The King’s Arms in Shouldham is West Norfolk’s first community owned pub. Emma Outten takes her daughter there for lunch and gets into the community spirit
hen The King’s Arms in Shouldham, near Downham Market, became a community owned pub in 2014, it really saved the day for the traditional 17th century hostelry which overlooks the village green.
Quite simply, it would no longer be a pub if it wasn’t for the heroic efforts of the people of Shouldham and many supporters.
By June 2012, when it had already been closed for a year, Punch Taverns had put it up for sale. To cut a long story short, with the help of the Plunkett Foundation, 11 villagers set up Shouldham Community Enterprises in March 2013 and the pub reopened in September 2014.
It is a real success story. It won CAMRA’s West Norfolk Pub Of The Year for an unprecedented three years running (2016 through to 2018), garnered entries into the Good Food Guide, Good Beer Guide and Good Pub Guide, and earlier this year the team were thrilled to win the Parliamentary pub of the year for the East of England.
Real ale pubs don’t always focus on offering good food as well, so I was looking forward to taking my daughter there for lunch.
Behind the bar, the real ales are served straight from the cask and change daily. I was driving and so ordered a half of Afternoon Delight from Beeston Brewery, although I was tempted by the stronger Plum Porter from Titanic Brewery.
There’s also an impressive four-tiered gin menu: Norfolk Gin’s right up there at a premium £4.50 whereas good ol’ Gordon’s is down the other end of the scale at £2.60! The bar stools made out of old beer kegs were a nice touch but we here for lunch and were shown to a table. My daughter eyed up the church pew seating across the way from us and spent almost the entire lunch showing me, on Pinterest, how one could work in our kitchen…
There’s a specials board which they bring over to you, and I also noticed a proper notice board, as befitting a community owned pub.
On the menu itself, it’s apparent that the food is locally sourced where possible, as starters include homemade soup of the day with local bakers’ bread and butter, but my daughter knew what she was having from the off: baked Camembert studded with garlic and rosemary, with toast (£7.50). It’s a favourite of hers and didn’t disappoint, although she said that a side of caramelised onion chutney might not have gone amiss.
I had the roasted vegetable polenta, with rocket and cracked pink pepper mayo (£5.75). Both came on an oblong wooden board, with The King’s Arms logo branded into the corner – although mine made a much more colourful display, what with the diced vegetables shining like little jewels in the polenta, the greenery of the rocket and the pink freckled mayo.
Next, my daughter was happy with a roast chicken salad sandwich on malted granary bread, with a salad garnish, slaw and crisps. At £7.25, it was the priciest of the sandwiches, but she was impressed that the chicken was warm, as if it had, indeed, just been roasted, and it was really filling (she took the other half home in a doggy bag – which reminds me: The King’s Arms is dog friendly!).
I had the garlic mushroom and fried halloumi burger in a sesame brioche, chips, slaw, and that cracked pink pepper mayo again (I probably overdid it on the mayo). The mushroom was massive and very garlicky and the brioche bun completely defeated me as I was more interested in filling up on the chunky chips.
The sun was shining so we decided to have dessert outside, in the attractive, walled beer garden. I particularly liked the beer tables, painted in different pastel colours – the colour coding makes it easier for waiting staff, according to landlord Ian Skinner!
Desserts are all priced at £5.50, but we both decided to have ice cream/sorbet at £1.60 a scoop: cookies and cream and mango for her, and cherry Bakewell and raspberry for me. Alternatively, we could have shared a Norfolk cheeseboard for £7.50.
Just a note: The King’s Arms is undergoing a bit of a refurbishment, in that the kitchen is going to be modernised and expanded. Head Chef Jo Freeman says her aim is to produce good honest pub food, and she certainly achieves that.
Just to give you a flavour of all the stuff going on at the pub, there’s a charity pub quiz on the last Sunday of every month, a classic car and bike meet on the first Sunday, and acoustic folk nights on the third. However, the main event on the calendar is probably the Summer Beer Festival, which will take place from August 30 to September 1.
Vice Chair of Shouldham Community Enterprises – and landlady – Abbie Panks says: ‘Our greatest success is that we can create a warm and welcoming environment for everyone who visits our pub. It really is the hub of the village, I’m so proud of what we have all achieved together.’
Reviewed in Feast issue 36 – May 2019