OakVilla Restaurant and Distillery | www.oakvilladistillery.com
OakVilla Distillery has a fantastic new home with a great restaurant in the pretty Norfolk countryside. Sarah Hardy pays a visit
OakVilla Distillery originated in Wymondham when owners Shaun and Lindi Hancke set up the business in 2017, after coming to Norfolk from South Africa in 2007. And now, reports Shaun, they are delighted to be based at the English Whisky site at St George’s Distillery at Roudham, near Attleborough, which is run by Andrew and Katy Nelstrop.
‘Last year, we read that they were looking for new people to run the restaurant so we came for a look as it was hard to expand where we were, from our home.
‘And that was it – we just saw it and felt it. What we could do, what we could put where; we started to plan things from our first visit,’ says Shaun.
After a couple of false starts thanks to the pandemic, they now have their potbellied stainless steel still, Dromedaris, on site where they make their two gins, Vryheid (which means freedom in Afrikaans) and Hearts of Oak.
Shaun explains that they plan distillery talks, tours and tasting sessions, ranging from half hour sessions to longer three hour workshops. ‘We include different styles of gin to taste, a little bit about how gin is made, what botanicals do, a bit of our history and, with the longer sessions, people can create their own gin, and we offer a two course meal, too, as their own gin distills.’
The couple also run the site’s lovely restaurant which currently has about 70 covers inside, plus lots of seating outside, including at the river’s edge. ‘It’s a lovely spot, we are thinking of offering hampers so people can take a picnic to enjoy at the water’s edge,’ says Shaun.
The restaurant, with Jordan Wallace as head chef, opens daily from 9-5pm, with plans to open in the evenings on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, from the middle of June. The menu features many firm favourites such as a catch of the day, salads, sandwiches, burgers, and soups but it is perhaps the South African dishes which catch the eye. Many are from tried and tested family recipes and include pannekoeks (South African/Dutch pancakes) suya skewers (chicken and vegetable skewers with a peanut sauce), bobotie and rice (fruity curry), bunny chow (curry in a bread loaf), and Boerewors rolls which sound like pimped up sausage rolls!
Shaun explains: ‘We can cater for all dietary requirements and there are plenty of options for vegetarians, vegans and those on a gluten free diet; the staff will always help. And there is a great children’s menu – I’m never going to just serve up chicken nuggets and chips!’
Afternoon teas and Sunday roasts are other popular choices and Shaun starts to lick his lips as he talks about a couple of his favourite dishes – English Whisky chicken livers, and corn and cauliflower fritters – and the rather magnificent sharing platters, a meat based one and a seafood one, which sound crammed with all manner of goodies.
Desserts include another South African favourite, Lindi’s Malva Pudding, there is a great selection of cakes with the peppermint crisp cake having many fans, and mention must go to the wine list, produced with the help of Norwich-based wine merchants, Harper Wells.
The restaurant, formerly known as The Kitchen, is a contemporary space with a laid back vibe.
The couple are bubbling over with future ideas, from new gins, to on site events. They have already started asking local producers such as Candi Robertson to talk about her chutney range; they are thinking about a comedy night in August, a talk with a local artist Kate Grant who just happened to illustrate their gin bottles, a gin festival and maybe a regular farmers’ market.
A hook up with the whisky distillery is another interesting option, with Shaun and Lindi keen to stage corporate events and parties and more.
So it is all go – watch this space.
- Food photography by Tatum Reid Photography