Aylsham: Black Boys Inn

Apparently the pub has been visited by Daniel Defoe, Horatio Nelson and the ghost of one of Oliver Cromwell’s men.

Being quite new to north Norfolk I was taking a smallish jump when I decided Aylsham was the place to take my partner out for dinner. The Black Boys Inn, formerly Hotel, was on a list of pubs, doing food, that might be a nice place to take mon cher.

It looked pretty decent on the website, now standard research before going out, and its sample menu appeared to offer at least two dishes my good man might like - a woman's lot is to seek food for her man, sigh.

More importantly, there was plenty to keep me happy too. One slight worry was the lack of puddings on the sample evening menu…

We went for it anyway and booked for a Saturday night. And it was good we did book. At least three couples were turned away, into the cold night, while we sat enjoying our meals.

We arrived promptly for 7pm and the Boys was already sounding like the clientele had had enough to get their tongues wagging.

There were even people sat drinking outside the plastered Georgian cream exterior, despite being late autumn.

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Inside, there was no need for soft background music because of the soft buzz coming from the bar.

It was very local and I half expected to catch a conversation between characters from The Archers and indeed we spotted at least three pairs of wellies among the regulars.

Although we were strangers, and got that look as we walked in, we soon blended into the restaurant area to the right of the bar.

Earthy pinkish red and cream painted walls with low lighting, nicely framed black and white prints of local scenes and gorgeous high ceiling beams made the place warm and, although not exactly minimal it did have that comfortably unfussy feel.

Thankfully, there was no sign of those Toby jugs and bulk bought fake books clogging shelves.

Perhaps lacking, especially for newcomes such as us, were some captions to go with the pictures on the wall to tell us what the scenes were of. As it was, we were left guessing.

In fact, it was only going back to the pub's website that I discovered some of its claims to fame - apparently the pub has been visited by Daniel Defoe, Horatio Nelson and the ghost of one of Oliver Cromwell's men.

It was also once a magistrate's court. I'm not quite sure which category my partner and I would fit in.

But back to the menu. It was exactly as offered on the website and there was a wide selection of specials on the pub's black board. Everything from seafood to Chinese, French and English dishes. It had something for each of us, three times over. From steak and kidney pudding steamed in suet pastry to spicy stir-fried chicken and chargrilled swordfish.

And the best news of all - we discovered there were in fact puddings - yippee! - which meant we had that crucial decision to make. To go for starters or hold off to make the most of the puddings? Puddings it was. I'm a Yorkshire lass, what can I say.

From the mains I plumped for a £13.95 seared saddle of local venison wrapped in Parma ham on goat's cheese and thyme mash.

I'm ashamed to say it was my first pop at venison - it's all deep-fried pies and mushy peas up north, apparently - and it was fabulous.

Sourced, according to the chef, from G F White Butcher's in Aylsham, its texture was like sinking my teeth into soft fudge, warm and slightly pink in the centre. The mash, sporting good chunks of rather brie-like goat's cheese, blended perfectly with the taste of the venison and the topping - shredded deep fried mash potato, was yet another fabulous first for me.

My partner had noisettes of English lamb wrapped in pancetta served with sautéed potatoes.

He said the lamb was well-cooked, to his liking, but that he was not so keen on the shredded sweet potato. But then he doesn't like fish, pate, mushrooms or cheese, so we'll leave it there.

He can, however, eat a lot. And this meal had him struggling.

We were faced, with that rare prospect, I can tell you, of being forced to admit defeat and share a pudding. I know, rubbish. And there were some extremely tempting offerings - although not much on the chocolate lovers' front.

But we had to get home, after all.

And here comes my only quibble with the Boys. After such a tasty meal full of quality, I was just a little disappointed to find what appeared to me to be very like instant custard poured over an otherwise excellent strawberry sponge pudding. But ho hum. Thumbs up for everything else and the man was happy (he didn't even require a late night snack!).

t Black Boys Inn, Market Place, Aylsham; 01263 732122; www.blackboyshotel.co.uk

t Where to park? There are car-parking spaces behind the pub as well as in the market place in front of the pub.

t Booking? It is advisable to book in advance.

t Children? Children are most welcome.

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