Happy East Hills

Feel-good food from Brun­dall

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

FOOD CAN be a great com­forter. A warm­ing hearty stew on a raw win­ter’s day, a restora­tive bowl of chicken soup for the poorly, a square or two of good choco­late to lift a tem­po­rary gloom; there are many ex­am­ples of how our re­la­tion­ship with food goes deeper than mere nour­ish­ment.

With this in mind the present Mrs Cas­tle and I set off on a damp Satur­day, a lit­tle gloomily, to spend an evening at the East Hills Café & Bistro in Brun­dall.

I should say straight away that our mood had noth­ing at all to do with our des­ti­na­tion. You see we had just waved our only son off at the air­port as he re­turned to his home in China; he had flown back to Nor­folk (God bless lit­tle Nor­wich In­ter­na­tional Air­port) for a visit which was over way too soon. We don’t know when we’ll see him again and this was the rea­son for our at­tack of the glums.

But a ta­ble had been booked so it was to East Hills we re­paired rea­son­ing that what­ever hap­pened at least we wouldn’t have to do the wash­ing up.

Those who know Brun­dall and the very flat lands near­abouts will rea­son­ably won­der where these East Hills are; they are in fact ad­ja­cent to Wells-next-the-Sea, a favourite spot of the owner, So­phie Hodgkin­son.

Ac­tu­ally, this bistro/café might bet­ter be called the Phoenix. It opened last year above a chan­dlery – which caught fire a few weeks later, badly dam­ag­ing both busi­nesses. How­ever So­phie, who to add to mix was also ex­pect­ing a baby, and hus­band John didn’t let a lit­tle thing like a fire stop their dream and af­ter what must have been an im­mense ef­fort East Hills re­opened ear­lier this year to gen­eral ac­claim.

It is a very nice space in­deed, tucked away in the ma­rina and with com­mand­ing views of some lav­ish boats, full of light (there is an out­side ve­ran­dah as well as the in­door seat­ing area) and taste­fully dec­o­rated with plenty of scrubbed wood and soft colours.

The first thing noted with ap­proval was that the menu was sen­si­bly short. For my two penn’orth too many places over-prom­ise on the menu and un­der­de­liver on the plate; East Hills sticks to a hand­ful of starters, main cour­ses and desserts, backed up with some more

ad­ven­tur­ous daily spe­cials, all with in­gre­di­ents lo­cally sourced where pos­si­ble. Tick.

We were start­ing to cheer up a bit when the starters ar­rived; a pork and cider ter­rine with a dol­lop of zingy plum chut­ney and thick toast for me, a dozen skew­ered prawns dusted in pa­prika and served with gar­lic mayo for her­self. The ter­rine was prop­erly meaty, beau­ti­fully flavour­some and the prawns, though not large, were sweet and juicy.

The pesky pesc­etar­ian in the party went full veg­gie and asked for pear and blue cheese tart, listed as a starter, for her main course; the cheer­ful server was happy to oblige with a dou­ble help­ing. The fill­ing was de­light­ful, ac­cord­ing to the PMC, all fine flavours and good tex­ture.

My Ca­jun chicken and chilli sauce was pretty much spot on. Thin pieces of chicken can be dry, but mine had re­tained its mois­ture, as­sisted by a sauce that stayed the right side of hot. It was served on a hill of sauté spuds and a dish of pos­si­bly the best-cooked veg­eta­bles I have been served in any restau­rant; the colours were vi­brant, greens and car­rots were all crunchy and fresh and tasted as if they had left the gar­den min­utes ago.

We were pretty much brimmed by the first two cour­ses so com­pro­mised with a zesty man­darin sor­bet for me and a scoop of minty ice cream for her­self to end the feast. Neigh­bours with bet­ter ca­pac­ity were busy get­ting out­side some tremen­dous-look­ing brown­ies and Eton Messes; another time, per­haps.

Another de­light was to come in the shape of the bill which, ex­clud­ing a bot­tle of rea­son­ably priced Mer­lot, came in at a smidge over £40.

And so we am­bled off into the night, feel­ing a lit­tle heav­ier but con­sid­er­ably hap­pier than we had when we’d come in. Can’t ask for bet­ter than that, can you?

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