A feast at the ’beest
The Wildebeest in Stoke Holy Cross has been a fixture on the Norfolk pub scene for decades - so how does it fare as a fine dining experience? Rachel Buller found out
We dine out in style at The Wildebeest
The caramelised oranges and blood orange sorbet were a sensational match with the marquise; it was dish you didn’t want to end
ON a Thursday night in the rain, the Wildebeest is buzzing, with most tables full and plenty of people propping up the bar – always a good sign in a local pub.
But this is a lot more than a local pub. The team here have their eyes on the prize – serving top end food and maybe picking up a few foodie accolades and awards on the way.
The Wildebeest has long been a name on the Norfolk pub and restaurant scene and there is always a familiar nod when you mention it. Two years ago it was taken over by the team behind The Ingham Swan and the Warwick Street Social in the city - with award-winning chef patron Daniel Smith at the helm.
And his influence shows the minute you walk through the door. A glimpse at the menu tells you quite clearly that this is all about fine dining. There are emulsions, crumbs, puffs and confit, unusual vegetables are delicately pickled and the temperature at which the fish is poached is proudly stated for all to see.
But the tag here is ‘relaxed fine dining’ and for all the fanciness of the dishes, it is still very much a pub atmosphere, with old wooden floors, mis-shapen hunks of polished wood as its tables and a bar at its centre.
And you don’t have to go down the a la carte route, you can opt for the set lunch or dinner de jour – a two or three course set menu offering great value. The a la carte menu though is fabulously varied and is packed with intriguing, exciting dishes with a clear focus on local, seasonal ingredients.
For starters we opted for the locally foraged Chanterelle mushrooms, crispy Wissington polenta, broad beans, puff potato, parsley cress and herb oil, and the duo of Dingley Dell pork; glazed cheek and bacon, apple, sage and pork puff.
Both dishes looked beautiful and tasted pretty good too - the polenta and puff potato were delicious and a great contrast in texture from the mushrooms, which were not quite salty enough or as deep in earthy flavour as you would perhaps want. The pork was tender and beautifully cooked and you can’t go wrong pairing it with its roast dinner bedfellows, sage and apple – the only complaint was that there could have been more!
For main course, there was only one choice for my husband – the char-grilled beef fillet, truffled mash potato, local Swiss chard, salsa verde, Tacons Romanesque and purple cauliflower, pine nuts and red wine jus.
And what a dish it is; the beef was mouth-wateringly tender; the truffled mash potato rich and wonderfully pungent and the Romanesqe and purple cauliflower the perfect accompaniment.
For me it was the poached halibut – cooked at 56°C (I know this from the menu), with a crispy bacon crumb, garlic and chive potato gnocchi, broad beans, peas, pancetta, pickled shallots and tarragon cream.
The fish was cooked perfectly, firm but delicate and the bacon crumb, pancetta and delicious broad beans added a salty and sweet flavour. Special mention also goes to the fabulously hearty gnocchi and the tarragon cream which brought it all together.
The dessert menu at the Wildebeest is short but sweet and matched with a fabulous selection of cheeses – you can pick and choose according to your taste and create your own plate which is a nice touch.
But for us it was to be a sweet end to the meal, with the absolutely luscious lemon meringue honeycomb, Chantilly cream and pistachio crumb and the ridiculously rich dark chocolate marquise, accompanied with crème fraiche, caramelised oranges, blood orange sorbet, tempered chocolate and chocolate soil. The caramelised oranges and blood orange sorbet were a sensational match with the marquise; it was dish you didn’t want to end.
The food at the Wildebeest is excellent, the atmosphere is buzzing and it is hard to find fault - but occasionally you can’t help wonder that when it comes to all those fancy elements, less is sometimes more.
The Wildebeest, Stoke Holy Cross, near Norwich.
Stylish interior at The Wildebeest
Fine dining at The Wildebeest