PUBLISHED: 14:23 23 September 2013 | UPDATED: 09:27 27 March 2017
To comment about one of the pubs run by the MPW group puts me in an interesting position. Now, Marco Pierre White, the public face of the company, probably hasn't a clue who I am, but I visited his trendy and successful restaurant in Wandsworth in 1989. At that time I was looking for chairs to sit my clients on at my new restaurant in Norwich. Marco came out and we talked about the ins and outs of our restaurants (presumably Gordon Ramsey was in the kitchen, getting dirty, cleaning down the stoves). He told me he was going to revamp the restaurant and I got the chance to offer to take his chairs off him, so we did a deal and I hired a van and drove down to pick them up. Marco and his girlfriend were there and helped to load up and they were the greatest chairs - lasted me 20 years and saw me into retirement. What a pity we didn't bring them to Adlard's In The Country! So, I have this kind of one-sided bond with Marco and have followed his career with elation, surprise and sometimes sadness.
But now we are cruising through manicured Thornham, heading towards The Lifeboat, part of his portfolio. The restaurant mise-en-scène looks good. The undercloths are unusual - full leather hide and stunning - with attractive period-style lace overcloths. Each table has a ship’s type lamp overhead which gives a nautical feel. There are original cartoons by Jak, the Evening Standard cartoonist, on all walls - a distraction when/if conversation fails. The first contact was friendly and we were given a fine window table. Louise, normally a receptionist it transpired and subbing as our server, delivered a relaxed and efficient waiting style.
My starter was a classic corned beef hash, poached duck egg and Béarnaise sauce. The provenance of meat is questionable, but it seems it’s likely it didn’t come from the tin! Maybe from the cold beef from the roast, a traditional way of making it. Paired with onion, potato and gravy and here deep-fried to a hearty, tasty result. Poached egg and Béarnaise were good pairing. Avocado and crab passed the Da test in terms of freshness, texture and colour.
For her main, Wheeler’s classic fish pie, borrowed from the parent restaurant in the group, looked beautifully cheesy and an appetizingly golden-brown. Da thought that the smoked and unsmoked fish were limited in selection and it was difficult to find the promised prawns, but maybe after a full-blown Bank Holiday the catch was depleted. My main course, the half roast rosemary chicken made a sad presentation on the plate. The chicken had avoided high heat when cooking and the result was a pasty, anemic bird. On a bed of desultory cabbage, it was an unappetizing result.
To cheer myself up I ordered Box Tree Eton mess, a sentimental throw-back to the Box Tree Restaurant where MPW cut his teeth many years ago. Da, replete from her fish pie, went for the simple and welcome option of being able to choose just a scoop of ice cream and she went for the honeycomb and pronounced it delicious. Our helpful waitress answered all our queries about the provenance of bread, ice cream etc. Clearly they have sourced some good local products – no need for everything to be made in the kitchen.
It was a great location, one of the part of the enviable choices in north Norfolk.
The Lifeboat Inn, Ship Lane, Thornham, Norfolk, PE6 6LT; www.lifeboatinnthornham.com; 01485 512236
The wide menu includes:
Starters from £5.50 to £8.50
Fish dishes from £10.95 to £16.50
Meat dishes from £14.50 to £24.95
Desserts at £6