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