Salhouse: The Racecourse Inn

Good food, good atmosphere and good company are the key ingredients of an enjoyable meal out and at least this is one racecourse where you are not rushed.

When our boys were very young, The Racecourse just east of Norwich was something of a family favourite. We liked the typical restaurant chain food and the lads loved the children's indoor play area, so much so that we spent more time keeping an eye on them than we did eating.

But then we simply stopped going because when Ben and Tim outgrew the play equipment, we grew out of The Racecourse. I can't remember how long ago it was, but Ben is now learning to drive so it was a long time ago.

It's funny how a place you knew so well can change so much yet you can be totally unaware of it, and I was until my wife went there with two very good girlfriends and had a fantastic evening, so much so that it was suggested they would graciously allow husbands to go with them next time.

I have to say they were right to be impressed for you feel at ease as soon as you step inside.

Now owned by Horizon Inns, a family-owned business established in 1999 with a collection of quality establishments in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, The Racecourse has been positively transformed inside.

Even before you have seen the menu, The Racecourse has a classy, friendly feel and oozes the right kind of ambience to whet the appetite.

Most Read

The décor actually appears very simple - pale, painted walls, wood floors and tables in the restaurant area and inviting, comfortable chairs to relax in in the lounge area.

The service is attentive without being overpowering. We arrived in time for a pre-dinner drink in the lounge area where the menus were explained with the minimum of fuss and they quickly checked my wife's wheat intolerance… and left us alone. And that's just what we wanted because, being busy parents, it's not often we can all get together and we were soon engrossed in conversation but it was lovely not to be rushed, which really set the tone for the evening.

Part of the problem was that we were just talking too much, the other was that, judging by the dilemma I was facing, we were just spoiled for choice with the normal and special menus offering a total of 15 starters and 16 main courses.

Eventually we made up our minds and the member of staff who took our order wasn't wrong when he said we were “fishy people”.

Two went for the lemon and basil scented prawns and crayfish served warm with pesto crust and an orange and rocket salad (£5.95) which looked as good as it tasted and would have been my choice had I not been the one person who opted not to have a fishy starter - unusual for me as I love fish. But I was lured away by the chicken marinated with lime, chilli, ginger and coriander with thai pickle and chorizo compote (£5.25). The first mouthful was a little spicier than I had expected but my tastebuds soon acclimatised to the zing of the ginger and lime.

My other choice would have been the salad of simple pan-fried scallops, smoked pancetta, watercress and a citrus dressing (£5.95) - unfortunately the person who chose it was at the far end of the table from me and, judging by the way he was devouring it, I didn't fancy taking my chances trying to nick a bit.

Fortunately it wasn't such a problem for with my wife opposite me, I managed to get a taste of her poached seabass and cod with seafood and Noilly Pratt sauce (£5.95) which had a lovely texture and a delightful tang. Completing our starters was a big bowl of spicy mussels with warm ciabatta (£5.50) which, piled high in their shells, proved to be a veritable feast of a seafood starter and it was good to see a finger bowl of warm water arrive with them.

It was nice to have a break between courses and we were soon engrossed in conversation which was silenced when our main courses arrived for they were beautifully presented which is so important.

The medallions of pork with baby spinach and mustard crushed potatoes, glazed apples and shallots, baby tomato and courgette tian, and calvados sauce (£12.50) looked and smelled scrumptious and the breast of duck, served with dauphionoise potatoes, shallots, bacon and a red wine jus (£13.50), was perfectly pink, although the skin was difficult to remove. My wife made a good choice with - one of my favourites - braised shank of lamb with sweet potato mash, roasted winter root vegetables and rosemary red wine jus and it just fell away from the bone and melted in the mouth… not that I got a lot of it.

Bearing in mind the 'girls' had been here before I followed the crowd when two of them chose the medley of fish and seafood with saffron, basil, white wine with homemade tagliatelle, parmesan and petit pois (£11.95) which really tickled the tastebuds and, given the rich sauce, it's all about quality rather than quantity in a dish that includes scallops, baby octopus and salmon.

None of us could manage a dessert - all £4.50 on the special menu and £3.95 to £4.50 with cheese and biscuits at £5.50 on the normal menu - although next time, difficult as it would be, I might skip a starter to leave room for pudding. But we did adjourn to the lounge area again for a decent coffee but I would have like more in my cup especially as I drink it black and I've had larger coffees for £1.50. We also had a couple of bottles of refreshingly dry Santiano Blanc house white wine (£10.95 each) and four drinks on the bill which totalled £152, more than pub grub but The Racecourse has now successfully moved into the restaurant league.

Good food, good atmosphere and good company are the key ingredients of an enjoyable meal out and at least this is one racecourse where you are not rushed.

t The Racecourse Inn, 61 Salhouse Road, Rackheath; 01603 720421

t Where is it? It's closer to Norwich than the centre of Rackheath.

t Where to park? There is a huge customer car park.

t Booking? Certainly advisable at weekends.

t Children? Welcome both at lunchtime and evening and there is a special children's menu.

t Disabled access? There are disabled access and toilets.

t Smoking? No smoking in the restaurant but there is a smoking section in the bar area.

t What about vegetarians? Not a problem with three starters and main courses on the normal menu and one of each on the special menu and even as a meat-eater I was sorely tempted.

t Anything else? The Racecourse has seven en suite bedrooms with single occupancy, double rooms and a king-size suite.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter