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The Hoste Arms, Burnham Market, North Norfolk

Clifford Mould found a17th Century Inn that offers both quality and informality

Why don't you review any good places in North Norfolk? - a reader chided us recently - The Hoste Arms is well worth trying, so get on your bike

Off we pedalled, and discovered that Norfolk, from Sandringham onwards is by no means flat. We drove over from Oundle, across the fens past Wisbech, skirting around King's Lynn. At Sandringham we made a pause, to let the dog out.  I always thought of Sandringham as the Royal Family's private holiday bolt-hole, so I  was surprised how accessible the house and grounds are to the public. There is an excellent website with all the details of opening times, special events and attractions: www.sandringhamestate.co.uk . There are other fine houses in the area, such as Holkham Hall, and the village of Burnham Market is very attractive with lots of fine independent shops. There's sailing and riding, golf and clay pigeon shooting, and of course there's the sea - the North Norfolk coast is spectacularly beautiful. We took the dog to the beach at Brancaster;  the tide was out and the vast expanse of sand, sea and sky was like stepping into a vast watercolour painting.

 

With all this to revel in, you need both somewhere to stay and somewhere to replenish the inner man, so we fetched up at the  historic Hoste Arms. When Paul Whittome bought it about 13 years ago it was practically derelict. Paul is an amazing dynamo of a man; he works his socks off and has a passion for food, wine, company and getting things done. He has overcome a problem with deafness - but he lip-reads brilliantly so just remember to face him as you speak.  His latest gizmo is an electric canopy that protects the terrace from a rain attack. More seriously, a barn conversion enabling more bedrooms and a penthouse suite is nearing completion. We took a whistle-stop tour, and every workman greeted him with a cheery Hi Paul!, for he is man who for all his entrepreneurial drive, has no time whatsoever for stuffy formality. 

Hoste roomThe bedrooms are comfortable, and rather heavily draped (I'm in my minimalist phase, so take no notice),  but much care has gone into the decor, mainly the work of his wife Jeanne. Downstairs, the centre of the pub remains, as it should be, the bar, recently and authentically restored to its former Victorian glory. This is the very essence of an old fashioned pub bar where no food is served, so that people (particularly locals) can lounge about and smoke if they want to. I didn't ask if the labrador would be welcome in the bar, but I'd be surprised if he weren't.

In spite of the Hoste's formidable reputation for good cooking, you can still enjoy a lunchtime sandwich whilst sitting in a comfortable leather club chair in the lounge.  The dining rooms are several interconnecting rooms of varying sizes - we sat in a nice old panelled room and had lunch. The menu is the same for both lunch and dinner. Paul has adapted a standard Falcon catering range to deliver a massive turbo-charged wok burner, so look out for some oriental and fusion-style dishes. We enjoyed a starter of sweet and sour beef strips - which were very crispy  with suitably wok-wilted greens - and the main course vegetable stir fry, both of which were deftly finished and presented. But the chopsticks were those horrid tiny little ones that were even smaller than those at our local take away. Those and the cheap paper napkins were my only real criticism of the restaurant. Informality be blowed! 

My Salade Nicoise was a very proper version, having a generous wedge of chargrilled tuna sitting proudly on top of all the right ingredients and none of the wrong ones. So, no anchovies, not if there's already tuna, but nice hard boiled eggs with just set yolks, crunchy green beans, but no cold potatoes. Larousse definitely says, no potatoes!

The fish dishes are a speciality. I'd like to have tried the Millefeuille of Monkfish, to see how they do it, or the crisp fried seabass with steamed asparagus and pink grapefriut (sic!) dressing. But the seafood casserole in a coconut and lime bisque was irresistible, voluptuously smooth and rich, with nice big chunks of fish. I had the best end of English lamb, a generous portion that sat on a rather too large top hat of lightly cooked aubergine. The confit plum tomato wasn't really confit either, but the lamb was perfectly cooked, all pink and tender inside. It came with a nice proper gravy, rich and savoury and  not over sweetened like so many reductions are these days, as chefs try to hard to achieve that syrupy consistency.

The puddings were wicked: have the assiette of Hoste puds to share: the ice creams were delicious and both the passionfruit creme brulee and the chocolate mousse cake were both marvellous. There's a wine list that reflects the passion of a true wine lover. The good news is that there's a massive choice of interesting wines for under twenty pounds. For those who want to push the boat out, there are classic clarets and Burgundies as well as heavyweights from California and Australia.

The cost of your meal:

Starters from £3.75 for soup of the day, mainly around five to six pounds. Most have a light main course version for an extra £3 or so. 
Mains: Fish about £12, meats from £8.75 to £15.95 for fillet of beef
Puddings £4.50  As I type in the prices of this excellent cooking, it occurs to me that it costs no more than that in our local, one of  the ubiquitous Chef and Brewer chain.

Staying at The Hoste Arms:
There are many different price breaks, so the best thing is to visit the Hoste Arms website: www.hostearms.co.uk, or email reception@hostearms.co.uk The Whittomes also own the nearby Railway Inn where you can stay for as little as £48 for a two night midweek break.  Charming children and well trained dogs are welcome.

The Hoste Arms, The Green, Burnham Market, King's Lynn, Norfolk PE31 8HD

Clifford Mould  April 2002

If you liked the Hoste Arms, you might like to try the Pheasant at Keyston, or The Crooked Billet at Newton Longville

 

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010


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