Burnham Market: The Hoste Arms

Sarah Hardy The menu reflects current foodie trends and boasts plenty although not exclusively local produce, with owner Paul Whittome happily admitting that he only wants to offer the best.

Sarah Hardy

Sometimes, just sometimes, we escape the children. There's only one couple who are mad enough to take on our two for a night so we don't disappear that often. However, a birthday is about as good a reason as it gets so off we trotted to one of our favourite boltholes, the Hoste Arms in Burnham Market, where owner Paul Whittome and MD Emma Tagg are like old chums. This means, of course, that we have a good gossip about everyone, airing a few views about the credit crunch (not reaching the Burnhams, it certainly appears), local celebrities and what's in the surrounding restaurants and shops.

We were lucky with the weather so could enjoy a couple of decent walks out on the marshes, we zipped along to Cley to inspect the bird watching centre and naturally, I enjoyed a spot of serious retail therapy in the town. Apart from the fab clothes shops, I really like the book shop and there are some fine “interiors” shops where you can indulge in great must have mugs, cards, notice boards - all those charming bits and pieces that you can “live without but just don't want to” shops.

These sorts of shops are, in general, hated by men so my better half enjoys ploughing through the newspaper - “the only time I ever manage,” he claims - as I do the circuit.

But the real reason for a trip to the Hoste is, not unsurprisingly, the nosh. We sensibly arrived in time for lunch which we took outside under a big blue sky. Knowing that the main event was going to be the evening meal, I showed a degree of restraint and went for a beautiful risotto with Cromer crab and wilted spinach while Himself opted for a succulent bowl of soup (fresh tomato that day) and put away the best part of a loaf of bread, too.

Fast forward to the day's main event - dinner. Naturally you have to enjoy a glass of fizz as you work through the menu in the conservatory, then it's into the main restaurant, all polished wood flooring, original oak panelling and a real buzzy atmosphere.

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The menu reflects current foodie trends and boasts plenty although not exclusively local produce, with Paul happily admitting that he only wants to offer the best. Full stop!

We both went for our favourite starter - I don't know what we will do if they ever take it off the menu - Thai fish broth (£7.25) which has a very nice kick to it and really gets your taste buds ready for action!

I then went for the basque seafood and shellfish stew (£15.50) which was very delicately flavoured while my better half went, as always, for the sea bass (£18.75), this time pan fried and served with new potatoes, young vegetables and saffron cream sauce. Another hit.

The seafood is a real strong point here - many diners were opting for the Brancaster oysters while cod and trout are also available. But the 21 day aged steak from the town butcher is a real treat and there are plenty of salads, veggie options and meats (pork, steak and kidney puddings, duck, lamb and so on) to tempt you.

Most dishes do arrive as a complete offering but I couldn't resist a side order of buttered cabbage (£2.95) as theses little extras are always delicious.

You're always hard pressed to manage a dessert once you've worked your way through this little lot but you should try if at all possible. We went for a raspberry bavarois with a mixed fruit smoothie and a raspberry and chilli sorbet (£6.95) between us and it became the usual undignified scramble as to who could get the most down!

The cheese board is very impressive, with local cheeses such as Binham Blue, Norfolk Dapple and Norfolk Alpine on offer - with a home made date and apple chutney. At £8.75, you get a mini feast.

Wines have a major part to play at the Hoste, with Paul keeping a 200 bin list. Dessert wines are strong and there are impressive cognacs, ports and more all available.

And then it's back to the conservatory for a decent coffee and a flick though all the glossy magazines. Life can be hard!

We stayed at the newish Vine House on this jaunt and I have to say that it's now my firm favourite. It is on the other side of the village green from the Hoste and has just seven bedrooms. It's housed in a gorgeous Georgian building and as many original features as possible have been kept. It's very exclusive, very quiet, very luxurious and perfect for worn out parents!

t The Hoste Arms, Market Place, Burnham Market; 01328 738777; www.hostearms.co.uk

t Need I book? Yes! This place can get very busy

t What's the parking like? There is a car park, otherwise you have to take your chance around the green

t Anything for vegetarians? How about roasted red onion, crushed minted peas, chunky tartare sauce and hand cut chips. £13.50 or marinated feat cheese, black olives, baby plum tomatoes, rocket and pesto dressing at £12.25?

t What about children? Children do love it here, especially out in the garden. They also seem to love the fun atmosphere inside, too. But, as the menu says, quiet, well behaved children are welcome. There is no children's menu but efforts are made to accommodate all.

t Outside? Don't miss the Moroccan garden which is a lovely place to sit and relax

t Anything else? Various events are held throughout the summer - check the hotel's website for more information.