Happy East Hills
Feel-good food from Brundall
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?