (Paul Rego, Lucian Freud, Damien Hirst…nothing like a bit of YBA erotica behind the bar) and you can stay the night in super chic Robert Kime-designed rooms starting at £95.00 a night. Like Jay Rayner said in The Guardian “I want to go back to the Gunton Arms. I want to go back soon.”

Try this: Sea buckthorn berry posset with seaweed biscuit – gorgeous. £6.50. And lots and lots of meat (ranges from around £16.00 for sausages and mash to a majestic £62.00 for a whole rib of beef to share between 3 or 4).

The Hole in the Wall Wilberham, Cambridgeshire (No. 62)

What they say: Head chef Nilesh Misquitta took over The Hole in the Wall two years ago after spending twenty years at the top end of hospitality working on the Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship and leading hotels in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Now serving great locally sourced food, from British classics with an unexpected twist to delicious Asian dishes.

What we say: We love the story of this pub’s name –  tired farmers would grab their ales through an actual hole in the wall of this 16th Century (grade II listed) building. You can get great classics like fish and chips. delicate dishes and amazing asian fayre like Chicken teriyaki – what’s not to love?  

Try this: Teriyaki chicken with stir fry vegetables in egg noodles and Thai red curry sauce: from £11 (current take-out price).

Read about more great gastro pubs in Cambs and Suffolk here.

And find out more about fab food in Norfolk here.

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