Review: The once-closed pub now making waves on Norfolk coast
- Credit: Liz Heath
Mark Heath and his wife Liz visited the George & Dragon at Cley next the Sea in Norfolk for an overnight stay. Here's what they made of it...
It was a bitter blow. A couple of years ago, Liz and I, along with faithful hound Benson, had walked the 2.5 miles from Blakeney to Cley along the beautiful coastal path, with designs on a cold beer at the George before we turned around and wandered back.
We were aghast, then, to find the pub closed and apparently unoccupied and, with bulldog Benson poorly designed for the mounting heat, Liz had to seek shade in the empty garden while I jogged back to Blakeney to fetch the car and more water.
That was the last time we'd tried to visit the George - once one of our favourite Norfolk haunts - until seeing it had re-opened, after two-and-a-half years dormant, last April.
We finally made it back as a couple at the start of July, and I'm pleased to report the new-look George & Dragon is a wonderful addition to the vibrant pub/hotel scene on the north Norfolk coast.
We stayed in Room 5, a large and light quarters boasting lovely wooden floors, a comfortable, ample bed and fantastic views across the marshes back to Blakeney.
As ever, little touches in the room make the difference - a posh coffee maker, Norfolk crumbly oat biscuits and shortbread, plus an array of wonderfully-scented bathroom lotions and potions.
It had the feel of a luxury seaside stop, with nice retro touches dotted throughout - an old wooden wardrobe, plus other vintage industrial fixtures and fittings which blended well with the surroundings.
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Having dumped our bags, we went for a stroll down the coastal path - accessible via the pub garden - past Cley windmill and towards the beach. Most enjoyable.
Coming back, we made sure to visit the village's jaw-dropping deli, Picnic Fayre - the sort of place where one could easily spend a month's wages and feel like it was an excellent, justifiable decision.
We retired back to the George for a quick pint and superb bowl of chips - while Benson attracted all manner of fuss from pub staff - before getting ready for dinner.
There are three seating/eating areas at the George - the front bar, which boasts a spectacular stained glass window featuring George and the dragon (see what they've done there), an area I'm calling the 'middle bar' and then the dining room after that.
We were seated in the dining room, but in all honesty you'd be happy with anywhere in those three areas as your base for dining.
We were visiting on a Sunday, so could avail ourselves of the Sunday lunch menu - more on that in a moment. But if you visit on any other day, I can highly recommend the steak and ale pie - an absolute worldie, to use a cliché from my sporting day job.
Right, back to our meal. We decided to share an antipasti board to start - aware of the roasts to come in our future - and it made for a tasty, light opening to our meal.
A range of cured meats, clearly good quality, plus olives, sun-roasted tomatoes, pickled onion and beetroot bread - the first time I've ever seen pink bread.
Very nice it was too, especially when dipped into the accompanying oil.
Now it was time for the main event. Roasts were, of course, the order of the day - we had pork, chicken and beef to choose from, plus a vegetarian option.
I went for beef - roast sirloin of beef, to give it due reverence - while my better half opted for the chicken. And then the feasting began.
First things first. The portions were enormous - for the price (£16.50 chicken and £18.50 for beef) you could have no complaints about value for money.
My plate was heaped high with a slice of pink sirloin which probably weighed the same as a calf, joined by a puffed-up Yorkshire pudding and ALL the trimmings - multiple roast potatoes, carrots, broccoli, braised red cabbage, cheesy leaks, horseradish sauce and a rich, dark gravy. Lordy, what a scene.
Often, when one's plate is quite so rounded, you fear a case of quantity over quality. Not so here. My beef was well-cooked and succulent, my pudding light with a crisp on the outside, and everything else on the plate served a purpose.
I must confess that I couldn't finish it all, but it was good fun trying. Liz, too, had to abandon her summit attempt, but enjoyed the chicken-based journey.
Full of meat and carbs, we decided to retire outside with our bottle of red - a very pleasant Gouguenheim Malbec - while we debated if we could tackle a dessert.
The George's beer garden, across the road from the pub, has been given a facelift too, with new large covered seating areas and high tables/chairs, and made a great spot to soak in the last of the day's sun as we finished the wine. A lovely memory made.
We decided against dessert in the end, instead opting for a nightcap in the front bar, having perused the pub's excellent cocktail offering.
An espresso martini was the pick, and I think it's the best we've ever had. I say that as hardened veterans of the genre too!
And thus we whiled away the rest of the night, supping martinis, chatting with bar staff and locals, and generally just enjoying the moment as the sun set outside.
After a good night's sleep, we emerged for breakfast. Point of order here - you get a breakfast form when you check in, letting the kitchen know what you want, and what time you'll want it. That has to be handed in before the end of the night.
It worked well though, with just a short wait before we were served up a full English (Liz) and a sausage sandwich (me) the following morning.
Again, these were good meals, formed of quality ingredients. The sausages were the stars of both plates, while Liz was also a big fan of her potato hash. A note, too, for our delicious cappuccinos.
A quick stroll down the coastal path later, and it was time to say goodbye after a memorable stay.
The north Norfolk coast is one of our favourite locations on earth. I'm happy to say, after our long-awaited return to the George & Dragon, that there are few finer places at which to stay and enjoy it.