Holt: Byfords

EMMA LEE Tucked away just off the main drag in Shirehall Plain, the flint-fronted Grade II listed property, believed to be the oldest house in Holt, oozes character. The café becomes a restaurant at night. There's also an award-winning delicatessen and what they call the Posh B&B.

EMMA LEE

When the Lee family head out for a day in Holt, one thing's for sure - there will always be some parking-related nightmare. I think it's a finely-tuned sixth sense we have - we somehow manage to get there just as everyone else descends on the pretty Georgian town and all go after the one spare parking space.

I'm sure my Mum must have inwardly groaned, just as I did when my Dad, suggesting a day trip, said something along the lines of “it's a Tuesday in school term-time, how busy can it be?”. It's very much the same reaction we have when it starts to rain and Pa confidently predicts it'll only be a shower and will blow over in a minute - you know that it'll probably rain continuously for the next week.

The answer, of course, soon became all too obvious. Eventually, after some mild fraying of tempers, we did get a space - and with our rumbling stomachs telling us it was officially lunchtime, we decided to put our planned snoop round the antiques centre, boutiques and book shop on hold for a bit and headed straight to Byfords instead.

Tucked away just off the main drag in Shirehall Plain, the flint-fronted Grade II listed property, believed to be the oldest house in Holt, oozes character.

Of course, there's not just the café, which becomes a restaurant at night. Covering pretty much all bases where eating, drinking and sleeping is concerned, there's also an award-winning delicatessen. And the first and second floors have been converted into what they call the Posh B&B, which is five-star graded and has been awarded a gold star for excellence by the English Tourist Board.

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Byfords describes itself as a “higgledy piggledy world of pleasure” and that's pretty much spot on.

In the café/ restaurant you could be seated in the open atrium, or tucked away in one of the nooks and crannies. And you sometimes have to duck a little to make it through the door frames. But that is all part of the charm.

Luck was finally on our side when we arrived - the café was buzzing with ladies who lunch and big family groups spanning several generations, but a few tables were just being cleared.

The three of us were quickly seated and began perusing the extensive menu, which takes you right through the day from breakfast - which includes a scrummy sounding breakfast pizza (essentially a full English including sausage and bacon on top of a pizza base) and local kippers and eggs, via elevenses to lunch.

Or your could pop in for afternoon tea (served from three til five, with a glass of Adnams champagne if it's a special occasion) and dinner.

The menu states that it's on a mission to keep Norfolk curvy - and judging by the array of cakes on offer, it shouldn't take too much persuasion - the Belgian chocolate fridge cake and sticky date cake sound like a good enough excuse for a visit dedicated solely to them.

Byfords has a great atmosphere, and the décor - which includes chunky rustic pieces of furniture - is very much in keeping. And despite being rushed off her feet, our waitress was cheery and efficient.

The lunch menu includes lunchtime staples like toasties, plus more substantial meals like lasagne, steak ciabatta and a range of tasty-sounding salads, like goat's cheese and bacon.

After savouring the options for a while, I went for the three cheese and apple chutney jacket potato. Mum went for a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich, while my dad went for the roast beef version, which he requested without the red onion advertised on the menu, and they were happy to oblige.

The food arrived promptly, and the conversation was silenced as we tucked in - which is always a good sign. Although a jacket potato sounds simple and foolproof enough, it's surprising how often they're not up to scratch. But I'm pleased to report Byfords got it exactly right - the inside of the potato was fluffy, the outside crispy and the chutney, was the perfect complement to the cheese - tangy with warm, spicy notes.

And my parents were equally pleased with their choices, which were more than substantial enough to fill a gap.

The bill for the three of us, including teas and coffees, came to around £20 and set us up nicely for an afternoon of retail therapy.

Obviously when we came to leave there were plenty of parking spaces to choose from.

t Byfords, Shirehall Plain, Holt; 01263 711400; www.byfords.org.uk

t Do I need to book? It's a very popular spot, and there can be lengthy queues at lunchtimes. If it's a special occasion you're best off ringing ahead.

t What's on the evening menu? There's all sorts to tempt you - from salads and pasta, to pots of paella to share and pizzas. The main meals include pie and mash, Moroccan Lamb and steak and chips - there's plenty of fishy dishes too. And the desserts will add inches to your hips just by looking at them.

t What about the B&B? For details of room rates, phone the number above or e-mail queries@byfords.org.uk

t Where can I park? Well, there are car parks in the town centre which are a couple of minutes' walking distance away - but did I mention that it can be a bit tricky to find a space?

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