I love the spa. For a few hours, you are a mermaid. You are a celebrity. You are a child of pure waters and you smell like flowers. It’s like getting ready for bed for 5 hours, but with added swimming and possibly scones. You leave feeling relaxed and soothed, ready to go for a nice, warm dinner somewhere laid-back and with the kind of low-lighting that makes your new, reborn skin, glow.
This is exactly how I experienced the Brasserie at Barnham Broom last month, when they invited me to try out the hotel’s facilities first hand. Following a day at their spa (more on that another time), I spent an evening at the Brasserie, which has recently seen the arrival of new head chef, Mark Elvin.
You might recognise Mark’s name from other notable Norfolk establishments: he’s previously worked at both The Wildebeest and The Boars. Now, Mark is working alongside Executive Head Chef James Conway to take Barnham Broom’s Brasserie to new – exciting - strengths.
First impressions of the Brasserie are that it looks lovely. It’s decorated in chic, deep blues and dark wood furniture, with beautiful black and white photography all around, depicting some iconic Norfolk scenery. A particularly breath-taking photo of horses on a misty beach dominates the top of the room, and is dramatically illuminated against the dark wall.
My friend and I are shown to our seats: a cosy, private-ish booth tucked away in the corner of the restaurant. Again, this is an elegant and understated; a place that would be as perfect for a couple on a romantic break as it would for a group of friends who haven’t seen each other in ages.
Normally, I find a booth scenario intimidating. Something about the proximity, focussed lighting and lack of other distractions suddenly mean that my awkward mannerisms are magnified, and drink spillages and poor condiment decisions inevitably occur. I also find that your menu choices have to live up to the environment. One on one, when faced with a booth, I will confidently order a salad-to-impress.
However, this was perfect. The lighting was great (if you’re looking for somewhere flattering to take a date, this is the place), and the circular table and aspect of the area meant that you are able to position yourselves so that you can look out at the restaurant if you’d rather not eyeball your companion intently over dinner.
Looking at the menu, I’m equally put at ease; this is a menu of food that you love. Moules Marinière as a starter or main, peppered rare beef, Norfolk Brie fritter with pickled shallots, a brilliant chargrill section, textures of heritage beetroot with whipped goats’ cheese, and vegan shepherd’s pie with pickled red cabbage. Excellent.
I go for a glass of the Picpoul-de-Pinet upon recommendation, and my companion goes for a half pint of diet coke, because she’s feeling exotic.
As mentioned, we’re at the Brasserie post-spa, so my companion and I are not feeling particularly alert. This makes the decision of what to have for dinner more difficult. After making the decision not to go for a starter (absolutely no reflection on the choice of food available; we just wanted to maximise the impact of dessert), we were straight in for the main course.
I went for braised shank of lamb with parsley mash (£19.95). It was a tough choice between that and the day’s special, which was pan-fried sea trout, clam and prawn beurre blanc with tenderstem broccoli (£22.95). The toss up came down to which one I could have a side of pickled red cabbage with (my favourite), and the lamb won out. I did not regret my decision. The meat was beautifully cooked, and didn’t feel overly fatty in the way that lamb often does. The parsley mash was creamy and filling, and the pickled red cabbage cut through it neatly.
My companion opted for chargrilled chicken served with sweet potato fries and a salad dressed in tangy balsamic - comfort food, really, but the kind you’d struggle to make with half as much finesse at home.
So, we finish our main courses - thoughts so far? Perhaps it is the spa-effect, or perhaps it’s the wine - but the meal is an incredibly relaxed affair. The restaurant is beautiful and the service impeccable, but not stuffy. This is easy dining at its best.
We come, at last, to dessert. I have pinned high hopes on this course, having sacrificed one of the many tempting starters in order to make the most of what was on the menu for afters. My friends goes for the chocolate fondant, with orange mascarpone and candied hazelnuts. A strong choice. A safe choice.
I am feeling more daring. Even though I feel personally offended if a menu does not feature at least ONE chocolate option on the menu (I realise this probably makes me a bit of a philistine), tonight I felt like pushing the boundaries. Having spied it earlier in the night when we first glanced at the menu, I chose a pear tart tatin served with an absolute curveball of a gorgonzola ice-cream.
Another thing about dessert: you always want what you didn’t order. Or you want what you ordered AND what you didn’t. Luckily my friend is the generous type and we pre-arranged to go halves before the articles arrive.
When dessert does arrive, they look gorgeous. The chocolate fondant in particular photographs very well (great social currency, if you’re into that). Digging in, it lives up to its visual appeal, too. I love the fresh citrus with the warming mascarpone; it feels like a summer evening in Italy. The fondant melts in the middle with textbook perfection.
The tart tatin is perhaps not quite so cut and dry. Given the dessert- philistine thing, I find the gorgonzola ice cream a bit challenging. I can see how it works with the cosy and spicy fruit; the blue cheese and pears are a classic combination for salads and the like. In this context, the cheese ice cream was a bit too savoury for my personal taste; my friend however thought the pairing was beautiful.
At the end of the meal, we were both full and happy - and relaxed! By the time we left, the Brasserie was full, and there was a real atmosphere about the place of people just have a really good time. We headed home after dinner, however guests of the hotel - or those that just want to make the most of their evening - can relax with a coffee (or something stronger) in the lounge area next to the restaurant. A couple of sofas are arranged around a roaring fire, so I’d definitely recommend nabbing that seat if you’re visiting in colder months.
Fast forward a couple of weeks later, and I receive an email: New Menu at Barnham Broom. I instantly click on it and see there is new photography too. Opening the folder, and scrolling through the pictures, one by one I am joined by various colleagues looking over my shoulder. This new food looks amazing. On the menu there’s beautiful spring food such as Cromer crab with avocado, crab mayonnaise and crispy crab bon bon; caraway infused pork filet with fondant potato, shaved fennel and carrot and ginger puree; rum-soaked charred pineapple with coconut sorbet, pineapple and lime salsa and toasted coconut marshmallow. If you’re going to visit - and I recommend that you do - the time is surely now.