BMW Magazine early 2000 - Roger Wilsher offers some food for thought.
Take a closer look at north Norfolk and you’ll discover that there’s much to savour.
Aficionados call it the gold coast. It’s where the Royal family have chosen to make their own home. It is the seat of the Earls of Leicester, the Coke family, who over generations have created one of the most sumptuous palaces ever built in Britain. It offers some of the best shoreline and inland yachting in the UK. It’s an area that produces some of the most succulent seafood and vegetables available in this country. It takes just over two hours to get there from London, yet it is still one of Britain’s best kept secrets. It is the north Norfolk coast.
Here there is much to see. You can drive along the coast road’s winding bends from King’s Lynn, visit the seaside resort of Hunstanton, and take a walk in the woodlands and nature walks of the Queen’s favourite home in Sandringham. Follow the road round the bend of East Anglia’s ‘bump’ and you will come upon Holkham Bay. This huge expanse of sand and salt marsh backed by pine woods is where the tide can go out for two miles. Set amid the sand dunes you will find the Coke family home – the 18th century Palladian style mansion Holkham Hall. Inside you can see possibly the most spectacular hall in Britain - a 50ft high room, adorned with alabaster, modelled on the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in ancient Rome.
Tired and hungry by now, you could do no better than head for the tiny hamlet of Morston, famous for its fishermen and boat tours of the bay, and book into the 17th century former farmhouse called Morston Hall. Morston Hall has six comfortably furnished and well-proportioned bedrooms, but the centre of the operation is the restaurant. This is the proud holder of a Michelin star for its assured, modern European cooking.
The owners – husband and wife team Tracy and Galton Blackiston – opened their venture back in 1992 when they were both still in their 20s. Within a year it had won the best newcomer of the year in the coveted Cateys awards. This itself was quite a feat because when they opened they hardly had enough free funds to buy the same style of plates for all 35 covers.
The couple is also able to boast that they have scooped three rosettes and two red stars from the AA and that the Hall has been chosen by the Which? Hotel Guide as the Norfolk Hotel of the Year.
The awards are no surprise to regulars. For the key to the menus at Morston Hall is absolute freshness. Galton Blackiston doesn’t print his menus until the afternoon before the meal, because even he doesn’t know what he’s going to cook until he has scoured his suppliers to find which ingredients are best.
Such freshness comes across in the flavours, and the ingredients are second to none – salt marsh lamb, Morston mussels, Cromer crabs, Norfolk duck and fish smoked in the tiny smokehouse at Cley just up the coast. In addition the herbs are from the hotel’s own walled garden and the salad is grown in its greenhouse. This is food as it should taste.
Unusually, during the week only dinner is served here (on Sundays, lunch is offered too), and there is just one sitting - at 8 p.m. – at which everyone eats the same four-course menu (apart from dessert where there is a choice of a sweet or cheese). All this only contributes to the superb quality of the dishes served.
As a base from which to explore East Anglia’s northern perimeter, there is no better place to recommend.