In an age of clone towns and chain restaurants, it is refreshing to discover that the Maids Head Hotel in Norwich has not only regained its independence (in December 2012) – but has also become a passionate advocate of locally sourced food and drink. Under Head Chef Marcin Pomierny – better known as ‘Magic’ – the focus is now firmly on flavour, provenance and seasonality. Which is why I was delighted to be invited to a lunch celebrating the launch of the hotel’s spring 2014 menu in its WinePress Restaurant.
The new menu, which is launches on 1 April in time for English Tourism Week #ETW14, is an excellent example of Magic’s talent for combining the tastes and textures of our finest local ingredients to create delicious meals. A talent that helped the Maids Head win the EDP Tourism Award for Best Food and Drink Experience in 2013 for its “outstanding” food. With dishes such as fresh Cromer crab, Norfolk wood-pigeon and Thetford reared lamb, as well as Winbirri English Wines and Maids Head Ale brewed by Woodforde’s, I know I am going to be spoilt for choice when I finally get to try the menu later this week.
Meanwhile, since the invitation came about because of my involvement in the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival – of which The Maids Head is a gold sponsor – I took the opportunity to meet Marcin and the hotel’s General Manager Christine Malcolm to find out more about the hotel’s new direction.
Marcin trained as a chef in Poland before moving to the UK in 2005, where he has worked in a number of Norwich restaurants. He joined the Maids Head in May 2013, shortly after it returned to private hands, and became Head Chef in September, leading a talented and energetic team of six including sous-chef David Lovett . He launched the first seasonal menu last October and is now keen to introduce the fresh new flavours of spring.
“My focus is on using the best regional food to create great tasting dishes,” he says. “I like to combine flavours and textures, including different cuts of the same meat, to really bring out the quality of the produce. However, this menu will only be available for two months because we will then be into summer and want to make the most of the region’s bounty with a new menu for June, July and August.”
The hotel, which is reputedly the oldest in England, was bought (out of administration) in December 2012 by the Chaplin family, who also own the four-star Gonville in Cambridge as well as being prominent local farmers. Christine, who has been at the hotel since 2006, is in no doubt that being a family run business once again has made all the difference.
“Various management companies, with portfolios of hotels, ran the hotel for a number of years,” she says. “But that meant all the buying was centralised and the focus was on costs, so we didn’t have the freedom to choose the best seasonal produce. Our new owners couldn’t be any more different: they are committed to using local suppliers wherever possible and sourcing the finest food and drink from Norfolk and the surrounding region.”
This is evident from the hotel’s food and drink guide, which lists its main local suppliers for everything from meat and fish to fruit and vegetables, wines and ales and artisan cheeses. The emphasis is on picking crops at their peak, reducing food miles, and supporting the local community. Suppliers include:
- Barsby Produce, a family-run business based in Kings Lynn, for fresh fruit and vegetables
- The Cheese Truckle, based just outside Norwich, for local cheeses and charcuterie
- Howard & Son, a family run shop on Magdalene Street, Norwich, which supplies fish, shellfish and game
- Tavern Tasty Meats, suppliers of rare breed meats with full traceability and great traditional flavour
- Winbirri Wines, based in Bramerton, fine English wines made from Norfolk grown grapes
- Woodforde’s, based in Woodbastwick, which supplies ales brewed with Norfolk grown malted barley and local water from an aquifer deep below the brewery.
Marcin’s team also makes fresh bread every day, as well as cakes, biscuits (which are delicious) and ice-cream. Naturally, I am looking forward to trying just some of this wonderful food and drink on Friday 4 April – and I will be sure to report back to you on an experience that I’m confident will be Magic.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply. In future blogs I will talk more about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 (see my earlier post about being an #NFDF2014 Champion) – and other food and drink events around the county – I hope you enjoy them.
Thank you for reading.