North Lopham: King’s Head
So many beer festivals, so little time. Spoilt for choice SARAH BREALEY heads to North Lopham and enjoys the festival spirit at the King's Head.
It's not easy when there are so many beer festivals to choose from. It was Easter weekend and half the pubs in Norfolk were putting on beer festivals – but which to sample?
Eventually we opted for two on the basis that they were near each other - the sausage and ale festival at the King's Head in North Lopham, near Diss, followed by the Bell's beer festival at the village hall in Rickinghall.
The King's Head is owned and run by George and Angie Estcourt, who previously ran The Cross Keys in nearby Redgrave. (It is also Breckland Council leader William Nunn's local.)
It has bags of character – thatched roof, inglenook fireplace and oak beams. The large and pleasant garden can be a venue for a game of crazy golf, or just admiring the pretty pub and soaking up the sun.
There is a bar menu with jacket potatoes, sandwiches and simple dishes like burgers and ham, egg and chips, plus a main menu with choices including steak or salmon fillet in lime, chilli and coriander butter. There are vegetarian and gluten-free options, too.
We started with deep-fried whitebait and mushrooms with Stilton on ciabatta. The whitebait were served with buttered bread, and were quite enjoyable, though not the largest portion I have seen.
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The mushrooms were garlicky with just a hint of Stilton, and lots of creamy sauce which soaked into the bread.
I've certainly seen bigger beer festivals but when it came to sausages the choice was amazing – no less than 95 varieties, though I think the tally was rather lower than that by the end of the weekend.
The Real Ale Drinker had a cracked black pepper, chilli and garlic sausage from Norwich sausage specialist Pickering's, made to a Polish recipe, alongside the brilliantly-named Piggy Black from Crombie's in Edinburgh. The former was really very peppery, and made an unusual change, while the latter had pieces of black pudding throughout, adding an extra richness of flavour.
He had it with chips and beans, though everything from mash to Yorkshire pudding to fried onions was also available as an accompaniment. Sadly this sausage spectacular is not a frequent occurrence, but sausage lovers will be relieved to know that you can get sausage, egg and chips on the bar menu as a matter of course – probably not with 95 varieties, though.
Back to the normal menu, I had the home-made vegetable lasagne, served with chips and salad. Brownie points were immediately scored by serving the dressing for the salad separately, in a little jug.
I don't really like salad dressing, and seeing as this is supposed to be the healthy component of the meal, it seems silly to cover it in fat – so I was pleased to be able to have my salad naked. The lasagne was very nice, generously filled with roasted Mediterranean vegetables and topped with cheese. We both thought the chips would have benefited from about 30 seconds longer in the fryer.
We rounded off with a treacle sponge and a spotted dick (always an opportunity for some schoolboy humour).
We suspected these were not home-made, though there are generally some home-made options on the specials board. I thought the spotted dick slightly had the edge – a bit lighter, and filled with plenty of raisins, though the treacle sponge was good too. Treacle sponge, as fans of the pudding will know, does not contain treacle but rather golden syrup – rather like treacle tart.
In fact treacle originally meant any kind of sugar syrup – so golden syrup is light treacle, as opposed to dark or black treacle, which is the kind we think of as treacle today.
Outside of festival time you should still find several real ales, which usually include Adnams Bitter and Woodforde's Wherry.
For us it was time to move on to Rickinghall, well-fortified for the journey. Beer, sausages and the sun even shone – what could be more perfect for an English bank holiday?
The King's Head
l Open: Food served Wed-Sun 12pm–2pm/6–9pm (closed Sun evening)
l Price: Sunday roast �7.50
l Vegetarian options: Reasonable selection, plus gluten-free options
l Wheelchair access: Yes