Dining on the north Norfolk coast before it was as trendy as it is today

Judging from their entries in their 1956 guide to good eating, Bon Viveur ( Fanny and Johnny Cradock ) had nice things to say about eateries in coastal Norfolk. Here are two of the restaurants they wrote about:

The Golden Lion Hotel, Hunstanton.

Nearest railway station: Hunstanton.

This is a place to take the family in summer for a seaside holiday. It is a solid hotel solidly set down at right angles to the sea and the golden sands. We can still remember a guinea fowl and an apricot pie  with fresh cream at astonishingly moderate fee and the samphire ( seaweed) which grows hereabouts and which chef serves among his hors d’oeuvre. His Norfolk Mussels Meuniere are likewise delectable.

Bed and breakfast 19s. 6d.

En pension from 35s.

Breakfast from 4s. 6d.

Luncheon 6s. 6d. to 7s. 6d.

Dinner –8s.6d. to 10s.6d.

Along the coast from here, at Snettisham, the pickling of samphire still goes on in the cottages. The old ’uns in the village will reminisce of mussel and Stewkey Blue cockle collecting which was done in those days in tiny carts drawn by St Bernard dogs. Inland, you must explore the stately homes of the county—Raynham Hall, seat of ‘Turnip’ Townsend, designed by Inigo Jones; Blickling Hall, Jacobean architectural jewel, and Holkham Hall, enshrined in Ilex Groves.

A recent visit in late May by your Jotter confirmed that Hunstanton on a hot summer’s day is still an attractive holiday spot for families , with its funfair, crazy golf  and  golden sands extending four miles down to Snettisham, where incidentally eight years before this entry was written the largest trove of Iron Age gold and silver in Europe was discovered in a field by a local ploughman, an event commemorated today in the name of the antiquarian bookshop in the village ( Torc Books). Some of the old cottages where samphire was pickled are doubtless  holiday homes, though samphire ( which is not botanically speaking a seaweed ) still grows on the mudflats in north Norfolk, although mussel and cockle collecting has long gone.

The station at Hunstanton is now a huge car park, but the imposing Golden Lion Hotel, the oldest building in the town( 1846) is still there, though  a double room without breakfast will now set you back £120. The restaurant  still serves samphire as a starter , but guinea fowl, mussels and apricot tart  have been replaced by steaks, the inevitable sea bass and vegetarian options.

 Gasche’s Swiss Restaurant, Weybourne.

Nearest railway station: Weybourne.

You may imagine yourself in some Swiss chalet here—with mat flooring, wall souvenirs and pictures of Swiss girls in traditional dress. The food is excellent and M. Gasche an artist in the kitchen, whether preparing hors d’oeuvre with ‘ real ‘ mayonnaise , Filet de Boeuf Bearnaise and the vegetables turned in butter, Sole St Jacques, or a delicate Crepe Flambee. You will enjoy talking to him about wine, which he loves and understands, and making your selection under his guidance from the fairly-priced, interesting wine list. Meals both table d’ hote and al a carte , and neither are prohibitive.

  • Luncheons 5s. 6d and a la carte.
  • Dinners 9s.6d and a la carte.
  • From here you should head through Breckland, all marsh and salting, building up to the fowler’s paradise of Blakeney. Give yourself time to observe the eerie quality of the sunsets in this area. They are unforgettable.
  • Gasche’s Swiss Restaurant has long gone, but the eighteenth century flint and brick cottage which housed it is now for sale for a very reasonable £600,000. It is difficult to imagine from the photos supplied by the estate agent what the restaurant once looked like. Gone is the floor matting and pictures of demure Swiss girls. Instead what we have is a rather conventionally furnished and decidedly uninspiring interior. It is also unlikely that you will find any Filets de Bouef or Crepes Flambee on offer at any of the restaurants in nearly Holt, unless one of M. Gasche’s admirers decided to follow his example and open another Swiss restaurant there.
  • Incidentally, Weybourn station, which was one of the casualties of Mr Beeching’s evil scheme is now open again as part of the private line between Holt and Sheringham. 
  • It is puzzling that Fanny and Johnny describe the coastal area around Holt and Blakeney as ‘ Breckland’. It isn’t. Breckland is the huge swathe of open, forested territory centred on Thetford, famously used by the producers of the popular TV comedy show Dad’s Army. But they were right about the sunsets in this part of coastal Norfolk.
  • R. M. Healey

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