West Runton: The Mirabelle

Restaurants hiding down side streets in off-season seaside holiday towns and villages can often look off-putting. Off-white lace curtains, aged straw table mats falling to pieces, tables which need a bit of detergent thrown at them and staff bored because there are so few people to serve.

Restaurants hiding down side streets in off-season seaside holiday towns and villages can often look off-putting. Off-white lace curtains, aged straw table mats falling to pieces, tables which need a bit of detergent thrown at them and staff bored because there are so few people to serve.

The job centre to one side and sea food shop to the other may not seem that attractive as a place for a restaurant and the odd vagrant clutching a can of special brew may not entice you to step out of your warm and dry car.

But it does not always have to be like that and off-season is the new in-season as far as I am concerned.

It's a school night so there are no children. It's the middle of winter so there are no throngs of holiday makers and the place is half dead so you get it all to yourself.

And best of all there is not even a slight hint that the waiter would like to go home even though you have been sat chatting for what seems like minutes but is actually donkey's ages.

Well, that's the feeling I got at two restaurants on the north Norfolk coast anyway.

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Jacque and the Mirabelle, run by Jackie Tuck and Jake Wright, were welcome refuges from the wet dank weather outside - quite often the case off season on the north Norfolk coast. Although just six miles apart they offer two very different styles of dining.

Walking into the Mirabelle you are welcomed with a luxurious large waiting area with plenty of seats and a bar which could easily be used just as a bar.

We were welcomed and sat down. After picking a wine, and being offered an upgrade as the wine we chose had only just been delivered and was sat outside at the wrong temperature, we enjoyed a chat with our waiter about the wallpaper.

The ante room, between the waiting area and restaurant area, had a wonderful cake covered fabric wall covering and a red felt covered chandelier.

A mini wine-tasting session later, courtesy of our very friendly off-season host, we were seated in the restaurant, where there was just one other couple with whom we later had a little tete a tete over our puddings. Again, the delight of mid-week off-season eating.

The choice is French and mid-European with local seafood.

For starters we had steamed Morston mussels with Thai broth and a crayfish cocktail. For mains I went for pan-fried red snapper with saffron ratatouille and crispy basil. My companion had a mixed fish and shellfish stew with butter beans and roasted vine tomatoes. Both came with a steaming and not over-cooked bowl of vegetables.

Pudding was a shared crème brulee followed by coffee and before either of us knew it we were the last people in the place and it was getting close to 11pm.

The Mirabelle came as a nice surprise to its sister restaurant, Jacque, which I had also recently visited.

Currently up for sale, it has been Jackie and Luke's project for six years and although it is on the market this has meant no changes to what you would expect to find inside.

Although its positioning would not appear to be all that auspicious, tucked down Cromer's Garden Street, between the job centre and a sea food shop, Jacque has been hailed as the town's only proper restaurant for a long time - although it now has a rival, the Courtyard restaurant behind the Wellington pub.

When we went to Jacque, on another dank and miserable night, we had no idea of its pending closure and the small restaurant was empty apart from us and three people on another table. But despite being pretty much dead, it did not feel like we were two peas in a colander and we were blissfully unaware of the horrible weather outside as we waded through our courses tucked in one of the restaurant's neat little booths.

Alongside more conventional tables there are three or four booths, a little like old fashioned railway carriages, but with a modern look.

As a whole the restaurant is also suitably small enough to be nicely intimate and the jug of water and plate of warmed ciabatta slices brought automatically to our table settled us in straight away.

The menu, as at the Mirabelle, is French and European with local seafood. For mains we had a very nicely cooked confit of duck with green beans and crushed potatoes and a perhaps too rich offering of smoked haddock, spinach with gruyere coddle.

Pudding, sorry dessert, as my waiter kept correcting me, was a choice of lemon posset, crème brulee and chocolate tart. We went for the latter and had to share it because we were so stuffed.

My partner, a chocolate fiend if there ever was one, said it was the best chocolate tart he had eaten in a long time. So thumbs up and let's hope we don't wave goodbye to Jacque.



t Where is it?

The Mirabelle is in Station Road, in West Runton, which is on the main coast road along the north Norfolk coast between Sheringham and Cromer. Tel: 01263 837936.

t Car parking?

There is nearby car parking for both the Mirabelle.

t Do I need to book?

It is advisable to book, especially at weekends and during summer. Private functions for up to 40 people can also be booked at the restaurant.

t Are children welcome?

Children are welcome in the Mirabelle's bistro, which is slightly less formal to the neighbouring restaurant. No under eight-year-olds are allowed in the restaurant.

t Special dietry requirements?

Special diets, including vegetarian and wheat or gluten free are available by prior arrangement.

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