Food review, The Vernon Arms, Southrepps: 'A Sunday lunch that's hard to beat'
- Credit: Stuart Anderson
How do you fill a lazy mid-winter Sunday and a hole in your tummy at the same time? Could there be a nicer way to do it than going somewhere in the Norfolk countryside for a roast dinner at a cosy village pub?
With no better answer or even a reservation in hand, my wife and I headed up to Southrepps, near Cromer, for a midday meal at the Vernon Arms.
There are some famous gastro-pubs in this part of the world - the Gunton Arms chief among them - making the Vernon something of a hidden gem, but one, as we discovered, also worth shouting about.
The starter selection was short and punchy, offering a choice between soup, smoked mackerel and horseradish mousse and deep friend brie wedges.
We shared the wedges (£7.95) which weren't served up quite as hot as I would have liked. There was a pair of them, fluffy on the inside but crisp enough that you could pick them up with your hands without risking cheesy fingers.
Red onion marmalade was provided for dipping. The portion was enough for both of us and would have been too big if we hadn't been sharing.
For mains, we both went for the Sunday lunch (£12.95), with mine featuring thin slices of beef topside and hers starring a homemade nut roast.
But the dish was quite an ensemble - even those elements that are traditionally confined to walk-on appearances in a Sunday dinner took on leading roles here.
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At some places cabbage can be a soggy pile of sadness confined to the corner of the plate but here it is placed right in the centre and is uncommonly tasty. The florets of broccoli were so bursting flavour I wish I knew how to prep them that way at home.
Their soft, silky texture contrasted well with the carrots, which were chunky and retained their crunchiness.
I got four or five hearty roast potatoes and a Yorkshire pud that was neither small nor perfectly formed but delicious all the same.
The topside, ironically half submerged under a number of these other beauties, almost seemed like an afterthought, but the flavour proved it otherwise.
The medium-done meat was tender and although there was plenty to wrap my fork around, left me wanting more and the plate was wiped clean.
And after such a filling main I almost forwent a pudding but I'm glad I put on a brave face and picked up the menu again.
The chocolate brownie (£6.75) I was greeted with after a very short break was gorgeous - a cakey base with gooey insides and just a hint of crispness on the top.
But the single scoop of vanilla ice cream - which came astride the brownie like a cowboy on his steed - was something else.
The ice cream was so obviously not out of plastic tub carted back from the local Tesco or even Waitrose for that matter - this was homemade stuff, dripping with flavour and freshness.
It was so good my wife said she wished she'd asked for two scoops as her dessert rather than the lemon and lime cheesecake (£6.95) she ended up with.
But for my money, that was even more of a winner than my dish - a huge wedge of citrus-infused sweetness. Just imagine standing on deck of some cross-Channel ferry looking towards the White Cliffs of Dover and you'll get a sense of the scale of this absolute beastie.
The cheesecake was too big for her to finish so I was more than happy to jump in like overeager understudy waiting in the wings to take over as the panto entered the final stretch of its run. It was amazing, with the biscuit base exhibiting no hint of a soggy bottom.
Another pair of plates cleaned and two happy customers leaving for the drive home.
Every village should have a pub like the Vernon Arms. It's a brick-and-flint pile, impossible to miss as you drive into Southrepps, on a High Street crossroad midway between the parish church and village hall.
You step inside to a convivial central tap room with small groups of people standing and chatting, a pool table to one side and a coffee table with lounge room furniture to the other. There's a fireplace at either end and enough quirky interior features to keep any wandering eye occupied.
Off this space there are at least three smaller dining rooms with sturdy wooden tables and chairs. We were seated in the light and bright front room - very cosy surroundings with ye olde damask wallpaper, stacks of books, flower arrangements and paintings on the walls you can even take home for a price.
We paid a total of £51.25 for a starter, two mains, two desserts and two soft drinks. The prices stated on the menu were what I'd call typical for a Norfolk country pub but the quality of the food and surrounds made it great value.
There are a couple of common ales on tap as well as few harder to find ones, and all the larger, wine, hot drinks and non-alcoholics you would expect at a pub. We both stuck to soft drinks which were £1.95 each.
There are a couple of loos around the back, towards the beer garden. They're clean and tidy with a few signs up encouraging people to wash their hands - always a good thing, especially in these times - and there's sanitiser provided just outside the door.
Very good as the bar and dining areas are on a single level and there are no steps to worry about.
We were seated quickly despite our lack of a reservation and the service was friendly and quick. One of the staff came out a few minutes after delivering each course to check if everything was in order, which is always a nice thing to do.
Highlight / In summary
Each course was great so it's difficult to pick a standout although my wife would have said the ice cream on the brownie. It's difficult to image too many places could beat their Sunday roast.
When we're scoffing down a meal for a food review I often joke that after we're done I'd like to march back to kitchen to offer my heartfelt congratulations to the chef. Of course I don't always mean it and I never actually do it, but I was genuinely tempted in this case.
*Our food reviews are always independent. They are the opinion of the reviewer based on their experience of the venue when they visited. The establishment is not aware of our visit, is not informed we intend to write a review and bills are paid by the reviewer. The choice of places reviewed is also independent and is not based on venues which do or do not advertise in our publications.
If you like that, try these
The Lifeboat Inn, Thornham: Another classic country pub with a menu that's bursting with creativity.
The Green Inn, Wymondham: One of Norfolk's prettiest pubs - expect traditional, mid-range grub.
Gunton Arms: Consistently voted one of the best foodie country pubs in the region.