Barnham Broom: Flints Restaurant at Barnham Broom Hotel
Alastair Gillott and his team were awarded not one but two AA Rosettes for their creations and home-produced fare - an impressive achievement which made Flints one of only a handful restaurants in the Norwich area to have been recognised by the AA for high-quality food and innovative menus.
So what is 20 years of marriage?” asked Yvonne as she and her husband joined my wife and I to celebrate our wedding anniversaries. “Diamond?” she suggested hopefully. Not quite, more like a miracle these days. But just because we had notched up 22 years two days after they had marked their milestone anniversary why should we know the gift for 20 years of wedded bliss.
All I know is that it deserved something a little more special than our usual dining out so Flints Restaurant at Barnham Broom Hotel seemed the perfect setting for our double celebration because it had recently been celebrating a double itself.
For head chef Alastair Gillott and his team were awarded not one but two AA Rosettes for their creations and home-produced fare - an impressive achievement which made Flints one of only six restaurants in the Norwich area to have been recognised by the AA for high-quality food and innovative menus.
The restaurant can seat up to 140 people and, while many customers will be hotel residents, it certainly seems popular and even booking more than a month ahead we could not get our first-choice reservation time on a Saturday night.
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Arriving half an hour early, we were shown to the large lounge to peruse the menu at our leisure over a drink. The sun was starting to go down on an empty golf course and the place seemed surprisingly quiet. But when we were taken to the restaurant bang on time we soon realised where everyone was.
The restaurant was busy with a wide range of customers - a family celebration at one large round table, two large groups of golfers going over their day's sport and smaller, more intimate groups.
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While the restaurant was buzzing it was not noisy but instead had a good atmosphere of people enjoying themselves in the nicely-decorated, classy surrounding with crisp white table linen and little vases of fresh flowers on the tables.
But while the surroundings are important when it comes to putting you at ease, the food is the key.
We decided against the more expensive a la carte menu and opted for the set-price £24.50 three-course table d'hote menu which offered a tempting range of starters, main courses and desserts.
The meal got off to a good start with a plate of thinly-sliced crusty bread with a dip of oil and balsamic vinegar as an appetiser.
My three fellow diners went for the rose of smoked salmon with dressed spring leaves, cucumber, keta and dill dressing which looked just like a delicate flower. And it obviously tasted as good as it looked judging by three clean plates. I had been tempted by the Jacuar goats' cheese salad and fancied the pressed terrine of shredded duck and kumquat wrapped in Parma ham but the latter had appealed to so many other diners than there was none left. Instead there was a pork liver pate still with dressed asparagus, chicory leaves and orange syrup but while it was tasty, I couldn't help feeling it was a poor substitute compared to the beautifully-presented rose of smoked salmon.
If I hadn't had lamb the previous two evenings, I would have gone for the braised lamb shank with thyme-infused mash and red wine jus and gratefully accepted a taste-test from another plate and it was lovely the way it just flaked off the bone.
Instead I chose the seared salmon supreme with a warm salad of roasted peppers, feve beans, basil and red onion and roquette pesto dressing and I was more than satisfied with the pink of the succulent, chunky salmon complimenting the colours of the warm salad which really whetted the appetite after a few moments appreciating the artistic presentation.
My wife, Denise, and Yvonne's husband, Simon, chose char-grilled 8oz cornfed Somerset sirloins (a £4.95 supplement) served with sun-blushed tomatoes, wild mushroom oil and potato Gaufrette.
All the main courses were served with seasonal vegetables and potatoes. While the broccoli, cauliflower, carrot and mange tout were plentiful and cooked just right - soft enough to cut easily without losing a slightly crisp texture when you ate them - we all felt roast potatoes an odd choice and felt new potatoes would have been more appropriate especially as they are in season and could have been sourced locally as Flints prides itself on using the freshest local ingredients.
Dessert was an easy choice for Simon and I with the Norfolk cheese board having four different cheeses, biscuits, celery and chunky chutney. While Yvonne had fresh fruit salad and was pleasantly surprised to find it served in a brandy snap basket, my wife was tempted to dive on to the a la carte menu for the £9.95 Assiette of the Sweet Shop, Flints' signature dish and one of the offerings that so impressed the AA food inspector. But we all decided that we could not help her out with the five desserts on a plate - rhubarb and custard panna cotta, Black Jack parfait, Hubba Bubba ice-cream wrapped in space dust, Curly Wurly chocolate fondant and strawberry jelly studded with a Jelly Baby and a Flying Saucer on top - so she stuck with the table d'hote and enjoyed chocolate Cointreau mousse with chocolate fondant sauce and shortbread biscuits.
And as we were pushing the boat out for our wedding anniversaries we enjoyed a bottle of rose and a bottle of Chilean red wine at £16.95 and £13.95 respectively.
So what is a 20th wedding anniversary? Actually, it's china or porcelain but we'll remember it as flint.
t Flints Restaurant at Barnham Broom Hotel; Honingham Road, Barnham Broom, 01603 759393
t Where is it? Barnham Broom Hotel is a few miles west of Norwich, just off the B1108 Watton road.
t What about parking? The hotel complex has a large car park.
t Do you need to book? Absolutely. As the restaurant also caters for hotel guests it gets busy and is clearly popular.
t What about vegetarians? One of the four starters and main courses was a vegetarian option so you could have had carrot and coriander soup followed by roasted Mediterranean vegetables, penne pasta, spicy tomato sauced and smoked Mozzerella.
t Disabled access? Good, the restaurant, bar and entrance are all on the ground floor.
t Smoking? The restaurant is totally non-smoking but it is allowed in the large, separate lounge area.