Fit for a King! The King’s Head, Brooke
The heart of any village is its pub, and Brooke in south Norfolk is no exception. Here, the historical The Kings Head in Brooke reopened last year following an extensive – and impressive – three-year refurbishment under new owners Peter and Karen Burton. Run by their son, Harry, with his wife, Jess, The Kings Head has proven to be a valuable addition to the local community and beyond, serving delicious seasonal food – much of which comes from the family’s own Stow Park Farm – under Head Chef Dan Lawrence, as well as offering drinking spaces for those just looking to relax after a busy week.
Last month, I paid a visit to see the revived Kings Head for myself to enjoy lunch with my family. From the moment we stepped in, we were impressed. The inside was almost unrecognisable to what had been there before, and Harry was there to meet us with a warm welcome.
Entering The Kings Head, you immediately walk into the bar area, now located a few steps down from the restaurant, and this light space is welcoming. Dogs are welcome in the bar – not the restaurant – and there is little doubt that it is this part of The Kings Head that is at the heart of the community. Go up the shallow steps and you find yourself in a small lounge separate from the heart of The Kings Head – the restaurant itself. The space is inviting, offering somewhere where you can sit and linger for a while before heading to your table.
Much of the furnishings come from the Burtons farm, with fallen timber repurposed as bars and tables. However, our eyes were firmly looking down – to the menus! Complimenting a two- or three-course du jour lunch and dinner menu running from Wednesday to Friday is their main menu. The Burton’s very much believe in the field to fork ethos, with their organic family farm near Flixton providing much of the produce on the menu. Stow Park Farm is responsible for many of the vegetables, fruits, and herbs on the menu, picked daily ensuring that they are as fresh as can be. Stow Park Farm also rear rare breed cattle, pigs, and lambs, and these are found on the menu, too, along with honey from their bees. They even have a raft of ducks, providing fresh duck eggs that feature heavily in desserts created by Pastry Chef Courtney Wilson, who has since moved on to a role as Head Pastry Chef in Norwich.
With this in mind, we explored the menu, with starters such as chicken liver parfait with sour cherry, honey, and brioche or Stow Farm beetroot with goat cheese and Stow honey mousse, rye, olive crumb, and beetroot pesto catching the eye. Confit belly of Suffolk pork with breaded tiger prawn, fennel, carrot, and curry leaf sauce, and grilled fillet of Lowestoft plaice with ratte potatoes, Swiss chard, and brown shrimp butter tantalised from the main menu, while sticky toffee parfait with date purée, brûléed banana, and rum caramel sounded a winner among the desserts!
We ordered drinks to help with the deliberations – the most fantastic amaretto sour for myself, a French 75 for my mum, and Birra Moretti for my dad – and made our final menu choices. Dad went for the warming French onion soup with Gruyère, sourdough croûte, and chive (£12), and mum for the twice baked Norfolk Dapple soufflé with potato puff and chive (£12), while I went for the roasted crown of local pigeon with Stow Farm squash, elderberry, hazelnuts, and sherry jus (£14).
For our mains, mum chose the charred fillet of stone bass with caper and garlic potatoes, fennel, and a puttanesca sauce (£28) while both dad and I went for the loin of local venison with braised shoulder pie, artichoke, cavolo nero, and blackberry jus (£34). We also ordered some sides of braised red cabbage with toasted walnut and balsamic syrup (£5.50) and triple cooked chips with aioli and scape vinegar (£5). To complement all, we ordered a bottle of Château Recougne Bordeaux Supérieur 2020.
With food ordered, there was time to relax and take in the surroundings. The Burtons are very proud of the history of the pub, which became a coaching inn back in 1640, and there is much information to be found throughout the bar area in particular on The Kings Head. It also gave Harry a chance to tell us that, opening that weekend, were six ensuite rooms, each beautifully furnished and include a family suite. Prices start from £140 room only, with a double room including breakfast from £210. There is also The Forge, a new function room available at the back of The Kings Head; more on that later.
With our food ready, we were shown to our table, where we enjoyed hot bread and butter as we settled in. One thing I hate when I go out is feeling as though I am hemmed in and the space at The Kings Head was far from that, with room between each table, offering privacy for those who need it. It was a busy December lunchtime, and there were several tables already taken when we went to sit down.
Our starters arrived and two things were immediately obvious – the first, that this was a menu filled with full-on flavour and finesse, and the second that the portions were generous! Just as some people are specialists on sausage rolls or full English breakfasts, my mum is somewhat of a cheese soufflé aficionado, and she declared this piping hot version one of the best she has had. Sitting on a bed of spinach, this soufflé was surrounded by a generous helping of cheese sauce and was topped with puffed potato for added texture. Equally, dad loves French onion soup and he, too, declared The Kings Head version a real winner, with its still crisp croute holding its own against the subtle herby notes of the soup and the generous amount of gooey cheese atop. As for my pigeon? I think you can guess the way this is going – delicious! The rich blackberry against the gamey pigeon offered the perfect contrasting note, as did the hazelnuts, and the pigeon was cooked to perfection. The welcome addition of radicchio cut through the richness of the dish. It was seriously good. I also noted that all three dishes were seasoned to perfection.
After a suitable pause, it was onto the mains, with the red wine we had chosen standing up well against both the fish and the venison. I was definitely in a game-season delight with the latter – beautifully cooked venison was truly excellent, while the pastry of the little handmade pie was the stuff of dreams, especially when combined with the blackberry jus. The pie inside was filled with braised venison, and we both felt it could have benefited from a sauce within, but there was no taking away from the magic of it all. The stone bass was very colourful, on its rich bed of puttanesca sauce, and the fish itself was delicate in flavour, offering a tasty, lighter dish. It came with a small pot of parmentier potatoes, seasoned with chive and capers, the perfect foil for the fish. As for the sides, the red cabbage – which had been braised all afternoon in balsamic – was rich and sticky, and was, quite honestly, the best red cabbage I have ever had. The chips were crunchy on the outside and fluffy within – the ultimate wish for a chip. That was the only element of our dishes that needed extra seasoning, but then who doesn’t love a salty, chunky chip?
Having enjoyed the two courses, we had a rest before we looked at the dessert menu. Decisions had to be made, and they all looked incredibly tempting. After much deliberation, mum went for the crème fraiche pannacotta, served with blackcurrant coulis, toasted coconut, and a lime coconut tuille, dad for the aforementioned sticky toffee parfait, and me – somewhat ambitiously – for the dark chocolate delice with coffee, malted milk ice cream, and a brown butter crumble. All desserts are priced at £9.50.
Desserts arrived, and we were grateful we had paused so long between the mains and these as again, were generous in portion – and texture! Mum’s crème fraiche pannacotta was a lighter version of this much-loved dish, with the blackcurrant coulis adding balance as well as beautiful presentation. Dad’s sticky toffee parfait resulted in some considerable food envy, and it was a great twist on this traditional pudding, with the banana and honeycomb elevating it further. As for my delice… Well, it defeated me! Rich, unctuous, welcome coffee notes, nostalgic malted milk ice cream, and then with the decadent dark chocolate itself – it was a chocoholics dream!
A welcome double espresso followed, and Peter gave me a tour of the rest of The Kings Head and talked about their plans for the future. The Forge – their purpose-built function room is breathtaking – think Scandinavian influences with pelts from Stow Park, antlers from the deer and, again, a vast dining table made using fallen trees from the estate. Holding up to 50 people, and up to 22 for a sit-down meal, this is a lovely space. Peter explained that if they have a large party in and The Forge is available, they will often put them in there. It is the perfect intimate space for a gathering of family and friends, and a welcome addition to this part of Norfolk. Peter then showed me the luxurious bedrooms, which will go well for those using The Forge who want to make it more of an event.
The outdoor space offers a fantastic beer garden, including a covered courtyard, and it must be a great place to sit in summer and soak up the atmosphere. Just maybe not on a cold winter’s day such as this!
The Kings Head is open Wednesday to Sunday, with their Sunday roasts being a huge draw – think roasted January King cabbage with puy lentil, kale, cashews, satay sauce and coriander (£19) and nut roast with roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and seasonal vegetables (£17) for the vegan and vegetarian offerings respectively, as well as their own pork, slow roasted, with crispy crackling and a burnt apple purée and all the trimmings (£20).
This month, they have a January stay and dine offer at £210 for two people, including a two-course du jour meal and breakfast. Highlights on the du jour menu this month include Stow Farm mushroom pannacotta with sourdough toast and wild mushrooms, Stow Farm confit belly of pork with creamed potato, sautéed greens and a sage jus, and an affogato of vanilla ice cream, chocolate crumb, caramel espuma, and espresso. With three courses for £29, this really is excellent value, especially when you consider than most of the produce is organic and grown at their own farm.
January and February remain bleak months for hospitality, especially in the current economic climate, and it is as important as ever to support our local pubs and restaurants. Hopefully, this look at The Kings Head, a family run establishment in the heart of South Norfolk, has whetted your appetite to venture out and try this delicious food for yourselves.
Find out more, including how to book, at the kingsheadbrooke
Follow The Kings Head on social media – look for @thekingsheadbrooke
Disclaimer: All drinks and food were paid for my ourselves, bar my own starter, main and dessert.