A knight out

PUBLISHED: 09:59 16 May 2013 | UPDATED: 09:59 16 May 2013

The Erpinham Arms at Erpingham near Aylsham. Home smoked pheasant starter.

The Erpinham Arms at Erpingham near Aylsham. Home smoked pheasant starter. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Archant Norfolk

The Erpingham Arms, a new name for the former Spread Eagle, now has a smart aura thanks to a lot of building work outside and probably remodelling inside.

Quite large, it doesn’t detract from the homely atmosphere with a long bar and restaurant with welcoming big wood burner (although initially this was rather smoky).

It seems surprising that a pub named after Sir Thomas Erpingham had not been in existence before. His arms are sophisticatedly displayed on the sign outside and on the menu - quite rightly because he was famous as the leader of King Henry V’s archers at the Battle of Agincourt and was immortalised in the William Shakespeare’s play Henry V.

The village is named after Erpingham Hundred, owned by the Erpinghams for many generations. As a benefactor of Norwich, who built a gate at the entrance of Norwich Cathedral, Sir Thomas is buried in the presbytery.

It was a quiet day at the pub and we sat at a table, snuggled up to the roaring fire. From the à la carte menu Da chose two starters and I had the conventional three courses. The young waitress was sweet and willing but was short of knowledge of the pub and the menu.

Da’s first starter was smoked salmon and chive cream cheese roulade, a perfectly simple starter but no chef’s guile to make it a passable presentation.

I chose the terrine of the day, which was well-seasoned, rather grainy but tasty. However I’m not sure which “day” it referred to, because it was an unappetizing grey colour as if it has been attacked by exposure to air or just plainly overcooked.

The chef’s chutney was served in rather large, rustic chunks and the mixed leaf salad was a couple of leaves of mundane lollo rosso and more adventurous rocket leaves. Surely a vegetable supplier will have a decent stock of mixed leaves these days.

Da second starter was home smoked local pheasant with celeriac remoulade. It was apparently lightly smoked to preserve the taste of the meat, although a game bird has enough gamey taste to allow more smoke-taste to enhance the character of the dish.

For some reason, the bird was shredded rather than finely sliced across the breast for a better presentation. She was disappointed by her choice but a very good side-order chips was a salvation.

My main course of roast partridge was a good-looking dish. Vegetables cooked well with an intense sauce, sweet and sour red cabbage with properly carved partridge off the breast bone after cooking.

A roast, small game like this is notoriously difficult to get right. It should be cooked very quickly, seared on the outside, cooked in the oven with basting and presented as rare or medium rare on the breast bone side. This had some extra minutes in the oven to make it well-done, therefore it was a little dry.

I ordered caramelised apple upside-down pudding with blackberry parfait and appreciated a good old-fashioned steam pudding with apple now at the bottom after de-moulding, and good foil of excellent tart parfait.

The Erpingham Arms, Eagle Road, Erpingham, NR11 7QA; 01263 761591; www.erpinghamarms.com

Meet the chef

Damien Woolard, head chef

Damien, born and raised in Aylsham area, had an inkling to be an electrician but no training gaps were available when he left school so the pot-wash at the Saracens Head under Robert Dawson-Smith beckoned. He worked under Andy Rudd (now executive chef at The Ship Inn, Black Boys and Recruiting Sergeant) at The Kings Head, in Coltishall, starting as a commis and ended up as a sous-chef. He moved to the Norfolk Mead down the road working with head chef Mark Hughes as a sous-chef, later returning to the Kings Head as a head chef. Then an opportunity came up to lead the kitchen team at the Erpingham Arms, and he has now been there for some 18 months. He would like to lean the food towards à la carte, concentrating on finer food and maybe an AA rosette.

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