Review: A well-known chef runs its kitchen, but what is the food like at this village pub?
PUBLISHED: 19:27 25 January 2020 | UPDATED: 19:27 25 January 2020
It reopened in July after a community fight to secure its future. In October, well-known chef Charlie Hodson took over its kitchen. Lauren Cope visited village pub The Crown Inn Northwold to put it through its paces.
I'm pretty sure I've written this before, but it doesn't hurt to reiterate: There are few things better than a Sunday pub lunch.
Whether you've built up an appetite with a long, rambling walk (I hadn't), scrubbed the house top to bottom (nope) or lazed around in bed eating buttery toast (bingo), sitting near an open fire with a glass of wine in hand and potatoes on the way is unbeatable.
On a crisp, blue-skied day we ventured from Norwich past Thetford, hopes high that the roast we'd booked would be worth the trip.
The Crown Inn reopened last July, after a huge community effort to revive it after closure, and Norfolk chef Charlie Hodson quietly slipped behind the hobs last autumn.
The roast dinner menu is straightforward - a main and dessert costs £15.95 (£10.95 for children) and just plumping for a main will set you back £12.95 (£8.95).
For the main, traditional options included beef sirloin, pork (both from the local butcher), chicken and tarragon pie and curried lentil pie, but there were others (menus change, so it may not be the same) if you don't fancy a meat and two veg option - the Crown burger, fish and chips and a wild mushroom and spinach gnocchi.
A nervous home cook when it comes to beef, my partner and I opted for the sirloin with all the trimmings, while our fellow diner - his dad - went for the pie.
It arrived piled high with parsnips, roast potatoes and fluffy Yorkshire puddings, alongside a shared dish of carrots, red cabbage and green kale.
Beef is always a risk, particularly when sliced thickly - it's not out of the realm of possibility to spend the next 20 minutes chewing what feels like boot leather, gradually working up a cheek muscle burn.
But the Crown's was moist and tender, the fat crisp and juicy, and it fell apart nicely. The - huge - potatoes were crisp and fluffy on the inside, the parsnips were sweet and the Yorkshires light and airy.
When chefs are having to cook in bulk, it's also really easy to get average gravy with a pub roast - perfectly nice, but not memorable (if you find yourself questioning whether any gravy is really memorable, we can instantly assume that we are not kindred spirits).
But the gravy was the best bit of the meal for me, notably rich and meaty and a really delicious accompaniment to everything else.
The carrots were soft and the red cabbage sweet and spiced.
The reviews were similar across the table, with high marks for the beef from my partner and a clean plate from his dad, who said his only criticism was that the crust was, if anything, too crispy. Perhaps five minutes less in the oven was needed.
Desserts arrived next, and between us we ordered the sticky toffee pudding with Madagascan vanilla ice cream, vanilla cheesecake with salted caramel fudge ice cream and bakewell tart with whipped cream (other options were a Normandy apple tart, local ice cream and a cheese board).
For me, the sticky toffee pudding was the winner (though, honestly, I was too consumed by my dessert to try the others, so you are free to take that with a pinch of salt) - a hugely generous portion which felt, and tasted, home cooked. The ever-heavenly combination of hot dessert with ice cream was lovely, and while I probably could have left the last quarter I valiantly ploughed on, making myself uncomfortable in the process.
It's tucked away in pretty Northwold, a quiet village not too far from Thetford. It's on the main street as you drive through and pretty hard to miss.
Very relaxed - a typical village pub. It was fairly busy when we went, with a few people enjoying drinks at the bar and most of the tables full.
Really friendly - the waitresses were very helpful and warm, and owner Janice Walton went to every table to ask how diners were getting on.
Plenty of choice - we had the house white, a beer and an orange juice. There was a solid selection of beers, with something for all tastes. My partner had a classic Norfolk beer - Woodforde's Wherry - which was well kept and went perfectly with a hearty roast. Among the usual pub choices there's a separate gin menu, and an offer for £10 for a bottle of house red or white between 12pm and 3pm on a Sunday.
There's a step up to the dining area and another to the toilets, but it's spacious.
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One each for men and women - clean and as you'd hope.
There's a decent sized car park out the back so parking shouldn't be an issue - the street right outside the pub is very narrow, though, so if it's full you might have to head a couple of streets away to find a space.
We felt it was reasonable - just shy of £60 for three mains, three desserts, two beers, two white wines and an orange juice. Overall it's probably more mid-range than budget, but we certainly felt we got what we paid for in terms of quality and quantity.
The food - I had no complaints about my roast, and the gravy was excellent.
If you're partial to a pub lunch with a glass of wine, and mopping up gravy with a roast potato, it's certainly worth a trip. It might be too far for those in the east, or middle, of the county, but you won't be disappointed if you make a day of it.
Value for money
A one-course Sunday roast costs £12.95 (£8.95 for children) and two courses are £15.95 (£10.95 for youngsters). On its main menu, starters range from £6.50 to £8.50 and its mains from £10.50 to £22.90.
Where is it?
The Crown Inn Northwold
30 High Street, Northwold, IP26 5HW
Three dishes to try
- The roast beef (one course for £12.95, two for £15.95) - soft, tender and generously portioned, the beef, which arrived in thick cut slices, was the winner of the Sunday lunch for me.
- Half pint of white bait (£7.70) - we only sampled the Sunday lunch menu, but crispy, fresh whitebait with a curried lemon mayonnaise would be my starter pick if I went during the week.
- Sticky toffee pudding (£6.50 on main menu or £15.95 for two courses on a Sunday) - this was a large, clearly home-cooked sticky toffee pudding with a refreshing ice cream. The portion size nearly beat me, but if you've got a sweet tooth this is well up your street.
If you like that, try these
- The Wellington, High Street, Feltwell - Having won regional gastropub awards for both 2018 and 2019, the Wellington has built up a steady reputation as a cosy local pub, with a popular Sunday lunch menu.
- The Ber Street Kitchen, Ber Street, Norwich - It might be a 45-minute drive away, but the Ber Street Kitchen has become a go-to for a good Sunday lunch in Norwich. Its demand means you'll need to book in advance.
- The West Norfolk, Station Road, Heacham - With a traditional Sunday roast, steak night and pie night, there's plenty to choose from at this pub, which has been run by the same family for 30 years.
Our food reviews are always independent. They are the opinion of the reviewer based on their experience of the venue when they visited. The establishment is not aware of our visit, is not informed we intend to write a review and bills are paid by the reviewer. The choice of places reviewed is also independent and is not based on venues which do or do not advertise in our publications.
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