Reviewed in Feast issue 45 – April 2020
When we launched the eastern branch of Hospitality Action, the charity for those involved with the hospitality world, we held a fabulous gala dinner at Holkham Hall.
As part of the evening’s entertainment (which included a scrumptious dinner prepared by numerous top chefs) there was an auction and one of the lots was dinner with yours truly!
The idea was to eat and report on the meal for a future issue of Feast, and the couple with the winning bid were Diana and Chris Scargill from Blakeney – both very lovely people. I won’t say how much they paid but it was a lot – and for that we are all very grateful!
So the pressure was on for us to try and make it an enjoyable and informative evening – I always talk far too much so their main challenge was to get a word in edgeways!
We were invited to eat at the Victoria Inn at Holkham, and Diana and Chris were to stay the night, too, with their rather gorgeous dogs, Pippin and Sumac.
I took along one of our regular writers, Mark Nicholls, bon viveur and fellow chatterbox, and it was a very jolly evening: Diana and Chris are real foodies, well travelled and love Norfolk. Living in the area, they know it well, and eat out a fair amount.
The Victoria is a lovely spot: relaxed and welcoming – especially for our four-legged friends. It’s kitted out just as it should be, as a traditional estate pub.Think Farrow and Ball cool colours, open fires, antlers on the walls, a few shotguns in cabinets, and stripped wooden floors.
We started in one of the little bar areas, with comfy sofas, for pre-dinner drinks before moving into the main area where we had a good look through the menu.
The kitchen, run by head chef Michael Chamberlain, uses as many ingredients from the Estate as possible: game from the shoot, beef from the marshes, venison from the park, vegetables from the walled garden and lamb and potatoes from the farm. There are eight or nine choices per course, and they are clearly marked if gluten free or suitable for vegans or vegetarians.
Chris has written us this review about the couple’s stay:
‘The hotel deserves its dog friendly reputation as they are allowed in the bar, restaurant and all 10 bedrooms in the main building – all of which are nicely furnished and wow, our bathroom in room six! I am told rooms one and two are bigger, but ours, with a separate shower and a bath big enough for two, was impressive! The north facing room overlooks the road and open pasture which, following recent heavy rain, is a wildlife haven of its very own (note to self: bring binoculars next time).
If you are not a dog lover, the more recently renovated Ancient House, which includes a separate sitting room, provides a further 10 individually decorated rooms, including a spacious family attic.
The historic relationship with the brewer Adnams continues with an Adnams cellar in the curtilage which is worth a browse, and many of their beers and wines are served in the bar, complemented by various guest ales and some very good wines from the Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard. With our evening meal, the choice was a well-priced Picpoul to go with the scallops starter, which was well presented with sprinkled pomegranate seeds. Tasty as they were, the mussels starter also looked delicious. For the mains I chose a substantial pork chop with all the trimmings including a cider jus. My Duchess followed her scallops with Lady Leicester’s warm salad. Filled with cauliflower, squash and other greens, it was delicious and different but not at all lady- like in its portion! Her glass of Forest Estate Pinot Noir suited it to a tee.
We were too full to have one of the delicious sounding desserts, so we shared Lord Leicester’s smelly French cheese board which was definitely not as smelly as advertised! It offered Roquefort, Époisses, Brie de Meaux and Crottin de Chavignol – and I took the opportunity to taste the well balanced Malbec.
As a hotel guest, you can relax after dinner in comfy chairs in a residents’ sitting room where there is complimentary whisky, port and brandy, should you wish. Well, it would have been rude not to, wouldn’t it?
So what to do the next day? Well, a substantial Full English called me, and the Duchess went for Lady Leicester’s avocado on toast – and wow, what a large portion! Both set you up for the day to go visiting the wonderful towns and villages nearby from cosmopolitan Burnham Market to Wells, a destination that is certainly on the up.
My choice? My four-footed friends would have had it no other way, so it was off to the wide open spaces of the beach to burn off a little energy before finding another great place for lunch. There is so much to do, so much choice, that my final note to self: let’s stay longer next time!’
Thanks to all at the Holkham Estate, especially Ben and the staff at The Victoria Inn, for making this all happen.