Bawburgh: King's Head

The food is beautifully prepared and presented with great attention to detail and was piping hot so there was no need to eat it quickly which meant you could fully appreciate every mouthful.

Having a birthday a couple of days before Christmas is a real drag - doubly so when you share it with your wife. With both of us having been born on December 23 (a year apart but I have to say I don't look older) we know the downsides of celebrating birthdays so close to Christmas, apart from the fact festive menus sometimes hike prices, so much so that people often think I have a 'Bah humbug' attitude to the season of goodwill.

My bête noire is going out for a birthday meal, only to find ourselves surrounded by festive decorations, decidedly merry groups in Christmas paper hats on the works outing, and menus dominated by turkey, sprouts and plum pudding.

For the previous couple of years our birthday has coincided with my wife's employer's Christmas bash but this time we decided on a special celebration by fulfilling a goal of visiting the much recommended King's Head at Bawburgh with our two teenage sons. And what a treat it was.

With six starters and mains on offer for each course on the December a la carte menu, we were spoiled for choice.

My wife and elder son, Ben, went for the “fantastic” plate of smoked fish and shellfish with beetroot relish (£8.50) and it certainly lived up to its billing on the menu for it was a veritable feast including eel (a first for both of them), sprats, cockles, whelks, smoked salmon, crayfish, smoked mackerel, prawns and roll-mop herring.

Younger son Tim was less ambitious on the fish front but still enjoyed his smoked salmon, capers, cornichon and shallot and tomato relish (£7.50).

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As a fishy person myself, I was tempted by the smoked fish and shellfish but was lured away by the Thai beef fillet salad with cucumber, red onion, holy basil, chilli, mint, peanuts and pickled melon (£7.50). The beef was succulent and tender and looked so enticing as part of this colourful dish. I love spicy food but even I managed only two of the four rather fiery pickled melon balls.

The starters were accompanied by a basket of homemade bread - made from organic flour from Letheringsett watermill, near Holt, according to the menu - which was deliciously fluffy and crisp.

I could not resist fish for my main course and the roast fillet of bass stir fry with bok choy, spring onions, shitake mushrooms and oyster sauce (£15.50) got my vote. The fish was light, moist and melted in the mouth while the stir fry complemented the subtle flavour without overpowering it. The texture was superb with the vegetables cooked nicely and still crisp.

Tim went for Middle Eastern marinated chicken breast with spicy aubergine ragout, couscous, yoghurt and wilted spinach (£14.50). It looked very moreish and, unfortunately, that's as close as I got to it as any attempts to nick a mouthful were thwarted - so I took that as a thumbs-up!

Ben finally settled on the whole plaice with nut brown butter, prawns, spinach, sugar snaps, capers, new potatoes and gremoulata (made with lemon, garlic and parsley) at £14.50. Judging by what little remained on his plate he seemed to enjoy it but I suspect he would have preferred it in batter with chips and peas! Everyone to their taste.

The star of the main courses was my wife's medallions of beef with shallots, bacon lardons, chestnuts, mushrooms, new potatoes and thyme jus (£17.50). The beef was done to a turn, nice and pink in the middle - just how we like it - and tasted as good at it looked.

It's unusual for us to have a starter and a sweet but they were so tempting. After all, it was Christmas, I mean our birthdays. With five desserts to choose from, all at £5.50, Tim had the rich chocolate pot with Chantilly cream and griottine cherries. The cherries were so delicious he actually offered me one to share the experience and rich was an understatement for the chocolate.

Ben enjoyed his Bakewell tart and vanilla ice-cream while my wife had the flavoursome mixed berry pavlova.

I prefer cheese and a plateful of mature Lincolnshire poacher, homemade pickles, chutneys, biscuits and celery (£6) rounded my meal off nicely, and beat me - such was the size of the portion.

It's not cheap pub grub at £126 for four of us including a round of drinks and bottle of mineral water but the King's Head is a lovely venue for a special occasion where you can talk without having to raise your voice over background noise.

The food is beautifully prepared and presented with great attention to detail and was piping hot so there was no need to eat it quickly which meant you could fully appreciate every mouthful.

We had waited a long time to get to the King's Head but it was worth it for the atmosphere and tasty, tempting dishes made it a special birthday night so much so that I won't hold it against the waitress writing 'Merry Christmas' at the bottom of our bill!

t King's Head, Harts Lane, Bawburgh; 01603 744977

t Where is it? Bawburgh is near the Norfolk Showground.

t Do I need to book? Having tried before to book, we know the King's Head is popular.

t Smoking? Confined to the top area of the bar. No smoking in the restaurant.

t Disabled access? Some steps but help negotiating them is available.

t Parking? There is a large car park behind the restaurant.

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