Copyright © 2015 Feast Norfolk Magazine

Diss and Harleston are thriving market towns set in ancient countryside, teeming with artisan producers. They hover on the boundary of Norfolk and Suffolk and are home to tearooms, pubs, delis and more - the majority are independent, family-run businesses who equally support local producers. Diss, with its six acre mere, now boasts its Heritage Triangle, and it’s a pleasure to wander the streets and courtyards to see what you can find. Look out for Fredricks Fine Foods, where Juliette and John Atkinson run a great deli packed with breads, olives, antipasti, salads, wines, cakes, cheeses and more. They also offer an outside catering business - perfect for those canape parties you all have planned! Nearby is the Gluten Free Food Store, where you will find literally hundreds of products for those with intolerances. There are lovely hampers which are great Christmas presents, plus a comprehensive range of beers. Amandines Café, in a lovely converted Victorian redbrick warehouse, is the place for vegetarian and vegan food, and has been for almost 30 years, while a new Italian, Puccini’s, is set to open and we can’t wait to try it out! On Market Hill is the Diss institution which is Weavers Wine Bar and Eating House - the place to go for sophisticated dishes. William Bavin has been at stove since 1987 so knows what he’s doing, just as Katrina, his partner, is confident front of house. The fixed-price menu makes good use of local produce and Weavers has its own kitchen garden so you won’t get fresher veg! Other places that caught my eye included Diss Ironworks - who wouldn’t want one of their wonderful ranges? And Rooms With A View is full of quirky pieces for the home - I spotted Emma Bridgewater treats on offer. And there’s a full interior design service. The Corn Hall, a glorious Grade II listed building, is the place for culture vultures - and also good food and drink, as Fredricks runs its cafe and Grain beers are also available. Comics, poets, movies, classical music and more take place and this month sees the panto, Aladdin - oh yes it does!
Harleston, on the old coaching route from London to Great Yarmouth, also has masses of charm, with an abundance of historic buildings. The 15th century coaching inn, JD Young, is a fine example of the town’s noble past and is still a warm and welcoming hotel. Expect comfy interiors, plenty of choice and a friendly welcome. The nearby 19th century Corn Exchange is now home to an antique and vintage centre, Cornucopia, where the Parlour Tea Rooms offer refreshments after you’ve browsed the two jam-packed floors. The Rustic Catering Company opened a Fine Foods Store in May where you can order a sandwich, their soup of the day or grab a piece of cake. Add in plenty of fresh fruit and veg, typical deli products, an outside catering business and gorgeous hampers, too.They also have a Waffles and Shakes Café nearby, for those of you with a sweet tooth. The Adnams Store, converted from an old skittle alley, holds regular events and there’s always something new to try - we love their Rye whisky, and the Broadside Xmas puds are delicious! The Apiary, a buzzing cake and coffee house, is run by Michael Chappell and Nicola Penny, who use their own honey in many of their yummy products. They serve Paddy and Scott’s coffee and also stock local products such as Peachey’s Preserves, plus they make up fabulous hampers and offer an outside catering service. For something a bit different but bursting with freshness and sheer flavour is the Japanese restaurant, Momiji. Run by husband and wife team, Taka and Charlotte Nakamoto, there is real attention to detail here so it’s no wonder that it’s a firm favourite with many. A set menu makes it easy for all, there’s a Sushi Week once a month that sounds fun and how does baby squid tempura sound? Yes please! Finally, the newish East of England Co-op is another great supporter of local producers so you’ll find everyone from Hillfarm Oils to Aspalls Cyder - plus all your everyday essentials. The surrounding villages are just as interesting. For a start, there’s the immediately impressive Oaksmere Hotel, with its 10 bedrooms and four suites, ultra jazzy cocktail bar and highly contemporary restaurant. Although you might find me in the original bar, with its beams, open fire and huge gin collection. Head chef Lee Cooper promises ‘surprising’ puddings - what girl could want more?! And what about the 13th century Old Kings Head Brockdish? Twixt Diss and Harleston? It is such a beautifully done place, with three separate areas, all catering for different times of the day and needs. My eye was taken by the dining area with its rather grand chandelier, and the menu has an enticing Italian slant. You can also enjoy a latte and cake in the morning - with the hound welcome, too. Add in lots of local artwork for sale and regular music events and this is a pub at the heart of the community. The Burston Crown, near Diss, is a place for a good time, with lots of live music and again masses of atmosphere. Bev and Steve Kembery run this 16th century pub with plenty of passion and recently won South Norfolk Council’s community pub of the year for villages with a population of 551-1100 people. With the Thinking Men performing on New Year’s Eve and a really good choice of local beers on offer, it sounds like just the place to be. Don’t miss Grain Brewery, situated in prime barley-growing countryside at Alburgh. Set up in 2006, the South Farm site boasts a shop, and the brewery itself, complete with taproom, holds regular open days when you can get up close and personal with all those lovely beers. The next one is December 16. And the family-run Harleston Cider Company, which has been going since 2010, produces Camra-winning ciders, vinegars and rubs. Master cider maker Ken Woolley uses East Anglian apples and regular open days are held at the Palgrave site. The next one is also on December 16. And keep your eye out for Alburgh Luxury Ice Cream which has many stockists in the area. Lovingly made by husband and wife team Lucie and Steve Morran on a farm in the village, they use creamy milk from a herd of Guernsey cows to produce rich and deeply satisfying treats whose flavours include honeycomb, stem ginger and the ultra decadent luxury Belgian chocolate.