Note to illustrator – well, I think this one is easy – the interior is as I said –
All Indian cushions, ceiling fans, coloured glass and those coffee tables that would break your shin if you happen to knock against them. There were two pretty women sitting next to us eating fish and chips in newspaper and the inn is named after, obviously, queen Victoria, so there’s probably something you could do with that – Queen Vic eating fish and chips from a newspaper on a pub sign… The Viceroy eating curry – whatever….
To Norfolk, for a spot on a local radio station, after which, my interviewer has promised to drive me out to The Victoria at Holkham, owned by the Earl of Leicester whose estate is adjacent. I hate the term gastro pub - it sounds like something between a snail and an intestinal illness rather than a place you’d want to eat - but lunch in a quaint 18th Century country inn is always hard to resist even when, as in this case, there isn’t a horse brass in sight. In fact the place looks not unlike a branch of David Wainwright on the Portobello Road, which, for those of you who have not yet succumbed to the charms of a Hindu altar cum TV consol, is an expensive emporium selling large, clunky Indian furniture to the suburban masses. Apparently the interior designer went off to Rajasthan with a large cheque and returned with a selection of day beds strewn with silk cushions, soapstone bowls filled with floating flowers and hefty, hard, hand-carved chairs. All this is not to say that it isn’t attractive. The bedrooms are particularly pretty, but it’s still a trifle odd to find yourself drinking diet Coke with the young, handsome Viscount Coke, then eating a Thai curry in a Rajasthani interior, served by an Eastern European waitress, surrounded by folk wearing puffa jackets, green wellies, thick socks and hiking boots. No wonder people get culture shock.
And I was already in shock. It all started two minutes after the train left Liverpool Street when I discovered that my wallet was missing. I rummaged in the depths of my capacious handbag: yep - tart’s shoes, sunglasses, three books, headphones, tapes, toothbrush, lipstick - but nope, absolutely no, cash, cheque-book or credit cards. I did have £3.20 in loose change inside the toe of one shoe and, thank goodness, a mobile phone. It’s the first time I’ve been pick pocketed since Boston, 1975 when I punched the perpetrator and got the wallet back. In this case I had to ring the Mr, not forgetting to call him darling, and divert him away from saving the world from global terrorism to visit Stan’s Economy Grocer and wire me the dosh, Western Union.
Unfortunately he wired it to a post office in Scarborough, or so it seemed by the time I had ridden two buses and walked half a mile. Then, to put the cherry on the cup cake of horror, I nearly knocked myself out on the door of a taxi.
All this and/italics/ the last daze[sic] of the Raj in rural Norfolk. The menu is equally dizzy, at least geographically, and can feature dishes ranging from the ubiquitous Thai fish cakes via Babaghanoush with crostini all the way to Tandoori pheasant (I kid you not) and fritto misto with a bloody Mary dressing. We were all a tad out-to-lunch, not least the two county ladies seated next to me, slim as reeds with wide, gleaming Harley Street orthodontia and diamonds the size of duck eggs hanging limply of their manicured, twiglet fingers, eating fish in chips served in a roll of newspaper.
My companion had humous which was more of a nice, chunky chick pea mash flavoured with cumin and served with a head of roast garlic and pitta bread, than the tahini dip I was expecting. I had the Thai Tom Yum soup – a one dimensional, flavourless broth containing a few noodles, carrots and peppers, and with a splash of chilli sauce all floating around aimlessly in the bowl like forgotten relatives at a wedding. To follow my ‘Viceroy’s curry’ was a Thai Red curry in fancy dress, and another one-note wonder – a chicken breast in a coconut sauce with the flash fire of chilli but no real complexity of flavour. In contrast, the smart money was on the fish special – a whole mackerel, its moist flesh coated in polenta flour, served with roast parsnips and onions. A good choice, but with the humous to start we’re surely talking halitosis central here.
As well as fresh, locally caught fish and seafood offered daily, in season, the dinner menu also features game caught on the estate. At lunch, however, the menu is limited.
Pudding consisted of an unexciting trifle, and a stodgy slab of grainy coconut tart, which tasted of condensed milk, desiccated coconut and little else.
On the ride back to the station my interviewer admitted that he had hoped to take me out in his classic sports car but he had been worried that I was a tad Norfolk Broad across the bottom and wouldn’t fit in the seat. [Readers, be assured, that in food I am firm but fair, but in questions of personal dimensions, wealth and beauty, I invariably exaggerate.] Next time I ask you if I look big in this upholstery, Sir, I suggest you lie… Oh and when I arrived home I found my car had been clamped. Oh what a perfect day.
Cut square brackets if nec.