[Old Hunstanton, Norfolk] Neptune

Within Michelin’s scoring system, there must be one star places that are knocking on the door of the second star. Similarly, there must be places that just scrape in to the one star category. Neptune seemed to us to fall in to the latter category. That’s not to say that we didn’t have a nice time there. We did. But, if Neptune is worthy of one star (which it’s held since 2009), then I know of a goodly number of places that should similarly be star worthy but don’t have one.

It’s a small place, in a former coaching inn and now operates as a restaurant with rooms. They serve just twelve covers (ten bums on seats the night we visited), with the chef working on his own in the kitchen. There’s a tasting menu but the short carte appealed more. It offers four choices at each course and it’s all fairly straightforward Modern Brit cooking, taking good ingredients and serving them up without too much cheffing about.

There was an amuse bouche – a small slice of a very cheesy quiche.

One of the starters seemed very much an assembly job. There’s mackerel, described on the menu as “soused” which I’ve always understood to suggest a period of time in something like vinegar – but there was nothing of that sort of flavour. It sits on a slice of roasted red pepper – the sort you might make yourself or, if you’re like me, open a jar – and there’s a scattering of chunks of cucumber and matchsticks of apple. It was fine.

The other plate featured crab and pink grapefruit. There’s some thin slices of scallop ceviche and a horseradish sorbet which threatened to overpower the more delicate flavours.

We both ordered seafood main courses. One was excellent – a perfectly cooked fillet of wild sea bass. But what made this special was the precise cooking of each of the vegetable accompaniments – baked leek, artichoke, aubergine, Aura potato and a wild garlic puree. Nothing fancy in the cooking, the chef letting the natural flavours shine.

Hake was also well cooked, with a crispy skin. There’s very seasonal broad beans, girolles and spinach. But there was a let-down – a very moist potato puree which was made even wetter when the thin creamy sauce ran in to it. Just not nice at all.

A pre-dessert featured a lovely passionfruit jelly, topped with thinned own mascarpone. And we both went with the same dessert, featuring local strawberries, macerated in something so they were soft and even juicier. The honey parfait was really good – the chef telling us later that it’s local honey. A mint ice cream also worked. All really good and not too sweet.

Coffee was good and came with finger sized doughnuts and a chocolate sauce to dunk them in – a Norfolk version of Spanish churros, if you will.

This was a nice dinner, but it did take a long time to eat, with quite long gaps between courses (presumably due to the chef being on his own). We got the bill but, after a while, had to get up and go and find someone to actually pay. It is, unfortunately, little things like that which stick in your mind – not least when it’s a Michelin starred meal which is costing the two of us around £180.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold