“It will do you good to get back to the people” grumbled the old newspaperman known to all in the office as The Editor. “You spend too much time in the air or with your snout in a series of ‘small’ plates”. “Make it real, make it something that will appeal” were his final words on the matter. He wanted me to connect with genuine food, the sort of food I fell in love with all those years ago.
We dined in the ‘Elk Room’. Its provenance, a 10,000-year-old elk’s head above the fireplace, and what a fireplace. It’s where the meat is cooked over an open wood fire. Like a civilised medieval banqueting hall where you don’t have to eat with your fingers (but you could if you wanted to) this part of the Gunton Arms plays perfectly into the ‘I want good food, not messed around with food and I want in a spectacular room’ vibe. It’s a decadent almost delinquent way to spend a Friday afternoon and I recommend it highly.
The first thing you need to know about The Gunton Arms is it’s in the middle of nowhere, well for a Londoner anyway. A signpost on the main road blink and you’ll miss it kind of place. It’s a local secret that a few well versed with the likes of Mark Hix (from where the proprietors worked) have grown fond of the acreage they offer here with their 12 rooms (come for the weekend… breakfasts are just as good as lunch or dinner I’m told).
Food wise you can’t go wrong here. I had a sizeable serving of in-house oak and applewood smoked salmon and thank the Lord it was thick sliced – a joy. Other highlights included a neat little saffron aioli that partnered the crab and prawn and a tasty, chewy pork belly with crackling on the side for the hardcore.
Laura our server (definitely not a medieval wench) couldn’t have been more patient as we pondered the menu and opted for ‘Beef for sharing”. This is an event and not for the vaguely hungry – it’s a lot. We were a party of three and left some as we couldn’t manage it. It’s cooked before your eyes on the open fire Fred Flintstone style. The Aberdeen Angus was superb, moist, tasty, juicy and dripping with fat. The Béarnaise on the side was great but barely necessary.
The fire crackled, it slowly got darker outside and the scrubbed tables and mismatched chairs all seemed the same in the low light. This is a mood place, with great care taken to make it all look easy. And talking of looking, there are many modern art pieces on show. A Gilbert and George here, a Baily there, an Emin above that door… it just goes on. Some of it very good pertinent and witty, some not for me but hey that’s art.
A special mention in dispatches must be made of the cauliflower cheese. Simply the best I’ve ever had. Why? Well I tried to work it out and I think there were two reasons, firstly the florets were small or broken down to a reduced size but still remained crisp, and secondly the cheese, oh that cheese, it was under the grill until it was brown and crispy and gooey and just gorgeous. I’m sure it was a good cheese to start with but when The Gunton Arms had finished with it, it was epic.
This place delivered on so many levels it’s hard to count them. The puds were great too, choc mousse to die for looked like a mountain range with shards of dark chocolate providing the detail. Cheesecake (what was I thinking after all that meat) with ginger was a good twist on an old classic. The menu isn’t too long, the wine reasonable (they serve it by the carafe as well so you can cut down a bit without feeling left out of the ‘only available in a bottle’ brigade). My only regret? That we hadn’t booked for a few days. A perfect modern country dining experience bar none.
The Gunton Arms, Cromer Road, Thorpe Market, Norfolk, NR11 8TZ, England.
Tel: +44 (0)1263 832010
The Cromer Arms is located in a large historic park near Cromer in North Norfolk. Gunton railway station is just one mile away with train connections via Norwich. Norwich Airport is 25 minutes away by car. The restaurant is open every day from midday to 3:00pm for lunch and from 6:00pm to 10:00pm for dinner. Bar food is available from midday to 10:00pm.
Type of Pub: Traditional Country Pub with 12 bedrooms
Reviewer’s Rating: 9.5/10
Neil Hennessy-Vass is Contributing Editor for Our Man On The Ground as well as a widely-published globetrotting food and award-winning travel writer and photographer.
Photographs by Neil Hennessy-Vass