When temperatures stubbornly refuse to waiver above zero for almost a week, it’s time for a treat – and there’s nothing like a lavish hotel stay in the countryside to put the world back on its axis.
Having reviewed lunch at the handsome Kings Head in Letheringsett back in October, I was thrilled to be invited back for dinner, bed and breakfast (I must be doing something right). No sooner had the idea been mooted, I was packed and driving up to Letheringsett, just one mile from Holt, quicker than you could say “your room is ready, Madam”.
The arduous journey from Norwich – who ordered the snow and then turned the lights out on the windy country lanes? – was worth it to be re-acquainted with this absolute beauty, with its countryside views, warming fires, great pub grub and local ales.
A pub, bar and restaurant, The Kings Head also has four boutique, individually-decorated bedrooms on the upper floor – two looking out onto parkland; two welcoming pooches. Ours – number 1 – was one of the former and boasted a walk-in shower, oversized bed, and tea and coffee making facilities including two pouches of locally-produced Grey Seal coffee. I didn’t find a mini-bar, though.
Clever design ideas dominate our bedroom: retro cases used as bedside tables, thick ropes used as lamp stands, old postcards meshed together for wallpaper and wooden boxes emblazoned with local companies of yesteryear. Two elephants – a painting over the bed and an ornate ‘toy’ on the windowsill – create an old-world Indian vibe.
We quickly freshen up, cracking the seal on the scrumptious Aromatherapy Associates products (a throw-back to my days reviewing hotels in London), and head downstairs to warm up by the fire and a sink a much-needed Friday night drink.
The large bar and lounge area has recently been given a facelift to make better use of the space, with antlers (real or otherwise – I can’t tell) now holding up table tops and hanging from walls, while fat, leather armchairs and real cow-hide rugs (that one is more obvious) are nicely positioned under the large sash window and by the crackling open fire. A fresh coat of paint has been applied to greet the new season, while the bar itself has a new mirror backdrop with mood lighting.
There are curious items hung everywhere – wooden propeller or a pair of skis anyone? – but the most unusual is a block of wood perched on top of the fire with the words ‘original piece of oak recovered from HMS Victory’ scrawled on a label. While I’m no sea-faring lass (“the sea is like a woman,” my dad used to say somewhat bravely, “moody and unpredictable,”), I imagine that this is quite a find.
Several rooms make up the ground floor of The Kings head: a relaxing bar with large sofas, open fire and library (which was already buzzing as we headed downstairs); the bar-lounge area described above; and the restaurant, which has several different sections, including one long communal bank, ideal for large groups. It seems that however you wish to dine – sociably or quietly – The Kings Head can accommodate.
After a swift pint at the bar, it’s 8pm and definitely time to eat. We are shown to our cosy table, perfectly positioned near a very expensive-looking, rotating wood burner and settle down for some pub grub and a long overdue girly catch-up.
When presented with two different menus – all day and a la carte – selecting four different dishes is no easy feat (I’m sure I chose my house quicker!) but finally decide to share a starter of homemade scotch egg with piccalilli and chicken wontons with sweet chilli dipping sauce, beansprout & mango salad. The scotch egg is rich, hearty and – well – naughty; the wontons the perfect antidote: light and crispy with a refreshing salad.
We pair our starters with a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc which is light with a hint of zesty grapefruit and the perfect accompaniment, albeit a little too easy to drink!
From the all day menu, I select the beef brisket chilli with coriander and lemon rice, nan bread and sour cream for my main course, which is as warming and comforting as it sounds (with just the right amount of kick), while Ali goes gourmet, selecting local pan-roasted partridge breast with streaky bacon, bean cassoulet, kale and game crisps – which tastes as beautiful as it looks. I love the presentation of mine, too.
One bottle of wine down – and the world put to rights – it’s time to crack another (same again please, waiter) and crack on with dessert. Our attentive waitress heartily recommends the warm pecan pie with salted caramel ice-cream (Ali’s eyes light up), while I go for my first ever parfait which, whilst resembling ice-cream, is creamier and goes perfectly with the crunchy homemade choc chip cookie and tart, sticky cherries.
Ali’s eyes roll to the ceiling in pleasure as the first spoonful goes down, and – after trying the very last spoonful – I agree that the pecan pie (which is actually more of a tart) is a triumph.
An hour’s drive, two bottles of wine and three delectable courses later, I’m so exhausted I could sleep for Britain – or at least North Norfolk. A squishy bed, absent child and blackout curtains afford the first uninterrupted night’s sleep of the year.
The next morning, I’m so happy sitting up in bed sipping fancy coffee at a very leisurely 9am that we nearly miss breakfast and have to fly downstairs to ensure we’re fed. Overnight guests can avail themselves of a buffet of cereal, fruit, yoghurts and juices before selecting a cooked breakfast. We both choose the full English breakfast with poached eggs and white toast, with coffee/tea and orange juice.
Everything on the plate is deliciously local, beautifully cooked and well thought out (the idea of keeping the hash brown crisp by separating the baked beans is simple but brilliant).
By 11am it’s time to head back to Norwich, and back to reality with a bump – albeit with a much softer landing. Yes, thanks to my very pleasant sleepover at The Kings Head, the world is happily back on its axis. Bring it on, February!
The Kings Head hosts a varied calendar of events during the year, including pub quizzes, curry nights and dinner jazz evenings.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Families, couples, dogs and groups of large diners looking for classic British food in charming surrounds, cum summer or winter.
Not for: I honestly can’t think of anybody that The Kings Head couldn’t cater for.
££-££: starters: from £6.95; mains: from £13.95 (steak frites is £19.50); desserts: all £6.95
The Kings Head, Holt Road, Letheringsett, Norfolk, NR25 7AR. Tel: 01263 712691. kingsheadnorfolk.co.uk