Worth Heading Out For
The Saracen’s Head, in Wolterton, in North Norfolk, certainly knows how to make the most of the county’s bounty, and is the perfect place for a cosy end of week dinner, says Emma Outten
You know how it is when it’s the middle of winter. It might be the end of a busy week, and time to wine and dine, but the last thing you might feel like doing is driving out into the middle of the countryside to find somewhere to eat.
However, if you’ve got a good sense of direction, I promise you that a trip out to the Saracen’s Head in Wolterton, near Erpingham, in turn near Aylsham, is worth the effort. You just need to be able to find it first!
The Georgian inn dates back to 1806, after architect GS Repton decided to design the inn in the style of a Tuscan farmhouse, as you do (but then again this was the time of the Grand Tour and the exposure to all the European architectural influences that would have afforded).
On entering, there’s something extremely warm and welcoming about the place, not least because owner Tim Elwes, and the rest of the team for that matter, are so very friendly! And, once in the bar area, the red hues of the décor and the burning fires further warmed the senses – it was the perfect tonic on a cold winter’s night. In fact, I would go as far to say that there’s something positively womb-like about it! There was a really nice buzz about the place, thanks to the county set clientele and the Londoners who had come up to stay the night in one of the rooms.
Head chef, Mark Sayers, is one of those featured in the Norfolk Table, One County Twenty Chefs (with his recipe for roast cannon of Wolterton lamb with wild garlic dauphinoise potatoes) and his ever changing seasonal menu is written up on the blackboard, which we had a good peruse of whilst supping a half of Woodforde’s Wherry and Bure Gold.
And, let’s be clear at the outset, the Saracen’s Head makes the most of our county’s bounty, working with local producers to offer the very best of Norfolk across the seasons. Beef comes from Emily Bambridge in Blickling; lamb from Gareth Daniels in Barningham Green; smoked fish from Simon Letzer in Brancaster; shiitake mushrooms from Woodfruits, Corpusty; milk and cream from Norton’s Dairy, Frettenham; crab and lobster from Robert Dennis in Overstrand; and hens’ eggs from Mary Wilcox in Erpingham.
The starters included Brancaster smoked salmon and smoked Heacham eel, but it was the creamy celery and Binham Blue cheese soup (at £5.50) which caught my eye, whereas my partner went for Norfolk mussels with garlic, shallots, parsley, white wine and cream (£8). My soup was, indeed, really creamy and came accompanied with bread and butter. My partner thoroughly enjoyed picking through his bowl of mussels, which were in an equally creamy sauce.
The wine list at the Saracen’s Head is supplied by Adnams and I opted for a glass of Casa Rivas Rosé, from Central Valley, Chile, (£4.50 for 175ml), as I couldn’t fail to be tempted by its description of ‘wildly fruity’.
For mains, I went for the roasted cauliflower with grilled halloumi, on a tahini, harissa and honey dressing (£13.50). I really liked the dressing which had a nice bit of spice about it. The preserved lemons were a nice touch – although I did mistake one for a new potato at first (bringing new meaning to the expression sucking a lemon). My partner had found it difficult to decide between the wild duck breast and the slow roast pork belly but settled for the latter (£15), which came with mashed potatoes plus a chorizo, white bean and tomato stew. He appreciated the Mediterranean flavours of the stew and the pork proved to be quite a bellyful for him.
As a result, we decided to share a dessert, which are all priced at £6.50 (with the exception of the Norfolk (and other English) cheeses, which are priced at £8). We wanted something quite light and refreshing, to counterbalance my cheesy savoury courses, and went for vanilla panna cotta, with strawberry sorbet, boozy cherries, and a hazelnut oat crumb. The cherries were suitably sozzled.
Then it was time to drive the half an hour or so back to Norwich feeling suitably sated and positively heart-warmed by that cosy welcome.
Reviewed in Feast issue 23 – February 2018