Letheringsett: King’s Head
New Zealand chef Chris Coubrough's food empire includes the King's Head at Letheringsett. SARAH BREALEY revisits a legendary Norfolk gastropub.
New Zealand chef Chris Coubrough's food empire has been growing faster than an asparagus stalk in May.
As we previously reported on these pages, the White Hart in Hingham is the latest addition, but I decided to return to one of his longer-established gastropubs, the King's Head in Letheringsett, which was last year crowned the Good Pub Guide's dining pub of the year.
The pub is in a sprawling old building smartly done out in creams and taupes and olives. (The precise names of these upmarket paint colours are written on the walls, for no obvious reason, apart from that it might make repainting a simpler job.) There are book-lined shelves and comfortable sofas and a rather nice mirror.
We skipped starters, although we very nearly opted for the soup of the day, an unusual but tasty-sounding celeriac and pear. Other starters might include pork belly with black pudding, home-cured beetroot gravadlax with sultana bread, or a caramelised onion and goats' cheese tartlet. You can also have nibbles such as hummus and tapenade with breadsticks, a Blakeney oyster with lemon and Tabasco, or just hand cut chips (at �4.50, competing for the title of the county's priciest chips, though I haven't sampled them to be able to judge whether they are worth it.) Mushrooms with a sweet potato and herb crust, topped with a slice of goats cheese, were pitched just right - simple enough to make you feel you could do it yourself, and hence not intimidatingly restaurant-y for a pub, but with quite a cleverly delicious mixture of flavours. The sweetness of the vegetables was set against the creamy sharp-ness of the cheese, and then the earthiness of the flat mushrooms provided the background. It came with some rocket leaves and a swirl of balsamic, but as a hungry person, I would have preferred to see it served with some side vegetables - mushrooms, even potato-topped ones, are not the most substantial food on the planet.
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The Real Ale Drinker had chump of lamb marinated in rosemary and garlic, served on dauphinoise potatoes and with some elegant baby vegetables. It had a lot of gravy, sorry jus, which had seeped its way into the potatoes, which was not necessarily a bad thing. The meat itself was very good: very tender, very tasty.
We finished with a sticky ginger pudding with toffee sauce, and a plum and almond Bakewell tart. I asked whether the ginger pudding could come with custard. 'We don't have custard, we have anglaise' was the answer. I always thought cr�me anglaise was just posh for custard, but there you go. In any case the pudding came without the ang-laise, though this was not too much of a disappointment, as the pudding was both rich and light, suitably sticky and with quite a punch from the ginger.
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The Bakewell tart was also well done, nicely fruity and with a freshly-baked taste. It did come with cr�me anglaise as advertised, which for the record, was not noticeably different from proper custard (by which I mean the kind made with eggs and vanilla, not the sort made from powder or out of a tin).
Sunday lunches are very popular at the King's Head, and as well as the full menu there is a Sunday lunch menu, which works out a bit cheaper if you want more than one course, and includes a traditional roast among other options. At lunchtimes it is particularly popular with families, and there is a special children's menu as well as a play castle and maze outside.
The wine list is quite extensive, starting at around �14 and helpfully arranged by style. There is quite a good selection by the glass, and some half-bottles too. The list even includes a Spanish white which, we are told, is the most popular wine at the triple-Michelin-starred El Bulli, said to be the best restaurant in the world. There are real ales as well, including their own house beer.
At �13 to �19 for mains, and �6 to �7 for starters and desserts, the King's Head's prices place it firmly at the gastro end of gastro pub. Still, the food nearly always delivers. Myself, I wouldn't mind slightly bigger portions in places for those prices, but at least the quality shines through.
Open: Lunch 12pm- 2.30pm; dinner service 6.30pm-9.30pm
Prices: Starters from �5.95, mains from �12.95, desserts from �4.95
Vegetarian options: Reasonable selection
Wheelchair access: Yes