We’ve been sussing out some unusual and cool places to enjoy a libation (or five) and maybe a little something to eat too in Norfolk and Suffolk from castles in the city to beach front cafes and one on over of the North Sea too. Some of our choices serve great food -or a bag of crisps from the crisp cupboard in the case of one of the pubs- but all have ambience, location and something a little different about them. Enjoy and do let us know if we’ve omitted your favourite.
The Library restaurant – Norwich, England
Food, drink and books are not natural bedfellows – they make a mess, leave litter and the joys of the noisy eater and drinker cannot possibly be underestimated. However in these days of cuts and competition from online sources of information and literary pleasure, libraries are having to find new and innovative ways of luring us in. The Library in Norwich is one of those magnificent Victorian testaments to higher minded activities and provides an atmospheric space for its Library Restaurant where the body is fed alongside the mind and the soul.
Keeping the original bookcases in place has retained the bibliographic feel of the place and these have been used to subdivide the perimeter seating into separate little booths whilst the central part of the space is lined with round tables. The room is a symphony of expensive dark woods but is flooded with light from the central octagonal light well, keeping away Dickensian oppressiveness. Offered is an eclectic range of locally sourced produce cooked on a wood fire grill and an extensive brasserie menu. Children’s menu and Sunday brunch always prove popular and we saw plenty of families with children when we visited.
The Pavilion Bar on Cromer Pier
With amazing views of those endless Norfolk skies and somewhere warm to retreat to when they dump a load of rain onto you, the Pavilion Bar at the end of Cromer Pier is somewhere a little different to drink and eat. Wild weather days are perfect for one of their mugs of hot chocolate whilst Summer evenings will offer you a sunset that Turner would have given his (non painting) arm to witness.
Joyland American Diner
For a kitsch family meal out inside one of our great British seaside amusement parks, Joyland is the real deal. The park itself was opened in 1949, and has always been owned and operated by the Cole family. Family engineer Horace designed many of the iconic and still in operation rides and was married to Daisy Wilson who came from a well-established traveling showman’s family. It was her background and influences that inspired Horace to create the children’s fun park that is Joyland. In 2003 the family opened an American themed family Diner right next to the park in the Anchor Garden on the seafront.From giant seafood platters and Cajun chicken to breakfasts, kids meals and vegetarian options, this is the place to visit to ensure you get the full classic experience.
The Nutshell in Bury St Edmunds
With a bar that measures just 15ft by 7ft, The Nutshell proudly holds the title of smallest pub in Britain as confirmed in the Guinness Book of Records although the pub has had to fight off many attempts by other pubs to claim this title. (How very dare they?)
Located in the heart of the historic Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, The Nutshell has been proud to serve customers jostling for a place at the bar since it first started serving beer in 1867 and although it is now a world wide tourist attraction, maintains its local feeling and continues to serve well kept ales. Packed with historical information, photos and ephemera, we love this little place.
Ambitions Training Restaurant in Gt Yarmouth
Those of us in the know head to the training restaurants of local colleges and universities when we want a superb haute meal served by staff you KNOW are going to put their all into it- and at an amazingly low price too. Ambitions is based in Gt Yarmouth and has won accolades, having won its way to the regional finals of the national College Restaurant of the Year (CROTY) award sponsored by trade magazine Restaurant for the past two years. Students on the catering and hospitality courses learn the full range of kitchen and front-of-house skills to take into the industry and they offer lunchtime bistro food and an evening formal silver service extravaganza. Everything is clean, freshly made and often underpinned by students keen to use the latest ingredients and techniques.There is nothing ‘maison de la casa house’ about this place.
Eat a sandwich and have a drink at Blakeney Point after a boat trip to see the seals
Beans of Blakeney have been running fully skippered boat trips to the seal colonies off Blakeney Point for many years. The colony is made up of Common and Grey seals and numbers around 500. The seals are usually very inquisitive and will often swim around the boats and Beans will also sail close to the basking seals on the dunes so you can get a good look at them. On many of their trips, after seeing the seals, they will then land you onto Blakeney Point if you wish. The duration of your stay will depend on tide and weather conditions but is usually between half an hour and an hour and this is the time to fetch out that sandwich and enjoy one of the most unusual and remote places to eat in the Eastern region! Whilst the boat cannot take picnic hampers and the timings don’t facilitate a full scale picnic, this is one of the loveliest things to do with or without children. Remember to take ALL litter home- leave nothing behind but your footprints.
Mariners Restaurant, Ipswich
As befits two counties with a contigious coastline and a long and noble maritime history, one of our choices was always going to be afloat and Mariners Restaurant is situated on a beautiful craft berthed on the newly redeveloped Ipswich marina, surrounded by beautifully restored brick built warehouses and shipping related businesses. The Mariner was built and launched in 1899 as the gunboat ss Argus for the department of the Belgian State. Recommissioned in 1940 by the Belgian navy, it was sunk, raised and subsequently re-repaired by the Germans who returned it to the Antwerp based owners in 1945 and then rechristened as Flandria VII.
In 1952-3 the craft was refitted as a Red Cross Hospital Ship and renamed (again!) The Florence Nightingale, operating under a Dutch flag and upon its decommissioning, became a party boat for the next 18 years; a dramatic change of use.
Taken over in 1994 by Mr Regis Crepy (owner of the fabulous Maison Bleue in Bury St Eds and the Great House in Lavenham), the Mariner is now an award winning restaurant, open Tuesday to Saturday, serving French food in a fantastic atmosphere, with Al Fresco eating on the patio deck in fine weather. We have eaten here on several occasions and really enjoy the gentle movement of the boat (which doesn’t agitate a full stomach), the romantically lit up Ipswich harbour at night and the buzz of a cleverly redeveloped area full of people enjoying the atmosphere.
The Smoke Hut in Norwich
Located on Sprowston Rd in an unassuming little brick hut (hence the name!), the Smoke Hut serves all manner of quirky, innovative and more commonly encountered sandwiches, toasties and snacks with fresh smoked meats and freshly made sauces all prepared on site. Pastrami, pulled pork, corned beef and meat bombs stuffed into bread, condiments and fillings added as you wish and served to eat as you go or standing next to the hut, chatting away to others wise enough to come here. Soups are home made- carrot and sweet potato and also ‘cowboy beans’, the latter served steaming hot, their skins splitting and curling away in the rich sauce. Chicken lovers aren’t left out either: we’ve seen chicken and chorizo soup and its also served jerked or with pepper and onions. Card payments under £7 carry a 50p surcharge.
The Kings Head in Laxfield
Chosen for several reasons, not least its location opposite a place where the residents will have no cause to complain about any pub noise because they reside in the ancient graveyard, this venerable Suffolk thatched pub is also a rarity- it boasts no bar. Perfectly kept ales from Adnams are served from barrels in the tap room, there is a crisp cupboard from which customers help themselves and settle up when they pay for their drinks and you will often walk into a spontaneously arranged music evening. The Kings Head also serves up a short menu of staples- soups, sandwiches and sausages and mash. This isn’t the only characterful pub in the region; indeed we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to historic, unchanged and welcoming hostelries and another pub we highly recommend is the Cock Inn at MonksEleigh with its tiny bar and snug, cheese nights on Tuesdays and wonderful music evenings.
Picnic in the grounds of a Castle at Framlingham
No there aren’t any restaurants or cafe’s within the castle; 12th century fortresses with grade one listing not being terribly conducive to such renovations but there is a kiosk in the grounds selling locally sourced foods, light snacks and drinks, the Castle Inn is next door and opposite is a lovely cafe selling first class ice creams in all manner of sumptuous flavours. Framlingham Castle is such an atmospheric place to bring a picnic and bask in the (hopefully) sundrenched grounds whilst staring up at those impressive and majestic grey stone walls.
Norwich Castle Cafe
The fact that you do not need to pay admission to the whole castle to gain access to this cafe has its good and bad points. Great if you are a fan of the cafe and want to use it regularly as just a place to eat or drink; not so great if you have kids in tow who will understandably be enthralled and intrigued by the real life castle of their dreams (and fairy tales) and want to see it all. If you need to save money, go to the cafe first at 3pm then take advantage of the last opening hour of the castle where entry is only £1.
With kids lunchboxes, snacks, full meals (including fresh sausage rolls!), baguettes made to order and drinks, the cafe is simple, clean and not too expensive. The castle also has a picnic room for you to bring your own food should you prefer this and hot drinks are available too.
The Cathedral Refectory in Bury St Edmunds
Open, Monday to Saturday, from 9.30 am until 4.00 pm, the location of this eating place is stellar with its proximity to the majestic cathedral and world famous Abbey Gardens.
Priding themselves in serving food that has been prepared and cooked in their kitchen, the meat is sourced from a local Butcher and eggs are from Suffolk Farms. In this case, pride is not a sin! Puddings such as gooseberry and ginger crumble, Fairtrade tea and coffee, lamb hotpot and all manner of meals and snacks in a bright and spacious room with adjacent gardens make this very popular. Fully licensed, the terrace is lovely in the late afternoon when the sun slants in and warms the ancient flint walls surrounding the gardens. Sit with a glass of wine or a beer and relax in the knowledge that your children are safely contained.
Farm Cafe at Marlsford
As unglamorous a location as you could wish for but oh boy- this place is amazing and embedded in our childhood memories as a great place on the way to other great places! Farmcafé & Foodmarket is a pit stop on the A12 north of Woodbridge, offering locally produced food and is praised for sumptuous menus (on a par, choice-wise with American cafes). Enjoy good food on the south facing veranda in warmer weather or in front of a log fire in the cold then visit their food market to buy locally produced food and drink- the shop is rammed with great local brands.
We’re not going to talk about what a great place this is to visit to assuage a hangover with its super delicious breakfasts covering every necessary post drinking food group are we? Oh no….We’ll talk instead about how much the kids enjoy stopping here on their way to the seaside. My kids are not really ‘kids’ anymore- they are adults. But we have been coming here for some time and they will never ever grow out of it; we have every hope that their own children will one day be brought here too. What also helps is the extensive garden out back- eat your food, the kids can lope around the grass and be sufficiently far away as to not annoy the other customers.
Many locals say this is the best Breakfast going in Suffolk- try the Croissants stuffed with scrambled egg, mushroom and bacon, the Rainbow Deluxe Muesli with Fairtrade teas/coffees or Norfolk Crushfood Super Granola (it deserves its capitalisation). Oh and they serve Quorn products too. Should you be in a tearing hurry, they offer a menu of food to go- Panini, baguettes and wraps; smoothies, stuffed croissants and many many drinks.
Krazy Horse Rockers Cafe near Bury St Edmunds
Got a bike mad kid or fancy them yourself? Then this cafe attached to the amazing Krazy Horse bike custom business near Bury St Edmunds makes a great place to eat at after you have drooled over the chopped bikes, custom paint finishes and smell of leather. A collaboration with Ace Cafe, London, this bright and open place is clean and family friendly: bikers are well known for their love of family life and Krazy Horse regularly presents exhibitions of bike art, music and BBQ evenings that are packed with locals and bike lovers from all over.
Home cooked burgers, breakfasts, cakes and snacks; milkshakes, soft and hot drinks plus beautifully packaged take out, in brown paper carrier bags. Opening times vary, it is sensible to check the website before setting out.
Osiers Cafe inside The Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket
The Osier Cafe is set in the beautiful surroundings of one of the best museums we know- the Museum of East Anglian Life. Serving exquisitely fresh foods with the choice of eating at the super clean indoor tables or the pretty gardens , surrounded by displays of Romany wagons and vintage airstreams, friendly (and persistent) ducks and punctuated by toddlers on one of many ride on toy tractors, we love it here and highly recommend it. You do not need to pay museum entrance to use it too so we’d encourage local parent and toddler groups to base their coffee mornings here.
We ate scampi and fries the last time we visited, followed by carrot cake in portions the size of a babies head. Vegetarian and gluten free food is offered alongside portable children’s lunch boxes and take out food. Magazines and comfy seats make breast and bottle feeding easy and welcomed.
Winkles at the Ferry, Felixstowe
Offering fantastic views across the river Deben, Winkles at the Ferry is a timeless place offering all manner of great food in the local boatyard. Allegedly built from the remnants of an old shipping container and decorated in a combination of ‘found objects’ and fishing apparel- nets and the like, this place is proving very popular so expect queues for seats during the busier lunch periods. Fun for kids and no need to wash the sand off your knees either when you visit.
Fish and chips (of course!), Lobster when in season and the price is right, seafood, drinks,crab salad and old skool ice creams from the newly installed Mr Whippy machine make this place unpretentious and authentic. Hot cross buns appear at Easter (made by the local Bread Basket bakers) and their very own Winklemobile ice cram van is sited next to the cafe serving ice creams and lollipops.
The Duck Truck in various Suffolk and Norfolk locations
Fries cooked in duck fat. Duck kebabs and skewers. Duck wraps. Drool. Need we say any more? Well how about duck hearts marinated, flash fried and served on a bed of salad. Amazing and as meltingly tender as Elvis in his Hound Dog days, we urge you to throw caution to the winds and try them.
The Duck Truck is on a mission to challenge the supremity of chicken with its innovative and street friendly menu of delicious duck treats. Charley mainly covers Norfolk, Vernon is East Suffolk based and Ed is your man in West Suffolk. Locations and times are on the website, they cover a lot of regional festivals and we have partaken of their wares at local markets too.
The Airmans Bar at the Swan Hotel in Lavenham
Wingspan Bar at the Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds
The Maybush pub in Waldringfield
Isaacs on the Quay, Ipswich