Food review: Darby’s Swanton Morley - ‘A great little country eatery’
PUBLISHED: 09:28 26 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:37 26 August 2019
Six months ago, the village of Swanton Morley welcomed back a familiar face to one of its beloved traditional country pubs.
Based just outside of Dereham, Darby's closed its doors last year before undergoing an extensive refurbishment.
It wasn't long before owner and resident John Carrick returned to the helm of the businesses vowing to restore it back to its former glory.
The pub used to be made up of two farm cottages back when Mr Carrick first bought it in 1946. Then in 1988 he oversaw a project to transform it into a pub to help "fulfil a need in the village".
He ran it for 20 years before leasing it out and now, following a revamp in excess of £50,000, he is back supporting the business with a new management team in place.
Promising to make Darby's a community pub where "everyone can feel they can take ownership", I am pleased to say Mr Carrick has fulfilled his brief.
After trying to book a table for me and my plus one for weeks (with exceptional bad luck on my part meaning I had to cancel three times) we finally made it there.
Although not packed for a Saturday night, the buzz inside was still that of a happy atmosphere with people enjoying a meal or a drink together. It was certainly warm and inviting.
My partner and I opted for a drink before being seated and enjoyed a few minutes in the beer garden before being forced inside by an angry wasp. Although my three little men weren't with me on this occasion, the play area is somewhere I would bring my young sons too another day.
We decided to sit in the restaurant snug to enjoy our meal. A small room, it was a tad on the cosy side and we agreed that it may have felt a bit cramped if it had been at capacity.
We received our menus quickly and enjoyed looking at the variety of food before our order was enthusiastically taken. We were also offered water at the start of the meal, which was welcomed.
Unfortunately, and really our only complaint of the evening, was that the food did not quite live up to its descriptions on the menu. This was mostly noticeable with my partner's starter. Looking forward to a plate of shell-on king prawns with garlic and chilli butter with warm ciabatta (£6.95), he was disappointed to discover that they were standard size, lacking in garlic flavour, and also presented on the bread which meant the top had to be scraped free from prawn "bits".
My baked Camembert with toasted ciabatta (£6.95) also caused confusion as it appeared with mango chutney rather than the promised red onion variety. And although pleasant and creamy, its flavour was rather underwhelming.
But aside from that, our main courses is where the meal really began to shine. I opted for an 8oz chargrilled rump burger with Monterey Jack cheese, smoked bacon, barbecue sauce and garnish, served with onion rings, skinny fries and coleslaw (£11.95). The burger melted in the mouth while its accompaniments complimented it perfectly.
My partner chose the chargrilled venison steak (£13.95) from the chef's specials menu and had nothing but praise at how it had been "cooked to perfection". Served with garlic mushrooms (again, the garlic was difficult to taste), rosemary new potatoes (plentiful!), peas and a red wine jus, it was a standout meal.
We decided to treat ourselves and made sure to leave some room for desserts.
I devoured a French style chocolate ganache cheesecake (£5.95) with cream and was pleasantly surprised by its lightness, while my partner thoroughly enjoyed a homemade lemon pudding and ice cream (which was basically a sponge pudding with a delicious lemon curd type sauce on top).
Overall, Darby's is a great little country eatery to enjoy a relaxed meal with friends and family and one that I would visit again, if only to stand at the gorgeous bar with its impressive open fire place.
Rustic and rural. The owner has done a great job with the revamp and retained many of the original features from its days as two country cottages. A large open fire place makes this the ideal place to snuggle over a drink in the winter, while the outside area is great for families with its large play area. Great disabled access to enter the bar with room to move about, although the car park itself is not flat. There are steps into both the restaurant area and outside area - although there is access to the garden via the car park.
Easy and relaxed. All of the customers appeared to be enjoying themselves and the place had a warm community feel to it.
Attentive and friendly. There was one hiccup with asking for a clean bowl but the same being returned with an apology about the "residue". Other than that, the staff were helpful and happy.
A good selection of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, with a selection of real ales.
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Tidy and clean. However, they jarred with the overall setting of the place and appeared too clinical for the style of building. A few homely touches might have been nice.
Plenty of spaces to park but be warned, the car park isn't levelled.
For three courses on the fixed price menu plus two drinks - one alcoholic, one not - £56.80.
Value for money?
Starters £4.95 to £6.95. Main meals start at £9.95. Desserts are £5.95.
Friendliness of the staff. With the few issues we had, I have every faith they would have been happily rectified if we had complained.
The atmosphere, friendly service, rural location, and county pub vibe made this a pleasant evening.
3 great dishes to try...
1. Chargrilled venison steak - great flavour and cooked to perfection with a generous selection of accomp-animents
2. French style chocolate ganache cheesecake - lighter than expected and just melts-in-the-mouth
3. Cheese board - a generous serving of popular cheeses with the option to add a glass of port for £2 extra.
If you like that, try these...
Another eatery which has undergone a revamp is Steak in the Stix, formerly known as The Ratcatchers. The Cawston restaurant, in north Norfolk, is the county's newest steakhouse. Our reviewer said: "The steak was the nicest I've had out in Norfolk".
For another pub with great food and a country vibe is The Black Boys in Aylsham with its pub grub dubbed "first-rate" in our review.
Or for something completely different - behind glass and beneath green vines, is Norwich's newest raw fish emporium, PONO superfood bar. Our reviewer described
it as the city's "raw fish emporium that takes health seriously".
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.