Yarmouth: The Imperial Hotel
If the only meal you've had in Great Yarmouth involves chips and a paper wrapper, think again, says STACIA BRIGGS. The Imperial Hotel offers a welcome twist on traditional seaside food and beautiful views.
I've enjoyed some of the best meals I've ever had in Yarmouth – heavily potato-based meals, to be entirely honest – but only rarely have I dined in the town's restaurants.
Equally, I must have driven past The Imperial Hotel, owned by the same family since 1893 and now run by the third generation, award-winning wine expert Nick Mobbs and his wife Aileen, thousands of times with barely a second glance.
It deserves that second glance. And a visit.
The hotel has two dining areas, the downstairs Caf� Cru restaurant and the relatively-recent (in Victorian terms) Terrace, a stunning glass-fronted elevation with panoramic views of the beach and the sea, offering possibly the best vista in the entire town.
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If you're harbouring any pre-conceived snobbery about Great Yarmouth – although you shouldn't be – The Imperial is the perfect antidote: stylish, blessed with knowledgeable, attentive staff and a menu you'd struggle not to love.
It's also reassuringly popular with locals – always a good sign – and caters for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, so the timing of your visit to Yarmouth is guaranteed to coincide with the hotel's opening hours.
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On a beautiful evening, it's difficult to resist the allure of the terrace, especially a seat by the window as the sun sets over the east coast.
The menu is as impressive as befits a four-star hotel, with plenty of local ingredients and a strong and welcome nod to the sea on the doorstep with extensive seafood options .
We started with focaccia, marinated olives and caper berries to share, �3.95, starting modestly in order to ensure enough room for a main course and dessert (I struggle with three courses at the best of times).
Other choices include sharing boards packed with finocchiona salami, chorizo, Parma ham, liver pate, chutney, olives and breads or rollmop herring, marinated anchovies, smoked mackerel pate, shell-on prawn, smoked salmon, celeriac remoulade and foccacia (from �7.50), oak-smoked chicken salad, warm courgette, white onion and feta tart and the classic prawn cocktail.
Main courses bridge the gap between what seaside visitors expect at Yarmouth and high-class restaurant standards: you can have fish pie, burgers, steak, curry, sausages and mash, fish and chips or roast chicken, but it's far from run-of-the-mill quality. Quite the opposite.
I chose the Imperial Pizza, �7.50, every element homemade, while my companion had an Imperial classic they admitted they'd been choosing for more than three decades, the baked chicken and ham pancake baked with cream cheese, �8.95.
Both dishes were well-executed, plentiful and singing with fresh ingredients: it's a pleasure to eat something simple which has been beautifully-cooked rather than something beautiful to look at but fussy, over-worked and desperate to impress.
That I didn't finish my pizza had everything to do with the dessert menu and nothing to do with the tastiness of the dish I ordered. I always have my eye on the dessert menu.
For me, it was a straight choice between the peanut and honeycomb cheesecake served with chocolate sauce and white chocolate ice-cream or the hot chocolate fondant with nut biscotti and pistachio ice-cream, both �5.95.
Sadly, my (frankly, selfish) dining companion isn't a fan of honeycomb so sharing was out of the question and after a filling main course, I knew I couldn't manage a whole dessert alone. My vote, which is always the casting vote when it comes to dessert, was for the fondant.
Breaking through the chocolate crust, the perfect timing of the cooking became evident on discovery of the molten core and the pistachio ice-cream was delizioso: there was a fight over who had the lion's share.
Great food, served and cooked by great people in a great location in Great Yarmouth. Step away from the chip shop.
THE IMPERIAL HOTEL
Open: Daily 7am-9pm
Prices: Starters from �3.95, main courses from �7.50, desserts from �2.95
Vegetarian options: Yes
Wheelchair access: Yes