Best in Norfolk!
PUBLISHED: 05:21 01 December 2014
Reviewed: The Berney Arms, Barton Bendish, PE33 9GF, 01366 347995
Tiny Barton Bendish is tucked away in the lanes between Swaffham and Downham Market. It’s not the kind of place you chance upon. With even its pretty main street, of church and pub and village hall, a dead-end, you need to want to come here. And, it turns out, there are a great many reasons for wanting to come to Barton Bendish.
There are two beautiful medieval churches, a scattering of pretty cottages and historic halls – and the best pub in Norfolk.
The Barton Bendish Berney Arms has just been named Best Pub in the EDP Norfolk Food and Drink Awards 2014, in association with the East of England Co-Cop. Judges called it “a perfect mix of quality food, service and environment”.
We arrived for Sunday lunch just days after its award had been announced, and began with a drink in the bar where fellow customers included smart couples, perhaps enjoying a peaceful weekend away in one of the pub’s lovely rooms created from the old stable-block and each with their own tiny garden. Then there was a group of ramblers who had called in for a drink, and the lucky regulars settling down for lunch and a chat.
Our table was in the pretty restaurant – a beautifully restored room running the length of the pub, its rustic décor set off with white tablecloths and crockery and silver candlesticks. It’s a fine-dining look, and the menu is suitably infused with locally sourced ingredients combined with the flair of a confident chef. But the prices are far from high falutin’. These are pub prices. Most of the main courses come in at under £10; the home-prepared puddings are around £5.50 and substantial.
We started with a poached apple and goats cheese mousse with red pepper crust and a crown of parma ham for me and a marinated seafood cocktail for my husband. My mousse was rich and smooth, its appley sweetness offset by the tang of the cheese. It was a fantastic way to start a dinner, a dish new to me, full of flavour and full of promise too.
For my mains there was more cheese, in the spinach, feta and mushroom lasagne with parmesan sauce and olive, red onion and sun blush tomato salad, with garlic bread. The only downside to this delicious and generously portioned lunch was that cheesecake for dessert seemed a cheese course too far. So I had to settle for helping Howard with his summer berry trifle, which was no hardship.
He had ordered slow roast belly pork, beetroot and potato gratin, with Aspall’s cream and beetroot puree. It was excellent too.
Even with a glass of wine each, a drink in the bar beforehand, a bottle of sparkling water and two coffees, the bill didn’t hit £60.
Service, as might be expected in the best pub in the county, was friendly, knowledgeable and attentive.
The 200 souls of Barton Bendish are lucky people with their village green and village pub, two historic halls, two medieval churches, plus a custom-made replica of the nearest tower in the pub garden as part of a fantastically imaginative children’s play area. Yes, this is not just a thriving village hub, but a pub and restaurant so good it is a destination in itself.
The Berney Arms, Church Road, Barton Bendish, PE33 9GF; 01366 347995;
Phil and Sue Hirst run the Berney Arms, which was named Best Pub at the EDP Norfolk Food and Drink Awards 2014, in association with the East of England Co-Op.
“We were delighted and surprised,” says Sue. “We were up against some very strong competition. It’s a great honour and we couldn’t have done it without our fantastic team of staff.”
The pub runs quiz nights, wine tastings and international theme evenings with food and music, as well as helping fundraise for the village church. The talented head chef is Ben Lanchester.
“As a pub on a very close-knit estate we are extremely lucky to have all the produce from the beautiful Victorian walled garden at Barton Hall, which is tended and maintained by the estate’s gardening team and has been outstanding this year,” says Sue.
The Hirsts arrived at the Berney Arms nine years ago (when it was called the Spread Eagle,) took a break for health reasons, and were delighted to be asked to return. “We didn’t really ever want to leave Barton Bendish as we fell in love with it the moment we saw it. It’s a lovely pub set in a beautiful village. We have great, very supportive customers, who we would like to thank for nominating us.”