Friday, August 26, 2011
Mermaids were supposedly the sign of good luck for sailors. SARAH BREALEY visits an upmarket dining option on the Broads that offers similar good fortune to lovers of food.
Anyone who has done a bit of beachcombing will have come across mermaids’ purses, but it’s not clear why a mermaid would need a slipper.
Perhaps when they named the Mermaid’s Slipper at Stalham they were thinking of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, who was able to dance beautifully, though in great pain, once she had been transformed to a human.
There is not much chance of spotting a mermaid from the window, as Stalham is several miles inland, although you can see boats at the staithe outside. This cosy restaurant is in an interesting building, originally stables and subsequently a storage building and fuel distribution depot. Inside, the use of reclaimed wood includes part of a wherry mast used as a beam above the windows, and at one end you can see the exposed stone of a kiln built in 1812.
The Mermaid’s Slipper changes subtly throughout the day, starting with coffee from mid-morning, then bistro-style lunch and then more formal with white tablecloths at dinner. At lunchtime there is quite a lot of fish and seafood – the salmon fillet and the mussels served with bread both looked appealing – but there are also burgers and other meat dishes. Dinner options include fillet steak and duck breast. There is always roast beef and all the trimmings available for Sunday lunch.
Carrot and tarragon soup was the most elegant of carrot soups, creamy and refined and quite summery. The Real Ale Drinker had high praise for his chicken and leek pie, which was an addition to the normal menu. It had a sky-rise puff pastry lid and a really tasty filling with plenty of tender meat. It came with green beans and buttery carrots, too.
The lunch menu is not over-endowed with vegetarian options – ‘pizzas various’ and ‘salad various’ was how the menu somewhat enigmatically put it. In pizza terms this turned out to be a choice between pepperoni and cheese and tomato. Unfortunately, however, the cheese and tomato pizza was still cold in the middle – not even lukewarm but quite cold, and the cheese in the centre had not melted. The proprietor looked mortified, and assured us that this had never happened before. It was whisked away and returned piping hot.
At its proper temperature, it was a pleasant pizza, with quite a bit of cheese and a rich tomato sauce, but it was not as good as the wafer-thin ones you can get in a proper Italian restaurant.
We finished by sharing a sticky toffee pudding which was a shining example of its kind. The sponge itself was light and tasty but what really made it was the generous cloak of rich, buttery toffee sauce which oozed gently into the surrounding cream.
All the desserts are home-made, and we were also tempted by the sherry trifle and crème brulée.
There is a good wine list, starting under £15 a bottle, and there are also bottled beers, but we stuck to soft drinks.
Prices are at the upper end of the market, with main courses £10 to £12 at lunch, and around the £17 mark in the evening.
Personally, I thought the chicken and leek pie was probably worth the £12, while £10 for a cheese and tomato pizza is probably a touch steep. But plenty of people are happy to pay for the friendly, intimate atmosphere and good food.
Like the mermaid without a voice – for that, as you may recall, was the price paid by the Little Mermaid for her legs – the Mermaid’s Slipper is not without flaw, but is certainly a great deal more use than its namesake.
The Mermaid’s Slipper
Prices: Starters between £6-£8, mains from £11-£20
Vegetarian options: Lots of choice
Wheelchair access: Yes