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Uncover a whole new Norfolk

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Debbie McQuoid revisits Norfolk and discovers a blossoming gastronomy scene, at a fraction of the price of the Cotswolds.

Since university, myself and five girlfriends have met up once a year somewhere in the British Isles for a good old-fashioned knees-up. A few years ago, it was Norfolk and, although the crazy golf and soggy fish and chips of this famed bucket-and-spade destination were fun in a retro kind of way, I never thought I’d ever consider this the place for a romantic getaway.

But driving through the postcard-perfect villages of north Norfolk, it struck me that I’d overlooked just how enchanting this area of wide sandy beaches and cobblestoned villages is. Busy city-dwellers tend to head for Cornwall, the Cotswolds or the Lakes for weekend escapes, but I’m always keen to get off these tramrails and find a new escape route. Particularly a region that’s increasingly being namechecked on restaurant menus...

Near Brancaster and the antique-shop-crammed Burnham Market lies Titchwell, with its beautiful RSPB nature reserve and salt marshes. It’s also home to Titchwell Manor, a former Victorian farmhouse run by Ian and Margaret Snaith, who have cultivated a contemporary, relaxed vibe among the stylish interiors of designer Shaun Clarkson (of Four Rooms fame), with none of the pretension the ‘boutique’ tag can bring.

Titchwell Manor’s bar offers relaxed dining and chic decor

We’re staying in the Potting Shed, a recently converted outhouse that is now a warm and welcoming cabin with a walk-in shower and freestanding roll-top bath, gas fire, private porch and an excellently eerie view over the marshes to the sea.

Margaret and Ian’s son, Eric, was recently named North Norfolk Chef of the Year, and his contemporary British menu stands out in a part of the UK that is fast becoming known for its cuisine. Making the most of local fresh fish, mussels and oysters from Brancaster Staithe, Cromer crabs from just along the coast and herbs from the Manor’s own extensive garden, everything about the menus – both fine dining in the conservatory or more relaxed in the bar – is both appealing and adventurous.

We can never resist an eight-course tasting menu, and while my husband champions the mackerel with cucumber and caviar, I could’ve eaten five of the venison with parsley root and beetroot. We both loved the yukon gold potato with hay, buttermilk and sea purslane.

The commitment to local produce continues through to breakfast: eggs with smoked salmon; wild mushrooms, duck egg, and smoked Norfolk dapple cheese; porridge with whisky, honey and almonds; all perfect to set you up for a day of bracing coastal walks and exploring nearby treasures such as Holkham Hall, Sandringham House or the gardens of Norfolk Lavender.

For anyone tired of hotels that presume everyone wants London sophistication over rustic charm, unpretentious Norfolk is a delight. There are signs the area is going that way – Farrow & Ball is almost everywhere – but Titchwell Manor has its feet firmly planted on the ground.

Double rooms at Titchwell Manor start at £75 including breakfast. The tasting menu (evenings only) is £65pp for eight courses, £95 with wine pairing; titchwellmanor.com

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