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Food review: North Norfolk pub’s top notch food really is fit for a king

PUBLISHED: 11:33 24 August 2020 | UPDATED: 18:54 24 August 2020

Sicilian beef ragu pappardelle at The Barsham Arms

Sicilian beef ragu pappardelle at The Barsham Arms

Archant

Nick Richards followed in the footsteps of Henry VIII by dining at The Barsham Arms

The Barsham Arms - once visited by Henry VIII in its previous guiseThe Barsham Arms - once visited by Henry VIII in its previous guise

I always feel a little for Norfolk’s many pubs that fall between the cut and thrust of town centre trade or the barmy seasonal traffic of those on the coast.

It must be a tough gig trying to attract customers to a pub in a small village that many people will simply drive past and that’s exactly why I went to review The Barsham Arms in north Norfolk.

Located in East Barsham, a couple of miles north of Fakenham on the busy Fakenham to Wells road, it’s the sort of place you could easily drive past without stopping. And it would be shame if you did as there has been a pub here for hundreds of years and it’s believed that Henry VIII once visited.

If a place is good enough for a monarch as famous for his fabulous feasts as for his female fickleness to visit, then it sounded good to me.

48-hour slow-cooked pork belly at The Barsham Arms48-hour slow-cooked pork belly at The Barsham Arms

On the day my wife and I did stop for lunch in early August there were only a few customers, which given the year we’ve had was understandable. Outside there were a group of motorcyclists who’d stopped by for a drink, but I got the impression within a few minutes that this is a pub that is set up for evening trade.

Along with the general quietness at lunchtime, the staff seemed to be preparing for the evening and we could overhear them talking about how busy it was the previous night and how busy it was going to be that night.

There’s also nothing on the menu in terms of baguettes or sandwiches, that kind of thing, but I can understand that, where they are located, they probably don’t want to waste money on produce that they may end up throwing away. When someone asked at the bar if they did bar snacks, the barmaid smiled and suggested a packet of crisps.

So The Barsham Arms has the feeling of an evening pub, but that’s not to say the lunch menu is one to avoid. Far from it. There’s all the usual kind of pub food - fish and chips, a burger and veggie options, most dishes are in the £15-19 price bracket, which to me elevates it to the upper end of what you’d want to pay for a lunch.

Local beers from the nearby Barsham Brewery on sale at The Barsham ArmsLocal beers from the nearby Barsham Brewery on sale at The Barsham Arms

I opted for the Sicilian beef ragu pappardelle (£17.95) which was superb. Nicely cooked pappardelle was covered in rich ragu which was smooth and not pulpy with a delicate undercurrent sweetened up by the addition of sultanas and cherry tomatoes. The beef was soft and tender, not unlike pulled pork in appearance and any danger that this dish would be too wet was remedied with a scattering of pine nuts which added texture and a hint of crunch.

Across the table my wife had 48 hour slow-cooked pork belly (£18.95) which was served with a rocket, carrot and onion salad and caramalised apple. She said the dish was very soft and tender but packed with flavour. The dish had a thick sauce a cross between gravy and vinaigrette which she said seemed like an odd combination, but actually worked very well.

Not being the biggest dessert fan I swerved the option of the handful of options which included a white chocolate and hazelnut cake , poached apricots, ice cream and a cream tea. My wife’s sweet tooth was appeased with a Barsham rhubarb Bakewell tart with rhubarb and custard ice cream and poached rhubarb (£7.95). It looked beautiful and tasted good, and rhubarb was the flavour which came through the most.

A nice way to end an enjoyable and leisurely lunch.

Barsham Rhubarb Bakewell Tart at The Barsham ArmsBarsham Rhubarb Bakewell Tart at The Barsham Arms

Setting

On the road between Fakenham and Wells, the pub which used to be The White Horse Inn, has been here for centuries and apparently once hosted Henry VIII. Now it’s a lovely country pub with an open fire that probably makes for cosy winter nights plus a courtyard garden for warm summer evenings.

It has a pleasant feel, a brick-fronted bar with wooden top, and music by artists as Green Day and Adele played through the speakers as we sat at a wooden table with exposed beams above us.

Plenty of space to dine at The Barsham ArmsPlenty of space to dine at The Barsham Arms

The menu is small but the food is lovely. If you were looking for a place to drop in for a lunchtime sandwich and a portion of chips this isn’t the place for you - but if you feel like spending a bit more on a lovely lunch in a pretty pub then go for it. In addition there are a small number of rooms you can stay in, all with ensuite bathrooms.

Service

Friendly staff who were very attentive and made us feel very welcome.

Drinks

Take your pick from everything that a pub would normally sell. A sign on the counter offered homemade elderflower lemonade at £2.95 a glass and there are local beers on tap from the nearby Barsham Brewery - Golden Close IPA (5% ABV) and an amber bitter (3.6% ABV). I had a pint of the latter (£3.90) which was light and golden in colour and was a nice compliment to my pasta dish. My wife ordered a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon blanc wine (£5.95) and I also had a medium Coca-Cola (£2.80).

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Accessibility

There’s a step down into the toilets and some low ceilings but it feels very spacious inside and with social distancing in mind, there’s plenty of gaps between tables for you to enjoy your meal.

Toilets

Toilets were clean and tidy and they’d made good use of a old gin bottle as it was full of hand sanitiser with a pump on top.

Parking

Reasonably-sized car park out the front.

Price and value for money

The food is good but, as I’ve said, not really a cheap lunch option if you are in the area and heading to or from the coast. It feels far more of an evening pub where you’d stay for a meal and drinks and even overnight. The total for two mains, three drinks and one dessert was £57.40.

Highlight

The beef ragu was spot on, not the sort of thing I’d normally have for lunch but the dish was well thought out, filling and very tasty.

For more information see www.thebarshamarms.co.uk

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Disclaimer: 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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