You can tell somewhere takes food pretty seriously when the dog treats it hands out aren’t shop-bought Bonios, but homemade treats made ‘using game from the estate’. If Brandy could type, I’m sure she’d give you a glowing review of the 24,576 of them that she ate but instead you’ll have to settle for a review of the people food from me instead.
Recently we’ve been spending a bit of time in North Norfolk. It’s closer that Cornwall, quieter, just as beautiful and, we’ve realised, as much of a food-lover’s playground. If you’re in the area, Holkham is a bit of a must-visit. The estate is home to the Earls of Leicester and it also happens to own one of the most impressive UK beaches I’ve been to, bucketloads of land and all the farming stuff that goes with it, a swanky stately home and loads of other stuff.
It’s also home to The Victoria Inn, a pub with rooms that sits between the house and the expansive sands of Holkham beach. An impressive building in its own right, it oozes all that Olde English charm that comes with being part of an historic estate. There are shotguns and whatnot in the dining room, wood panelling, traditional candelabra. All that landed gentry stuff. But combine that with young, friendly staff and a menu that sticks to the simple themes of local, seasonal produce with the odd bit of self-effacing humour thrown in and you get somewhere that’s charming rather than stuffy.
We arrived after a mammoth walk along the coast path and beach, excited about a food and water stop. I imagine the Victoria is lovely on a cold winter’s day but we were lucky enough to arrive to a backdrop of blue skies and sunshine. Handy, really, given that The Victoria also has a lovely little suntrap of a courtyard.
Everyone bangs on about seasonal produce these days, but I guess the lucky ones are those who have it on hand so easily. Whether it’s shellfish or samphire from the coast, beef or venison from their own estate, meat from their farm tenants or fruit and veg grown on the land, it’s all there. Including the dog biscuits, that we spot on the bar and feed to our ever-hungry, moderately grateful, very tired Rottweiler. While we’re at the dog-friendly stuff, I’m happy to report that The Victoria is entirely dog-friendly, making it the perfect place to take your four-legged friend. (Because nobody puts Brandy in the corner!)
They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, with two lunchtime menus that cover more simple ‘Vic’s favourites’ and a menu of slightly posher dishes that doubles up as the dinner menu. Our visit in October meant that some of the dishes had an autumnal feel despite the weather delivering us a return to summer, but there was still plenty to tempt.
Mr M went for Lobster thermidor served with rice which, at £22.50, I didn’t think was at all unreasonable. It was everything a thermidor should be in looks and personality, with hefty chunks of lobster meat enveloped in rich, creamy sauce and piled back into the shell. A clean, simple dish that could double up as a wintry warming plate of food at the same time as harking back to long summer days and al fresco dining.
I went for chicken supreme which was such a hefty portion it got me some admiring glances from fellow diners, not for my own good looks and charming personality, but my ability to put away vast amounts of food. Another good-looking plate of food, the chicken was piled on top of Duplo-sized chunks of fondant potato along with a wild mushroom & leek fricassee. The chicken was tender without being squishy and pumped full of water, the sauce creamy without being claggy and the mushrooms added a slight sweetness. Hearty yet somehow still refined. Perfect lunch fodder.
A bottle of wine with our meals meant any self-discipline (who am I kidding, it wasn’t there anyway) when it came to dessert disappeared as quickly as the venison-laced dog treats. The pudding menu has plenty of classics, like rice pudding and treacle tart, but it was the humorously-titled ‘Lord Leicester’s smelly French cheeses’ that got our vote, with a couple of glasses of port because hey, why wouldn’t you. Given the selection of cheeses this included, I’d like to think that Lord Leicester and us Mannings would be besties – Brie de Meaux, Crottin de Chavignol, Roquefort and Epoisses, which is up there with my favourites. What more could you want on a sunny afternoon?
We left rested and refuelled and ready for the long walk back. So many people throw phrases around now like ‘seasonal’ and ‘local’ because they know that’s what we want. But at The Victoria you do get the impression that this isn’t any kind of gimmick or response to a trend, but just the way they’ve always done things. It’s an old-school hark back to the days before you could get anything you want all year round thanks to it being flown thousands of miles across the world for your delectation (apart from the French cheese, but that’s not even all that far is it), but you know that everything is fresh, probably grown or reared in a slightly more sustainable way and the quality is top-notch as a consequence.
Aside from all that very worthy stuff, it ticks all the boxes that a great place should. The ingredients are transformed into classic but well-executed dishes, the service is good, and the surroundings rather splendid yet simultaneously relaxing. And let’s not forget the best dog treats in town!
We paid in full for our lunch at The Victoria. They didn’t know I was a blogger.
Pin for later: