Rockland St Mary: New Inn
It’s light and airy, with squashy sofas and real fires. Cream walls, decorated with pictures of the village, a smattering of chocolate brown accessories, dark wooden floorboards and those popular bistro tables all contribute to the very “in” feel of the place.
BC, before children, I was a GT girl. Golden Triangle to those not in the know. This is the Norfolk equivalent of a Bridget Jones gal. Single and out on the town all the time. One of my favourite haunts was the Garden House pub, a real back street sort of place with, not unsurprisingly, a large garden. Apart from the singleton's love of wine, the food was always good, casual but ultra-contemporary and well priced.
The couple that ran it, Stuart Harrison and Ali Nightingale, have followed in my footsteps and left the heady delights of city living and now reside in rural splendour in the Broads. They took over the New Inn at the very pretty Rockland St Mary (off the A146 Norwich to Lowestoft road if you're lost) about a year ago and have really put their own stamp on it.
It was closed for a few months before they picked up the gauntlet and gave it a good face-lift, transforming it into a modern gastropub without being too over the top.
If you like places such as the Mulberry, at Attleborough, or the Mad Moose back in the Golden Triangle, you'll like it here. It's light and airy, with squashy sofas and real fires. Cream walls, decorated with pictures of the village, a smattering of chocolate brown accessories, dark wooden floorboards and those popular bistro tables all contribute to the very “in” feel of the place.
There are several different areas, too. A snug bar where I can imagine much fun is had, a little restaurant and a larger room, with a real conservatory feel with a high ceiling and big windows.
Our party of four adults and two children, having heard on the foodie grapevine that this was the place to be, headed there for Sunday lunch just before Christmas. Sunday lunch can be a disaster, I find, with overcooked vegetables, tough meat and too much salty gravy disguising cheap produce.
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The menu at the New Inn was thankfully short - over-ambitious menus always make you think that things are pre-cooked, or bought in and simply microwaved.
The starters, all at £4.50, included a chunky terrine, a decent hearty soup, mussels (quite a favourite here) and a goat's cheese and sunblush tomato tart. I couldn't resist the mussels and the portions were certainly generous. The creamy garlic sauce was great, too, especially when mopped up with plenty of crusty bread.
The main course choices, all at £6.95, included the usual offerings such as beef, lamb, cod and pork, but all served with that vital twist. The cod came with olive mash, while the crackling on the pork was sublime.
My roast topside of beef was delicious, with Yorkshire puddings even my mother would have approved of.
And as for the vegetables, well, first class. Absolutely piles of them, served al dente. They're supplied by market gardeners Aldis of Porlingland, and all credit to them.
A few of us managed puddings, with options such as sticky toffee pudding and tiramisu running alongside various sorbets. All cost £3.50.
As we had two youngsters with us, and this is quite a child-friendly place, we ate in larger room so they could make a bit of noise and hopefully not cause too much trouble. My six-year-old devoured a mini roast chicken lunch while his four-year-old sister munched through the bread and vegetables as she's not a roast dinner fan. Naturally, both managed chocolate-based desserts.
The wine list has about 20 bottles on offer, all in the £10 to £17 price range. My Pinot Grigo was lovely, with a large glass at £3. Real ales, such as Adnams Broadside, are also served.
Apart from such good food - and really, I hope this place doesn't get too busy - what sells it is its position. Right on the River Yare, ducks and swans glide past the pub's front door and make a charming scene.
Even better is the decent walk you can do on the newish Wherryman's Way which you join right opposite the pub. You an easily potter past the fishermen to walk along a fairly decent path to Rockland Broad. There's a bird hide for added interest and we managed a good hour's stroll which is just about long enough with two little ones in the winter, but it certainly helped digest all that lovely food.
The New Inn is firmly on our list to return, maybe one evening without the children. The staff are friendly, the wines are good and the food is yummy.
t The New Inn, New Inn Hill, Rockland St Mary; 01508 538403
t Where is it? Ahh, this is bandit country, you know! Consult your map!
t What about parking? People park outside the front door.
t What about children? Most welcome, with smaller versions and old favourites on offer. They are not allowed in the bar, but the large conservatory-style dining room suits them well.
t Smoking? Only in the bar at present.
t What about vegetarians? Plenty on offer - how does tomato gnocchi with mushrooms and celeriac sound?