Sheringham: The Dales Country House Hotel

The Dales is set within extensive grounds boosting secret gardens, woodland glades, a summer house, croquet lawn, tennis courts and pond in the shape of Norfolk.

It was almost two and a half years ago that we first discovered The Dales Country House Hotel at Upper Sheringham, adjacent to the National Trust's Sheringham Park, and their wonderful three-course lunches. We kept promising ourselves we would return again one day but, what with one thing or another, time went by and it never seemed like it was going to happen.

However all good things are worth waiting for and, by a happy coincidence, having driven past The Dales recently, decided that it was definitely time to find out if the lunches were as excellent as we remembered them.

So on a cold, wet mid-December day we took my mother along with us to find out what, if anything, had changed.

The entrance hall certainly hadn't altered - the oak-panelled walls and fireplace, inviting settees and warm atmosphere making a welcoming refuge from the dismal weather outside. And a tastefully decorated Christmas tree added to the ambience.

Invited to take a seat in the King's Bar while choosing our meal from the Fireside lunch menu, we relaxed on comfortable armchairs and settees over a pre-luncheon drink while making the difficult choice. Having made our decisions we did not have too long to wait before being shown to our table situated within a large mullioned bay window with lovely views over the countryside to the sea at Sheringham beyond.

The Upchers Restaurant, with its beamed ceiling, three-quarter oak-panelled and claret colour walls, glowed with warmth enhanced by the ceiling and wall candelabras and blazing fire in the oak fireplace. Like the entrance hall it was tastefully decorated for Christmas with greenery entwined with small twinkling white lights and claret-coloured candles.

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From the seven starters it was a toss-up between the melon fan with macerated stone fruits and passion fruit sorbet; portabella mushrooms with asparagus and melted mozzarella cheese; or soup of the day, which turned out to be tomato and basil. Mum and I went for the melon fan, while my husband decided on the portabella mushrooms. They were all beautifully presented and declared delicious.

For the main course there was a choice of eight dishes, including two vegetarian, but we unanimously went for fillet of bream with a Champagne tarragon cream sauce served with seasonal vegetables cooked al dente. The bream was absolutely superb.

Then it was hard decision time. Could we possibly manage a dessert? But greed prevailed and one of us plumped for three scoops of vanilla ice-cream served in a brandy snap basket, while the other two unashamedly tackled the chef's home-made hot dessert of the day - a wicked sticky walnut and treacle pudding served with either cream or ice-cream. Both indulging even further by having it served with cream!

The hotel has an excellent wine list and to accompany the meal, as we prefer red to white wine, fish or no fish, we enjoyed a mellow Cabernet Sauvignon Red Firebird. To finish, between us we had freshly filtered coffee served with home-made truffles and a pot of breakfast tea while relaxing in the comfort of one of the cosy lounges overlooking the terrace and enjoyed the antics of about a dozen blue tits in a bushy shrub close to the window.

The Dales is set within extensive grounds boosting secret gardens, woodland glades, a summer house, croquet lawn, tennis courts and pond in the shape of Norfolk. But it was, unfortunately, too wet for an after lunch exploration. We finally managed to lever ourselves from our comfy seats to venture down the road to Holt to see the town's Georgian buildings illuminated for Christmas, looking almost like fairyland with thousands of white and silver lights - a magical way to end our day.

And what of The Dales? Did the lunch come up to our expectations? The answer is an all-resounding yes. If anything, we thought the menu was better than on our first visit and the service brisker. But on the whole everything was as we remembered it.

After all, when one has a winning formula, why change it?

t The Dales Country House Hotel, Lodge Hill, Sheringham; 01263 824555; www.mackenziehotels.com

t Where is it? Lodge Hill is in Upper Sheringham off the A148 Holt to Cromer Road, or via the B1157 from Sheringham.

t Parking? Lots.

t Disabled access? There's a designated car parking area with easy access to the hotel.

t Should I book? Definitely.

t Anything else? The Dales has 17 traditional English style en-suite bedrooms. Throughout the year the hotel holds special themed breaks.

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