Thorpe Market: Gunton Arms

Situated in the glorious deer park surrounding Gunton Hall, The Gunton Arms is a traditional pub whose chef cooks from local ingredients including venison found on the doorstep. IAN COLLINS paid a visit.

Edward VII visited Gunton Park near Cromer for the shooting, feasting and cavorting. Now we can go to eat like kings, not to mention royal mistresses...

The former hunting lodge closest to Thorpe Market is thriving as the Gunton Arms, after owners Ivor and Sarah Braka ordered a fabulous refit and persuaded two key members of staff from Mark Hix's Soho restaurant to head for rural North Norfolk.

The Gunton Arms is situated in the 1,000 acre deer park which surrounds Gunton Hall, near Cromer. The park was created in the early 18th Century by the Harbord family and was comparable in scale to the great estates to the west, Holkham and Houghton.

The Park evolved over a 150 year period with a succession of great landscape architects being employed. The Gunton Arms, originally Steward's Farm, became the second house to Gunton Hall.

Now it looks as if the pub with rooms — one named the Langtry after the much-loved famous beauty and mistress of the future King Edward VII Lillie, a frequent visitor during the 1890s — has been flourishing for a couple of centuries rather than months.

Packed assemblies of all sorts make this both a hub for the local community and for fine diners from across and beyond the county. For now at least, it amounts to an amazing bargain.

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Manager Simone Baker is a charmer, and her partner — Stuart Tattersall — is the chef of dreams, often to be found tending an open grill with venison from the adjoining park (below a huge pair of elk antlers from an Irish peat bog).

Local fare heads the mighty menu — stonking starters including cauliflower soup with Dapple cheese straws (�4), Gunton smoked Loch Duart salmon with soda bread (�7) and mixed beets with Binham blue, watercress and pickled walnuts (�7.50).

Among a party of four relishing a long Sunday lunch, I went for a delicious main course of wild mushroom risotto (�11.50), though tempted by pollock fish fingers, chips and mushy peas (�9.50) and linguine with Bancaster mussels and chilli (�10.50).

I couldn't resist �2.50 side orders of sublime purple sprouting broccoli and blissful bubble and squeak,

Two wise friends shared a farmhouse chicken with stuffing, roast potatoes, parsnips, carrots and roast garlic bread sauce, and took a fair bit of the carcass home shrink-wrapped. A two-meal banquet for just �30.

We shouldn't have waded into the puddings - but did. Autumn pie (apple, pear and quince) with ice cream and shipwrecked tart (nougat, nuts, treacle) were �5 and �4.50 wonders.

Daily specials were red deer burger with winter slaw and chips (�10.50) and steamed ginger pudding (�4.50), and there's a range of stately sandwiches. The wine list alone is a Norfolk treasure.

Being one of Britain's leading art dealers, Ivor Braka has filled the Gunton Arms with pictures by turns bizarre, brilliant and baffling.

These must be only public dining rooms decorated with homo-erotica by Tom of Finland, a vomiting woman by Paula Rego and a supposed study of autumn leaves by Jonathan Yeo which turns out to be very naughty indeed if you peer very close.

Someone has complained that plates behind the bar by Tracey Emin are obscene.

The quality of these works by the Royal Academy's new Professor of Drawing that will shock others - while adding to the fun for most of us.


Cromer Road

Thorpe Market

01263 832010

Open: Restaurant 12–3pm, 6–10pm daily, bar

food served 12pm–10pm.

Prices: Starters from �5.50, mains from 9.50,

desserts from �1.50

Vegetarian options: Ample

Wheelchair access: Yes