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St Peter South Elmham: St Peter's Brewery

PUBLISHED: 12:05 10 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:59 22 October 2010

From the road, it looks less imposing than you might expect, but when you draw up outside, it is stunning. There are high Gothic windows and lead panes and unnecessary decorative stonework of a kind that speaks of money and religion.

I'm not sure when goats' cheese became one of those ingredients without which no menu is complete. I know quite a few people who can't even stand the stuff - something about that animal pungency - but certainly if you are vegetarian, you would have a hard time if you didn't accept a slice of a milky white log as an all-purpose meat substitute and general adder-of-interest to meals.

I would guess it must be a good 15 years since this trend emerged, but St Peter's Hall is one of the most enthusiastic examples you could wish to find.

The starter menu featured goats' cheese salad. Twice. Two, subtly different, one on the specials and one on the main menu. Do they not read the menu before doing the specials, or do they just really love goats' cheese?

It pops up again in main courses, where veggies get risotto (fast becoming the new goats' cheese, though I feared the rosemary, lemon and truffle oil in this version might start a war with each other) or goats' cheese strudel.

Actually, St Peter's could get away with serving baked beans on mouldy bread and it would still be worth going to.

From the road, it looks less imposing than you might expect, but when you draw up outside, it is stunning. There are high Gothic windows and lead panes and unnecessary decorative stonework of a kind that speaks of money and religion (this turned out to be right - it was extended 500 years ago using bits of Flixton Priory).

We were due to be eating in the library bar, which is the oldest bit and quite low-key compared with the rest, but in the event we were called through to the hall, which both looks glorious and allows you to watch the sheep and the barn owls outside.

In what was either a stroke of genius or downright bonkers (I suspect the chef took the latter view), one of our number ordered the grilled goats' cheese salad - without the goats' cheese. She got it with a wedge of melting brie instead, and very good it looked too.

Those of us who ordered the more conventional version enjoyed it greatly. It came with mixed leaves, sunblush tomatoes and, more unusually, capers, whose sharpness set the cheese off nicely. Between us we also had some crab cakes and a plate of antipasti, which was groaning with Italian cooked meats and juicy olives.

A basket overflowing with organic bread arrived at the same time and was consumed as a famine was impending.

Main courses were at their best when simplest: scampi and chips sounded like something you might have bought in a basket in the 70s but was the real thing: wholetail scampi, lightly breadcrumbed, home-made chips to die for, and a lovely light tartare sauce that tasted home-made.

I didn't get anywhere near the plaice in herb butter, but from that I assume it was pretty good. In fact the goats' cheese and vegetable strudel was the only slight disappointment. It had been fried, for no good reason, there was a touch too much pastry and the veg had been shredded into an indeterminate mixture.

But we did also get some perfect new potatoes and mixed vegetables, which only suffered from containing more-or-less raw courgette.

All of this was so bountiful that we were nowhere near being able to manage dessert, although there was much we would have liked to try.

Naturally, with all of this we drank some excellent St Peter's beer, of which the lemon and ginger stood out in my view, and may well be what I drink for the rest of the summer.

You can order wine if you wish, but the choice of their own beer is larger than most wine lists, and includes a golden ale and a mild that went down extremely well.

Thus emboldened, we took up our host's invitation to wander around upstairs, admiring the tiny chapel and 17th-century furniture.

And then we got in our cars, to depart for less beautiful places.

t St Peter's Brewery, St Peter's Hall, St Peter South Elmham; 01986 782288; www.stpetersbrewery.co.uk

t Where is it? In the middle of nowhere, or more precisely a couple of miles south of Bungay in St Peter South Elmham - take St Margaret's Road and follow the brown signs.

t Do I need to book? To eat in the restaurant (Saturday evening and Sunday lunch), yes. You can have bar food any lunchtime or evening, and they will open the restaurant for pre-booked groups.

t Is there disabled access? Yes, and a disabled toilet too.

t Anything else? You can get married there, too.


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