The location is unusual. This gastropub and hotel nestles in the North Eastern corner of the deer park within Gunton Park – the second largest estate in Norfolk. Venison on the hoof graze contentedly only a few yards from the plentiful tables of the beer garden. Soon after arrival we heard a gunshot, which I thought odd as the shooting season had long finished. Later I realised it was another deer meeting its maker: what a stressless end for a happy animal, no journey for hours or days to an abattoir for him.
The Gunton Arms has a colourful history: built as a hunting lodge, allegedly so as to house Lillie Langtry within easy dallying distance for Edward VII – presumably when he was at Sandringham rather than Windsor or Osborne! Each of the eight bedrooms is named after a renowned mistress – which tells you much about the spirit of the place. Our room was delightful, the bathroom even more so. The absence of a TV seemed entirely in keeping with the Edwardian overtones. But goggle box addicts could always use the large screen in one of the residents-only rooms downstairs. And the hotel equips these splendidly with exceedingly comfy armchairs and a well-stocked library.
But the nub of the place is its food. The menu has strong overtones of Mark Hix – unsurprisingly since that is where the head chef trained. We like Hix food, so we liked this. There is an emphasis on meat, to the extent of having home-made pork scratchings as one of the pre-dinner nibbles. You will by now gather this is a place where one expects to lose ££s rather than pounds. The centre point of the extensive dining room (the Elk room, graced obviously with a humungous set of antlers) is a massive open hearth, where a perspiring chef produces succulent steaks. But the menu is much wider than slabs of beef.
The décor is carried off with panache, albeit with moments of pretentiousness. Overall this is a place that invites you to relax, particularly since the staff are uniformly charming – in a very chilled manner.
If there is a drawback it is there is not a lot to do in the immediate vicinity of Gunton. It is not great walking country (bikes, however would be a godsend). We flew into the deer park (courtesy of the effervescent Sally Martin whose husband renovated the Hall and estate), and hence were carless. Cromer makes for an enjoyable few hours (we had a delightful lunch above the lifeboat station), but we were dependent on the bus service for that.
That apart, Gunton is a well-run and good value location for a few days. Just remember to book a spa break afterwards!