Published in Feast, issue 39 – September 2019.
The White Hart stands proudly at the heart of Hingham, with a fine white stone statue of a deer keeping guard from on high.
The five-bedroom hotel, dating back to 1453, is run by Matthew Pamplin and Katie Hales, a very friendly, hands on couple, ably assisted by their two dogs, Marley and Rocky – and a team of staff, too, of course!
Overall, it is a very attractive, laid back sort of place where dogs are more than welcome. The couple have been there for almost four years (you might know them from the Earlham Arms in Norwich which they previously ran) and have renovated it with passion and verve.
The first thing I noticed was that it is a big place, with several different dining areas, a chill out zone, a first floor function room and a great bar. Plus, there’s a lovely courtyard garden which is great for this time of year when we all want to hold on to summer for as long as possible.
It is painted in heritage colours – shades of green and grey – and many original features remain. Expect countless beams (some from old ships), stripped wooden floors, woodburners in big fireplaces and some great artwork, ranging from quirky sketches to a fabulous Union flag taking up most of one wall in the bar.
I spent most of my time in the bar: yes, no surprise there. It’s the place for morning coffee, lunches, afternoon get-togethers, pre-dinner cocktails and dinners. As we looked at the menu for supper, I enjoyed a Hingham Breeze –
midori (a melon liqueur), pineapple, cranberry and berry vodka – which was delicious. There’s also a goodly range of beers from Woodforde’s Wherry to Broadland Sunrise from Humpty Dumpty in Reedham, and East Coast IPA from Geene King. Look out for local gins – I spotted Norfolk Gin and Bullards – and around 60 wines on offer, many by the glass.
The kitchen comes under the control of head chef, Martin Hewitt, who presents a thoughtful selection, mixing up classics (burgers, lasagne, fish and chips) plus a few daily specials, good vegan choices and a bit more, too. Many local suppliers are used – I noticed Mrs Temple’s Binham Blue cheese – and Martin also benefits from produce from the village’s allotments. Courgettes and gooseberries were much in evidence the night I visited so it seemed only right to start with a hearty bowl of rich courgette and mint soup which tasted as fresh as fresh can be. At £6.50, it was served with toasted bread and was a very good start. My husband went for feta tempura, served with a zesty lemon and lime dressing at £6.25, which was declared another hit.
Next I went for bouillabaisse, which came packed with fish and shellfish, in a rich tomato based sauce and was accompanied by slices of cheese on toast, at £15.95. There was lots of dipping and mopping up, and it was well seasoned, with plenty of fresh herbs, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Having spent a year or two of his mis-spent youth in Crete, my husband is a big moussaka aficionado so couldn’t resist it. Rich, deep and filling at £12.95, it hit the spot straightway and again saw much dipping of some juicy garlic bread in that rich bechamel sauce.
Other mains that caught my eye included oven baked smoked haddock, a whole roast mackerel, guinea fowl and black eyed bean burritos from the vegan-friendly section.
I had a pudding from the specials’ list: a dreamy croissant, raspberry bread and butter pudding with a strawberry creme Anglaise, while Himself had a key lime pie with lemon curd ice cream. Both were £6.95 and much enjoyed.
The five bedrooms, on the first floor, took a lot of work, with Fakenham-based builders Nigel Allen unearthing much, including an old servants’ sleeping quarters, and wattle and daub walls. The renovations took about 18 months and the results are very impressive – each room is highly individual and designed to make the most of those vital existing features.
Our room, La Parisienne, was enormous, reaching up to the rafters and had some lovely period furniture including a huge wardrobe, plus a very comfy bed, with luxurious white cotton bedlinen.
The ensuite was equally impressive, with twin sinks, made out of volcanic ash, a fab walk in shower and a roll-top bath – from Mongers, a local salvage yard, where Katie and Matthew have sourced several choice pieces.
Breakfast rounded off our very pleasant stay – a full veggie delight for me, and selected bits and bobs for him!
The White Hart is a wonderfully eclectic mix, with much to look at, yet very comfy indeed. This hard working couple have, I suspect, poured their heart and soul into this project – and it shows! It’s something very personal, a bit different and very Norfolk!
But what of Hingham itself? It is, a bit like Reepham, one of our region’s undiscovered gems. The architecture is simply magnificent – from the 14th century church to the little alleyways you just stumble across. There are a lot of different housing periods and styles, some wonderful gardens and a varied selection of shops to explore.
And, of course, you are handy for so many places – you might like to head to the racing action at Snetterton, enjoy the Mid Norfolk Railway at Wymondham or head into Norwich and all that it offers – it is about 15 miles away. Or just enjoy the village and its peaceful vibe.