Food review: Saracen’s Head, Wolterton
- Credit: Archant
This old pub in the heart of the Norfolk countryside should be on your map for a visit
Sometimes, just sometimes, days that start unpromisingly have properly happy endings. Take the day we visited the Saracen's Head in Wolterton, for instance.
It was one of those steaming days in late July when the mercury slid ever upwards past 30 degrees and the air was stickier than a toddler's bib. I had spent the day in Ipswich (I know) ridden my motorbike there and back and was parboiled in heavy armoured gear.
So it was in slight ill-humour that we crunched onto the gravel outside the Saracen's Head that evening. It's a handsome three-storey Georgian building which sits, a little lonely, outside Wolterton Hall. (While it is on a path less well-trodden, it actually isn't that hard to find, especially from the A140.)
By then the day's fierce heat was relenting and the lowering sun splashed the red bricks of the pub and the outbuildings in gold. It really was very pretty and peaceable.
I have vague memories of the pub from 30 years or so back; then it was a farmers' gaff, with quiet men at the bar mumbling into their pints about the price of wheat, or the weather, or something. Tim and Janie Elwes took over and it is now a popular restaurant and B&B.
We sat outside to eat in the lovely garden and watched the swifts darting to and from their nests under the eaves, sipped our drinks and let the day seep out of our bones. The menu at the Saracen's is all up on a blackboard, so changes are chalked up as locally-sourced produce becomes available.
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Openers; for me scallops and for herself a cheese and onion tart, a good wedge of rich, full-flavoured Lincs Poacher and sweet onions. It passed the taste test with an appreciative nod.
The scallops, with rich black pud offset by a tangy apple sauce, were fine and could only have been improved by a few seconds more in the pan for a touch more caramelisation. Great flavours.
The pesky pescetarian's sea bream and lobster bisque arrived just as the rooks noisily settled in for the night in the nearby trees.
The bream was, she averred, beautifully cooked and the bisque was just so, bringing the rich flavours of the lobster very nicely into the mix. Properly-prepared and cooked veg completed the picture.
Guinea-fowl is a lovely thing to eat, more flavoursome than your common or garden chook but not as gamey as some of the traditional alternatives. There is a risk that it can dry out when cooking but mine came snugly wrapped in ham and was perfect; soft and moist.
The accompanying sauce was good and deep in flavour, if a touch thin; the heritage carrots were quite delicious and the confit potato was all I would want it to be.
There was a pause while we contemplated the deepening blue of the evening sky and prepared ourselves to belly up to a spot of pud. Viewers of Masterchef will be familiar with the hosts' perpetual references to the necessary wobble of a pannacotta; the vanilla one which came out of the Saracen's kitchen was quite marvellous, chock-full of vanilla and, crucially, wobblier than a cornered politician. A soft little sable biscuit and tangy baked peach half were on-point accompaniments.
The chocolate nemesis was deeply rich but not tooth-wreckingly sweet, showing that the kitchen knows how to manage chocolate carefully. A cricket ball sized pistachio ice cream brought a creamy nuttiness to the party and the coolness was welcome on a still-warm night. With a couple of pints and a ginger beer we stumped up £73, respectable indeed.
Don't be put off by the apparent remoteness of the Saracen's Head; it really isn't that far out of the way and if you make the journey I'm pretty sure you'll be glad you did.
Our review visits are unannounced and we pay for our meals.