Thetford: The Mulberry

Goldfish is almost the only thing you won't find on the menu, though there are plenty of unusual items from venison to vegetable crumbles.

This review, as they would say on Sesame Street, has been brought to you by Standard Life. Not directly, any more than the letter Z actually contributed to Big Bird and Kermit the frog entertaining bored five-year-olds and people old enough to know better, but because some years ago I decided to start a pension.

It may sound rash, but I had just started my first proper job, and my then employer was offering to put some money into it, so it seemed like a no-brainer, as they might say on Sesame Street.

Since then I have watched a miserly sum of money remain a miserly sum of money, which is calculated to provide me with a pension of oooh, easily enough to buy a couple of lumps of coal and a piece of stale bread and mouldy cheese when I come to retire.

Before the Standard Life lawyers get on the phone, I will admit that if I had added anything into it since the heady days of my first job I might be able to retire as a millionaire (though it seems unlikely). But now Standard Life has done me proud, in a short-term kind of way, by demutualising, thus giving me a windfall that I was certainly not about to leave in shares which would probably come in more useful as bedding for my retirement hovel than anything else.

So I was off without delay to the nearest purveyors of quality food and drink. And if you, too, have any lumps of cash burning a hole in your bank account, I urge you to travel to Thetford.

The Mulberry has long been the place to go in town to celebrate a birthday, mourn a leaving, or entertain visitors. These days there is a bit more competition, but nowhere beats the Mulberry for quality food and elegant surroundings, at prices that, without being the cheapest, are well worth it and would be 50pc more in Norwich. It has the happy knack of being somewhere that grannies and 20-somethings both want to spend their time, even if the hearing aids get pushed to the limits when there is a birthday party in full swing.

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Tables are dark wood, the décor is tasteful with little touches of originality - like the display case upstairs containing a little boy's suit, nibbled by mice, that was found in the restaurant's chimney. There are square white plates and bowls which apparently are terribly passé these days, but I find them rather elegant.

Recently the Mulberry has opened a conservatory-style extension, tastefully decorated with flower and vegetable prints, which is just right for summer evenings. It does mean the garden is smaller, but you can still start or finish your meal outside in a little island of green, where the goldfish swim lazily in one corner.

Goldfish is almost the only thing you won't find on the menu, though there are plenty of unusual items from venison to vegetable crumbles.

We thought the mains had rather a wintry feel, but the warm weather did not stop me ordering a mushroom and butternut squash suet pudding, a rich and hearty affair encased in enough pastry to feed a Russian army. A lovely selection of fish dishes offered a more summery experience, from which the other half had a whole sea bream stuffed with herbs, cooked to perfection. The mains came with a selection of vegetables (broccoli, carrots and so on) and a choice of potato gratin or new potatoes. It would have seemed churlish to refuse the offer of both, so both we had. The new potatoes were impeccable, but inevitably lost out to the buttery, meltingly soft gratin. By this point we had already eaten a posh version of chicken livers on toast, in a creamy sauce that tasted of the pan juices, and a tomato and olive tart on a crisp puff pastry base.

We have never yet managed three courses at the Mulberry, though if you forgo a starter you may be able to manage the likes of a sundae (you can choose your own toppings from a selection that would not disgrace Willy Wonka) or a sponge pudding.

Those not spending a Standard Life windfall might like to check out the good-value lunch menu, featuring simpler dishes done to the same high standard. Ciabattas can be stuffed with almost anything you can think of, from goats' cheese to sausages, and served with chunky chips or spiral fries and a salad garnish for scarcely more than you might pay for a McDonalds.

Lunch or dinner, it seemed like a pretty good investment to me. And as we left, for the first time it felt worth having a pension.

t Where is it? The Mulberry, 11 Raymond Street, Thetford; 01842 820099.

t Is there parking? No, but you can park in one of the free town centre car parks nearby.

t Is there disabled access? It is not specifically adapted for wheelchairs, although customers are welcome to use the ground floor staff toilet if they find it easier than the upstairs toilets.

t Do I need to book? In the evenings, yes, especially at weekends.

t Smoking? Not allowed inside.

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