Now I know, in my recent blog about lunch at the Maids Head, I said being a Norfolk Food and Drink Festival champion would rarely involve fine dining. However, dinner at The Grove in Cromer last Thursday evening was just one of those rare exceptions.
After all, when you are invited by Richard Graveling, who is one of the proprietors, to join fellow #NFDF2014 champions Charlie Hodson and William Gribbon for a celebratory meal and the Head Chef is none other than Charlie, how can you refuse? Particularly when you know the menu will feature the freshest seasonal produce, cooked to perfection.
Thanks to Charlie’s acclaimed talents, which he honed in AA Rosette and Michelin Starred restaurants working with chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, The Grove recently won two AA rosettes. And when you’ve eaten at The Grove, it’s not hard to understand why. The setting is lovely, the food is delicious, the service immaculate – and the company on the evening was, obviously, charming.
Elegance and fresh sea air
I made a point of arriving a couple of hours early because Charlie had kindly offered to give me a guided tour of the 3.5 acre grounds and a small section of the sea front at Cromer. The Grove is set back from the cliffs behind a lovely wood – so the garden is beautifully sheltered from that ‘refreshing’ north easterly breeze that sometimes blows in off the North Sea. However, it is still only five minute’s walk through the wood and down to the MCS recommended sand and shingle beach – which makes it a perfect place to stay if you want a seaside holiday.
The house, which is largely Georgian in style (and was once owned by members of the Gurney family who helped found Barclays Bank), is beautiful. As are the self catering cottages (in a converted barn) and the new oak-framed Orchard Rooms – which look traditional with their wood cladding but have a refreshingly modern feel inside, including super-king sized beds with crisp white linen. For those of you looking for a bit more adventure, there are also a couple of large bell tents comfortably kitted out for a perfect ‘glamping’ holiday by Magical Camping.
The Graveling family, who have owned The Grove since 1936 (Richard and his siblings, Chris, Elizabeth, Hannah and Ruth, are the third generation to run it) have clearly taken great care of the original property while investing to ensure they can offer all the modern conveniences you could want, including an indoor swimming pool. Although not self-sufficient in food, they have a sizeable plot which produces a large proportion of the fresh fruit and vegetables served in the restaurant, particularly in the summer months.
I hadn’t been to Cromer for quite a few years, so had forgotten quite how delightful it is. Admittedly there are parts that have seen better days but it still retains an air of Georgian/Edwardian elegance, with fine buildings and a beautiful pier (which has been repaired since suffering extensive damage in the storms of December 2013). If you haven’t visited Cromer recently, it’s well worth a trip – there’s even a convenient train service from Norwich.
In May, you can look forward to the deliciously themed Crab and Lobster Festival. There’s a Carnival in August, a literary and art festival in October/November, and a spectacular fireworks display on the pier at New Year. And of course, there are bracing coastal walks and decent surfing for most of the year (for those hardy enough for such pursuits) as well as numerous grand houses and other places of interest to visit in North Norfolk.
Excellent flavours and a feast for the eyes
Charlie is not only great fun to be with (his conversation as we walked round Cromer was peppered with amusing anecdotes and interesting facts) but also a master in the kitchen. We started the meal with pan-fried Norfolk Quail served on a meltingly delicious slice of slow cooked Fakenham pork belly with braised local red cabbage and Grove-grown apples. I’d never tried quail before but I certainly will again, given the chance; it has a lovely flavour somewhere between good chicken and pheasant.
Our main course was line-caught Sea Bass from the Norfolk coast (any fresher and it would have been leaping off the plate), served on a bed of wild spinach (picked from the grounds) baby turnips, Dauphinoise potatoes, and – for a real treat – Norfolk asparagus wrapped in Charlie’s special home-smoked ham. Then came the pudding – and Oh boy what a delight: white and dark chocolate (providing a lovely hint of bitterness to balance the sweet) brioche pudding with Norfolk double cream.
Naturally, there were some delicious wines to accompany the meal – but as I was driving I could only have a few sips of the prosecco and rosé – sadly (for me) both tasted excellent. Next time I might have to glamp. Thank you Charlie, Richard and the other guests for a perfect evening.
If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, 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.