Din­ing re­view

Liv­ing in a home where meat is in­fre­quently served meant that DO­MINIC CAS­TLE was an­tic­i­pat­ing a visit to the Er­p­ing­ham Arms with par­tic­u­lar rel­ish

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

We visit the Er­p­ing­ham Arms, near Ayl­sham

In an idle mo­ment the other day I pon­dered on what ad­van­tages there are to be­ing the pas­sive half of a pesc­etar­ian house­hold. Cer­tainly I’m fond of a nice piece of salmon or cod and will travel a dis­tance for a good prawn, but there are oc­ca­sions (veg­e­tar­i­ans look away now) when the soul cries for a good sim­ple hunk of steak.

This is not a com­plaint against the driv­ing force be­hind our fish-and-veg­etable-based diet; the present Mrs Cas­tle says she would be happy to cook meat for me but it seems a bit un­fair to ask the poor girl to get busy with a bit of beef when she would clearly pre­fer not to. And thus weeks, months even, may pass with­out a meaty morsel pass­ing my palate.

So when I landed the gig to re­view the Er­p­ing­ham Arms I called up the on­line menu with greedy hope in my heart. And deep joy there it was, a line of much prom­ise; roasted beef fil­let, mush­room puree, fon­dant potato, cele­riac, red wine jus.

A steak is a de­cep­tively sim­ple thing, easy to get right, easy to get very wrong. Any­one who or­ders it in a restau­rant they’ve not eaten in be­fore does so with a lit­tle tin­gle of an­tic­i­pa­tion. Is the beef good qual­ity, is it the right age, cut prop­erly, rested for just the right length of time? Does the chef know his or her fil­let from their el­bow?

I’m here to say that as far as Er­p­ing­ham goes, all an­swers are in the af­fir­ma­tive.

It was ac­tu­ally the best steak I can re­call eat­ing for a very long time in­deed

My steak came ex­actly as I’d imag­ined, caramelise­d to per­fec­tion on the out­side, cooked pre­cisely as re­quested on the in­side. I’m push­ing against the fash­ion­able tide here but I don’t like meat so rare that it quivers; I’m not a vam­pire or a zom­bie so don’t like it raw, if that’s all the same.

It was ac­tu­ally the best steak I can re­call eat­ing for a very long time in­deed, and while it was the Os­car-win­ner of the plate the sup­port­ing cast of veg­eta­bles and an exquisite mush­room puree were up to the task. It was sim­ple fare, ex­cel­lently done and one can ask no more. A thor­oughly de­cent Mer­lot added to the ex­pe­ri­ence.

The warm-up had been pretty fine as well; scallops with a won­der­fully soft, creamy pearl bar­ley risotto, and a cheek­ily sharp crunch of ap­ple. My pesc­etar­ian friend se­lected wild mush­room, spinach and ri­cotta ravi­oli with a leek veloute, declar­ing it very flavour­some in­deed though ob­serv­ing – she’s a keen MasterChef viewer – that the pasta could have been a lit­tle thinner and the ravi­oli bet­ter sealed.

She se­lected the monk­fish for her main course – medal­lions, squash fon­dant, braised leeks, thyme beurre blanc – and was a happy fish-eater.

So to dessert. Any­thing with the words ‘sticky’ and ‘tof­fee’ in the name is self-se­lect­ing for me and sticky tof­fee ap­ple crum­ble tart, honey and vanilla mas­car­pone and tof­fee ap­ple, pushed many but­tons. Mrs C had a retro mo­ment and chose a baked Alaska with kirsch-soaked cher­ries.

Both were good; my choice had plenty of good flavour and tex­tures and her­self en­joyed the supersoft meringue and small, sweet, boozy cher­ries, though – MasterChef again – felt that the base could have slimmed down a bit.

The pub, un­der new man­age­ment, is cer­tainly a smart des­ti­na­tion, bang on trend with decor and pos­sess­ing a vol­canic log­burner for which we were grate­ful on the chilly Fe­bru­ary night of our visit. Ser­vice was OK, friendly enough, if a lit­tle ab­sent-minded.

Back in the day Mrs C used to re­side near Er­p­ing­ham when the pub was called the Spread Ea­gle; why the name was changed is any­one’s guess but it has cer­tainly grown wings.Š

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