The best restaurants in Norfolk according to the AA Guide
- Credit: Denise Bradley
Each year the AA awards its coveted Rosettes to restaurants which have impressed inspectors with their culinary excellence.
Out of the tens of thousands of restaurants in the country, 2,000 make the list, on a sliding scale of one to five Rosettes.
Three and four Rosette awards are announced twice during the year.
Three Rosettes are awarded to outstanding restaurants which achieve standards that demand recognition beyond their local area, while four Rosettes denote that the establishment's cooking is among the best in the UK and demands national recognition.
Here in Norfolk, five restaurants have recently gained or retained three or four rosettes.
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AA inspectors credit Benedicts in Norwich with firmly establishing the city on the UK's foodie firmament and have nothing but praise for chef-patron Richard Bainbridge's "exciting 21st century food" and the restaurant's "pared-back Scandi-chic look".
Dishes on the menu which wowed the inspectors included a starter of Thornage Hall beetroot tartare with confit egg yolk, pickled onion and chervil, a main of Skrei cod with parsnip, roasted onions and shellfish bisque and Richard's Great British Menu-winning dessert, Nanny Bush's Trifle.
Roger Hickmans, Norwich
Inspectors describe Roger Hickman's cooking as "refined, stylishly presented and demonstrates a fine grasp of technique and seasonal opportunities", with a wine list that is well worth exploring.
The chef-proprietor has held three AA Rosettes every year since 2012, just two years since he opened the restaurant in Upper St Giles.
He says: “When we opened we said we wanted to be both the best fine dining experience in Norwich and a food destination for people coming from further afield, and holding three AA Rosettes throughout that period shows that we are achieving those aims.
“AA Rosettes are only awarded after visits by independent inspectors.
"That makes them amongst the most valued awards in the business, because they reflect an independent, objective opinion from hospitality experts.
"Our customers know that holding three AA Rosettes puts us in the top tier of restaurants, not just locally but in the UK – it is enormously valuable.”
Morston Hall, Blakeney
Galton and Tracy Blackiston’s passion "about the area and its magnificent produce" shines through in the cooking at Morston Hall, say the AA inspectors.
The 17th-century country house on the north Norfolk coast is "truly an idyllic escape from the daily grind" and the seven course tasting menu, served at a single setting starting with aperitifs from 7pm, "presents refined classical technique with contemporary verve and intricate yet seemingly effortless presentation".
They were impressed by the "spot on" timing of the Herdwick lamb "while roasted root vegetables add a lovely earthiness; light, crisply golden haggis complements the dish perfectly".
The cheese trolley also comes highly recommended, and the wine list "has lots of gems among its pages, and you're in safe hands if you opt for the wine flight."
Staying on the coast, inspectors say that the "gorgeous boutique hotel" Titchwell Manor is "firing on all cylinders" and that is it a location worth travelling for.
Much of the kitchen's seasonal veg, fruit and herbs are grown in the Manor's walled garden and "Chris Mann's cooking is adventurous, modern stuff built on his uncommon culinary ability and exciting dexterity with flavours and textures."
Expect innovative combinations, like a starter of beef consomme with short rib, caper jam and gruyere toast.
Fish is "imaginatively handled", such as turbot with crab bisque, pommes dauphine enriched with cod's roe, sea vegetables and nasturtium.
And the chocolate marquise "is as luscious as you'd hope for".
The Neptune, Hunstanton
A "top notch restaurant with rooms", inspectors were full of praise for how "much of the glorious regional bounty around these parts finds its way into Kevin Mangeolles’ kitchen".
And these ingredients are to the fore in dishes such as Brancaster mussels with Serrano ham and apple and Norfolk quail and truffle terrine.
The cooking has "classical roots and loads of good ideas," they say, with a "smart wine list [which] has good options by the glass and half bottle."