Local larders: Norfolk

by Lauren Fitchett28 February 2023

Home to swathes of farmland, unspoilt coastline and fantastic restaurants, Norfolk is a brilliant place to eat and drink. We get to know the people, places and produce which make it so special.

Lauren is a food writer at Great British Chefs. She joined the team in 2022, having previously been a food editor at regional newspapers and trade magazines.

Lauren is a food writer at Great British Chefs. She joined the team in 2022, having previously been a food editor at regional newspapers and trade magazines. She is based in Norfolk and spends most of her time trying new recipes at home or enjoying the culinary gems of the east of England.

Lauren is a food writer at Great British Chefs. She joined the team in 2022, having previously been a food editor at regional newspapers and trade magazines.

Lauren is a food writer at Great British Chefs. She joined the team in 2022, having previously been a food editor at regional newspapers and trade magazines. She is based in Norfolk and spends most of her time trying new recipes at home or enjoying the culinary gems of the east of England.

Surrounded by ninety miles of coastline and tucked away on the east coast, you don’t pass through Norfolk, a lack of footfall which makes it something of a mystery to those who haven't visited (or, at least, keeps it limited to its clichés – Alan Partridge springs to mind). In reality, Norfolk is rich in history and culture and bursting with diverse landscapes – from sandy beaches and dramatic cliffs to forests, the Broads, historic market towns, marshland and swathes of greenery. 

When it comes to food and drink, Norfolk is home to a world-class natural larder, with much of its land given to farming. Its produce includes the well-known – sweet Cromer crab, Brancaster mussels, salty marsh samphire and Norfolk Black turkeys – and that which might be less commonly associated with the area; asparagus, saffron, malt barley, wine, free-range pork and potatoes, to name a few. That rich bounty is used by local chefs, who unsurprisingly put a celebration of their surroundings at the heart of their menus. Over the last decade, the county’s culinary scene has blossomed. Today, there are lively street food markets, cosy food-led country pubs and charming beachside cafés in all corners of the county. Here, we’ve encapsulated why Norfolk is such a special place to eat and drink.

Location, location, location

Known as the UK’s breadbasket, Norfolk is home to brilliant produce, thanks in large part to its fertile soil and temperate, maritime climate, which creates perfect conditions for crops including wheat and barley. Farmers grow everything from broccoli to sprouts and cauliflower to asparagus, but the area is also known for pig and poultry farming, with East Anglia home to a quarter of the national herd of pigs. Off its coast, fishermen's catches include lobster, crab and mussels. Though Norfolk's Cromer crab is usually smaller than other varieties, the nutrient-rich water of the North Sea chalk reefs causes the crabs to mature more slowly, creating a distinctively delicate, sweet flavour, with a higher white-to-brown meat ratio. 

The county’s farming history means that produce is reared, grown and fished by people whose families have done so for decades. John Davies, for example, is an eighth generation crab fisherman who grew up aboard his father’s trawler, while James Peele is the fourth generation of his family to rear Norfolk Black turkeys. Elsewhere, there's the award-winning cheesemaker Catherine Temple, saffron expert Dr Sally Francis and Nurtured in Norfolk, a micro-herb nursery which supplies restaurants around the country – and that's just the tip of the iceberg. From honey to oil and charcuterie to flour, there are producers around every corner. 

Fine dining and local favourites

That rich bounty is put to good use in Norfolk's restaurants, from the likes of Kevin Mangeolles' The Neptune and Greg Anderson's Meadowsweet, both which boast Michelin stars, to fine dining spots like Richard Bainbridge's Benedicts, as well as many neighbourhood favourites. Chef Galton Blackiston, who runs one-star Morston Hall on the north Norfolk coast, works with local artisan producers and grows his own produce. There, the menus change daily, inspired by what’s available. ‘It makes sense to play by the seasons,’ Galton says. ‘Springtime in Norfolk heralds asparagus, strawberries from Sharrington and soft fruits from Wiveton Hall. Then, as asparagus starts to finish, you start on samphire in the marshes and the waters start to get warmer, so it’s the season for crab and lobster. It’s playing it month by month, a lovely way of working. People like to know where the produce has come from, they like to know we are using local crab, lobster and mussels.’

There's culinary creativity happening across Norfolk, from chef Shun Tomii's sushi and otsumami at Shiki in Norwich, a stone's throw from Thomas Aubrit's classic French cooking at L'Hexagone, Oliver Boon's modern Italian cuisine at Benoli, Iain McCarten's ethical, local flavours at The Last and the fusion flavours of Jimmy Preston's XO Kitchen. Further afield, there's the seasonal menus of Andrew Jones' The Dial House, Liam Nichols' tasting menu restaurant Store, husband and wife Aga and Lewis King's The Old Bank and plenty of brilliant chefs by the coast – but more on those below.

On the market

Sandwiches from The Big Deal's Bodega Norwich
Chilean market stall Cocina Mia

Like the rest of the country, Norfolk has enjoyed the last decade’s street food revolution, with its historic pubs in particular finding new focuses as venues for pop-ups and residencies. While there are honourable mentions across the county – Norwich’s Junkyard Market and west Norfolk’s The Ffolkes among them – there are few places where that has been better shown than at Norwich Market. One of the largest and longest-running open-air markets in the country, its colourful stalls are a city institution, but it has enjoyed a street food reawakening, with everything from empanadas at Cocina Mia to churros at Churros for the People and New York-style sandwiches at The Big Deal's Bodega Norwich to fusion noodles at Fresh, which now sit alongside market classics like fish and chips and bacon butties.

It has also become a launchpad for chefs exploring new concepts, thanks to fewer overheads and lower costs. Chef Timothy Irven, who previously cooked at Michelin-starred Brasserie Chavot in Mayfair, launched Japanese street food stall Bun Box in 2017. ‘There were a lot of empty stalls and the market was feeling a bit sorry for itself,’ he smiles. ‘It needed a resurgence and that was definitely led by all the street food at the time. That buzz was really alive around the country and it tapped into a market of people wanting a quick lunch which was tasty and cooked fresh.’ Bun Box has since quadrupled in size, and given its chef the experience and platform to go onto to launch his first bricks and mortar site, Boston House, last year.

Barley, brewers and beers

Sculthorpe Mill in Norfolk
Miranda Hudson and Derek Bates, of Duration Brewing

There’s an oft-repeated saying which claims Norwich once had a pub for every day of the year (and, for that matter, a church for every week), but it isn’t quite true; it once had many more. Though that may no longer be the case, the city prides itself on its pubs, which offer something for everyone – history buffs should try the Adam and Eve (parts of which date back to 1249), beer aficionados should sample the range at The Fat Cat and foodies would be wise to head to The Rosebery, or The Vine Thai (which doubles as the city's smallest pub and a Thai restaurant). Or, for a whistle-stop tour of all of the above, head to Norwich during its City of Ale festival, which is packed with trails and tastings.

Norfolk's ale culture is not limited to Norwich – whether you're keeping warm on a blustery day or unwinding in a beer garden, country pubs are certainly not in short supply, with plenty, including the Gunton Arms, Duck Inn, Recruiting Sergeant and Sculthorpe Mill, serving outstanding food. And its links to beer begin long before a pint is pulled – north Norfolk in particular produces quality malt barley, with Crisp Malt among those exporting it across the world. Across the county there are more than fifty breweries, from the likes of Duration Brewing in the west to Barsham Brewery in the north and Wildcraft Brewery near the Broads. And if beer isn’t your tipple, you can visit the award-winning vineyards and gin and whisky distilleries which call Norfolk home.

A view to dine for

No 1 Cromer fish and chip restaurant
The view from The White Horse at Brancaster Staithe

Those who have visited Norfolk will most likely have holidayed by the coast; spotting the seals at Horsey, photographing the rainbow beach huts at Wells or exploring Cromer pier. Today, some of the county's best places to eat can be found by the sea, including Socius in Burnham Market and The White Horse at Brancaster Staithe, which boasts stunning views over the tidal marshes. Part and parcel of any good trip to the seaside is fish and chips, wrapped in newspaper and ideally devoured with a view. In Norfolk, there's no end of places to grab a portion of cod and chips – Galton has opened his own restaurant, No 1 Cromer, while French’s at Wells and Mary Jane’s in Cromer are among the local favourites (expect to queue in peak season). There’s also Eric’s Fish and Chips, set up by Titchwell Manor chef Eric Snaith, and, further inland, Grosvenor Fish Bar in Norwich.

Whether you sample its fantastic fine dining restaurants, tour flavours from around the world at Norwich market or tuck into fresh Cromer crab by the sea, there's plenty for food-lovers to explore in Norfolk.

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