Review: Village pub enjoyed by celebrity chef has oodles of charm
- Credit: Colin Finch
It was the kind of Sunday that a slow and relaxing day was called for, which is why I decided to venture out into the sticks for some much-needed chill time and good food.
Just a stone’s throw from Aylsham is the quiet little village of Heydon. Famed for its stunning green, church, and selection of quaint businesses, it is home to just a hundred residents but it was the tiny Earle Arms pub which had my attention.
Initially I tried to book via its Facebook page but unfortunately the message was not picked up quick enough (it was a popular day to eat) but after a quick call I was able to make a reservation for two.
Once parked, we made our way inside and waited to be seated, smiling at the revellers enjoying a pint or two outside in the sunshine.
Staff acknowledged us quickly before rushing around to make sure everyone was being looked after, giving us time to get a good look at some of the dishes on offer and the pub’s decor.
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To the left of us was a small bar area with what looked liked a good selection of drinks, while to the right was the dining area.
On most of the walls are displays of stuffed animals, including wild birds and a little dormouse, along with horse-racing paraphernalia which gives The Earle Arms an authentic, quintessentially English pub feel. It all adds to the charm of the 16th century building, which remains relatively unchanged - an accolade its owners are proud to share.
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After being seated, we quickly placed our orders from the small, yet succinct, menu. Unfortunately a couple of the dishes had sold out but staff were quick to accommodate and offered alternative suggestions - including the colourful Cromer crab and prawn salad with crusty bread and butter (£7.50 to share).
Better than your typical salad, this dish was loaded with crunch, colour and freshness. The Cromer crab, famous for its sweet brown meat, was the nicest I’ve had in many years and the prawns were plump and tasty. They were a perfect match with the flavoursome bread and, had it not been for the main dish coming up, I probably would have ordered more. There wasn’t a single crumb left by the time our plate was cleared away.
Next up, I eagerly awaited my roast dinner and I wasn’t disappointed. A mountain of pork loin and crackling with roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and vegetables (£12.40) appeared in front of me and, as I began to tuck in, the meat carried on and on. One thing is for sure, the portions here are generous.
The pork was melt-in-the-mouth, the crackling crunchy (albeit a tiny bit too much on the hard side) and well seasoned, the yorkies had a light and pleasant texture, while the vegetables tasted as if they were picked that morning. The gravy I could have drank on its own.
When I decided to pop out for a roast, this is exactly the kind of meal I envisioned. It was fantastic.
But not to be outdone, my partner’s whole Mediterranean baked sea bass with olive oil roast vegetables and focaccia (£13.50) was a bit of a show-stopper. Its colourful array of Mediterranean vegetables and potatoes came alive on the plate and were a perfect accompaniment to the fish, which was cooked with a crispy skin and was succulent inside.
There was a tad too much olive oil for my partner’s taste but that didn’t take anything away from what was a rather spectacular dish both visually and for the taste buds.
Finally, dessert. My partner had decided on the vanilla and seasonal fruit cheesecake (£5) but had to make-do with sharing a strawberry Eton mess (£6) with me as it had all been gobbled up by earlier diners.
I’m not sure if I’m proud or embarrassed to admit that he didn’t even get a small taste, declaring that I devoured the dessert “without coming up for air”, which probably tells you everything you need to know. As well as large chunks of meringue and strawberries, the cream that whipped around it to bring it all together is worth returning for.
Even I had to admit, I don’t know where I put it all.
This was truly a memorable meal and well worth the drive out to enjoy not only the beautiful village and all it has to offer, but also its little pub with oodles of character and charm.
As far as villages go, Heydon is a stand-out destination and The Earle Arms is one of those places which only adds to the character of the place. Although the decor might not be to everyone’s taste, it lends itself to the feel of the place. Right in the heart of the village, the pub faces the popular green so diners are able to enjoy the sites and sounds of visitors and residents making the most of the space and good weather.
There was a lovely, upbeat feel to The Earle Arms. From the buzz seeping out of the front door and circling around its insides, to the smiles and chat of the staff, you feel instantly like part of the furniture here. It was busy when we arrived but even when we became the last diners left that afternoon, it was still pleasant sitting and enjoying drinks.
Considering the size of the portions and quality of the food, this meal was exceptionally priced at £48 for a starter and dessert to share, with two large mains, and three drinks in total.
When I was told the plum cider (£2 for half a pint) was a favourite with chef Jamie Oliver, I wanted to see if my palette was as refined as the professionals! I’m pleased to say that the cider was indeed delicious, as well as refreshing, and is worth a visit to The Earle Arms if only to sample that. I also enjoyed a diet coke (£2), served from a glass bottle which always tastes best, and my partner had one of the many lagers on offer (£4.60 for a pint).
Due to its small size, it might be tricky to navigate around the building. However, I’m sure the staff would be helpful and accommodating and there are tables outside. Social distancing measures have been put in place and we felt safe eating there. Staff were also willing to talk about ingredients of the food and were helpful when we were making our choices.
There is a small car park for people using the pub, and also a larger car park for visitors to the village, both only a minute’s walk away.
The staff were both pleasant, helpful and informative. They were chatty and attentive, as well as accommodating to our food choices.
The roast dinner! If Sundays for you are all about a delicious meal at the end of the week, then this is the place to go.
There is so much on offer here, both inside and outside the pub, and is well worth the visit. There is also the option of walking around Heydon Hall’s historic park after enjoying food and drink at The Earle Arms, if you have time and the grounds are open.
The Earle Arms can be found on Main Street, in Heydon.
Three things to try.
1. Any of the meals which offer a Cromer crab. The chef here really knows how to make these crustaceans work on a plate.
2. Roast dinners. Currently turkey and pork are available.
3. Trio of sausages - venison, Norfolk and Lincolnshire - with onion gravy, mash and vegetables.
If you liked that, try these...
1. The Black Swan Inn at Horsham St Faith.
Really decent pub food with a few surprises, The Black Swan is reopen again for sit-in guests as well as takeaways.
2. Marsham Arms at Marsham.
Famed for its steak aged in Himalayan salt chambers, they are offering a 10pc discount on takeaways and are back serving lunch and dinner inside the pub itself.
3. The Hunworth Bell at Hunworth.
A popular little word-of-mouth establishment, the food here is personal and delicious and set within the stunning village on Hunworth, near Holt.
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.