This charming village pub is worth travelling to from across Norfolk
- Credit: James Randle
Located in the picturesque village of Horstead, The Recruiting Sergeant is raved about not just by locals but people across Norfolk and it is clear to see why.
Before visiting I had high expectations as I had previously eaten a fantastic meal at one of its sister pubs The Bucks Arms at the edge of the Blickling Estate, with both run by Colchester Inns.
After a busy week it was a delight to head out of Norwich into the countryside for dinner on a warm Thursday evening and when we arrived we were glad we had booked in advance as it was very busy.
For my starter I ordered pan fried Scottish king scallops with pork belly croquettes and apple salad (£11.50) and it was presented beautifully with petals of fish and meat around a green centre of rocket, watercress and matchsticks of apple.
The chubby scallops were cooked perfectly, with a golden brown top and a velvety texture in the centre, and it was complimented by moreish croquettes and both married together with the apple, which gave the dish an added freshness.
My boyfriend ordered tempura king prawns with salt and pepper squid with an edamame bean salad and dipping sauce (£8.95).
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He had given the waitress a list of three potential starters to check with the kitchen as he has a dairy allergy and was very pleased to get his first choice.
Both fish elements were soft on the inside and encased in a delicate and perfectly crisp batter, which were given a kick with the punchy dipping sauce.
For my main course I opted for the Char Siu glazed Iberico pork loin chop with crispy wontons, fried greens and chow mein noodles (£17.95) and it was served with chopsticks, though I am a little rusty so went back to a fork after a few mouthfuls.
It was a delight to eat, with a bed of soft noodles and greens, which still had bite, below a duvet of tender and smoky pork loin slices, sprinkled with sesame seeds.
In each corner were crispy wontons, which were bite-sized parcels of pure joy.
To elevate the dish even further, it would have been great to have some ground peanuts or peppers running through the noodles for added texture.
My partner had the confit Gressingham duck legs, triple cooked chips and a Waldorf salad (£16.95).
It was a huge portion and the meat shredded apart easily and had a crispy skin.
It balanced with the sweet and tangy Waldorf salad, which reminded me of the iconic Fawlty Towers episode, and the chunky chips were delicious, though I was only allowed to pinch two.
I was the only one to order a dessert, so I could sample all elements of the menu, and went for the chocolate profiteroles with hot butterscotch sauce (£6.95), which was served in a metal martini glass.
They were indulgent and a real treat, though probably better shared if you are going the whole hog with starters and mains too as it is very rich with the butterscotch sauce.
As well as its cosy indoor space, the garden was transformed into an al fresco haven during lockdown, with an outdoor bar and dining pods. It is just a stone's throw from Horstead Mill, on the River Bure, and we had a lovely post-dinner walk.
It cost £81.55 for two starters, two mains, one dessert and four drinks, which included a cocktail. Although the mains were at the pricier end, with the majority of meals priced between £15 and £20, is was worth it as the food quality is excellent and the portions are very generous.
A great selection of beers, spirits and wines and for the latter the menu had a list of pairing suggestions for the various dishes. If you prefer the cocktails, there are plenty to choose from including an Espresso Martini, Mojito and Elderflower Collins.
The inside of the pub is all on ground level so access is fine and there is also plenty of space in the garden.
Despite it being busy, the staff were very friendly and we did not feel rushed at all. They were also great dealing with my boyfriend's dairy allergy.
The Iberico pork loin noodle dish was like something you would get from your favourite Chinese takeaway but taken up several notches and it was packed with flavour.
A welcoming atmosphere and a lovely beer garden, perfect for unwinding after a busy day, and a real destination pub worth traveling to from across Norfolk.
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:
1) The Kings Head, Bawburgh
Set along the River Yare and located just outside Norwich, it was named Norfolk Dining Pub of the Year by the Good Pub Guide in 2019. On offer are a range of seasonal dishes, alongside grazing boards, and it also has a new al fresco dining area, which is covered and heated for rainier days.
2) William and Florence, Norwich
This popular Golden Triangle spot is an Adnams pub, so you can expect plenty of great beers, and the menu includes grazing boards, tartines and mains such as confit dug leg ragù and baked pollock. There is plenty of seating in its newly-revamped garden and its brunches are also very popular.
3) The Honingham Buck, Honingham
Another great destination pub in Norfolk, The Honingham Buck has been creating a buzz across the county since it reopened under new ownership in 2015, with Henry Watt, also behind SugarBeat Eating House in Swainsthorpe, in partnership with Yarmouth-based Lacons Brewery. Alongside pub classics, there are also daily specials and the Sunday roast is one of the best in Norfolk.