Crofters, Sheringham food review: 'World food and Austrian classics with tales to tell'
PUBLISHED: 08:05 10 October 2018 | UPDATED: 08:27 10 October 2018
The charming thing about cuisine from the German-speaking part of the world is that it usually comes with a foundation story.
Take currywurst. Legend has it that a woman in postwar, hungry Hamburg had got some ketchup and curry powder from a British soldier, tripped going down the stairs and dropped everything to the ground.
Cleaning up, she dabbed a finger into the mixture this odd couple of condiments had made and liked the taste. In a typically German move she then poured it over the next sausage she could find, and a snack-food legend was born.
Though currywurst is on Crofters’ menu and it’s long been favourite of my wife, Becca, we decided to sample other dishes. After all - who would want what’s essentially the equivalent of a 3am kebab as their main course at a nice restaurant?
Crofters is called an Austrian eatery and its menu is a mingle of traditional dishes from the region, world food and seafood classics.
For my main I chose the carpet bag steak which thankfully tastes a lot better than it sounds - how could it not?
I learned beforehand this dish - popular stateside and Down Under in the 1960s - has an oyster stuffed into the centre which permeates as it cooks.
Though my steak sported no sign of an oyster, it was still delicious, with melted Stilton in the middle of its two layers and everything smothered in a thick brown sauce.
Becca went for the Bavarian belly of pork, which was swimming in the same stuff.
She found it too fatty but I had no qualms finishing off her second melt-in-the-mouth slice and mopping up the remains with the runner beans and herbed potatoes that came as a side dish for us to share.
This was all on top of the starters - we shared a very fluffy garlic bread toasted with strips of Brie and a plate of spicy fish cake bites.
The latter, battered and filled with crab and salmon, were great, and the plate included a yogurt dip and the most ornately carved lemon I’ve ever seen.
To finish, Becca had the special Crofters pancake - a folded-up crepe filled with banana, nuts and chocolate.
I chose one of the most Austrian things on the menu, the Kaiserschmarrn. This is essentially bits of toffeed, sugared pancake mixture - hurriedly fried and, here, served with a pot of cherries, a huge dollop of cream and another of ice cream.
The plate comes out looking convoluted and unfinished, and that’s really the point. Kaiserschmarrn means Emperor’s Mess, and it was supposedly created when Francis Joseph I and Empress Sisi were horse riding in the Alps and stopped, on a whim, at a farmer’s house for a spot of lunch.
Anxious to impress, the farmer threw his best ingredients onto the stove, hoping to make a pancake, but through a combination of poor throwing skills and shaky hands, ended up with something looking more like scrambled eggs instead. He topped it off with jam, hoping to hide the mess, and plated it up for the royal couple who apparently loved the result.
Crofters’ version wasn’t half bad either. Some bits seemed too doughey and undercooked, and other parts were almost burnt, which fit the spirit of the dish and gave an interesting range of textures.
With full bellies, we made our way home, but I’d certainly go back to Crofters.
It’s about a million miles away from the hipster halloumi burger bars and industrial sushi shacks of the city that hog today’s spotlight. In a way the restaurant feels a bit left in the past - there’s no website and it’s strictly cash only.
But also in that past lies wholesome food with unexpected twists, an intimate atmosphere and service that makes you feel like a human being rather than an order scrawled on the side of a paper cup.
How does it measure up?
There’s a long wine menu and a bar lined with spirits, but disappointingly only a couple of generic German beers on offer (Erdinger and Bitburger). I suspect many visitors to an Austrian restaurant would be happy to pay above the odds for some more obscure brews from the region, so I recommend they create a beer-lovers menu and bring on the Tyrolian wheat, the Munich strong the Bamberg smoked!
Dimly lit, snug and small, Crofters is lined with dark wood panelling and filled with booths and corner benches.
Every cranny is crammed with a kaleidoscope of kitsch brought back from trips across the Danube: Cow bells and cuckoo clocks, pewter-lidded beer krugs, ski boots, wagon wheels and portraits of Neuschwanstein Castle. You enjoy your meal in an intimate tête-à-tête to the strains of lounge crooners like Doris Day and Engelbert Humperdinck. The bar is thatched.
We were seen to by two waitresses, who were smiley and attentive. The servings were well timed, and it took us about 90 minutes to get through three courses. Couldn’t have wished for better in this regard.
There’s just one, a unisex, which you have to go out of the building and across a little alley to access. Just like the rest of the place it’s nicely decorated, and the way there lets you see into the kitchen, which looks clean and tidy.
The nearest council-run car park is in nearby Morris Street, but there are plenty of other options, including free on-street parking in residential streets if you’re up for a 10-minute walk into the town centre.
Places like Crofters prove Norfolk’s coastal towns have far more to offer foodies than fish and chip joints and gastro pubs. It’s right in the middle of Sheringham’s High Street, so perfect if you’re up that way and fancy a proper sit-down meal.
Middle-of-the-road with plenty of room to move on either side.
If you really want to splurge, they do things like a gourmet steak or a lobster special that cost around £40, but you can also get a chicken schnitzel main for £14.
I thought the Kaiserschmarrn was expensive at £8.95, but the pancake and apple strudel desserts at around £6 seem like really good value. All together our bill came to £54.67 for three courses for two people, not including an Erdinger for me a glass of house white for her.
Crofters’ take on the carpet bag steak was excellent - something I’d certainly order up again.
It feels snug, tastes great and offers something different. This seems to be the closest thing to an Austrian/German restaurant in the whole of Norfolk, so given they’ve got that market cornered I’d like to see more food and drink from Mitteleuropa on the menu.
3 great dishes to try...
1. Spicy fish cake bites (£6.55) perfect for sharing and just thing to get the stomach craving more
2. Carpet bag steak (£14.80) Never mind the name, this is a very tasty main
3. Special Crofters pancake (£6.75) Brings any meal to a sweet conclusion
If you like that, try these
Augusta Street, Sheringham
Offers seafood and British classics from Morston mussels to Aberdeen Angus beef on a menu built around seasonal produce from the area.
The Sitting Room
Augusta Street, Sheringham
Light meals served with coffee, tea or wine, open all day until 5pm and until 9pm on Friday.
Church Street, Sheringham
British classics in a relaxed venue run by a husband-and-wife team.