King’s Head crowned as top dining pub

Staff at the King's Head, Letheringsett, are celebrating this week after earning the Good Pub Guide's Norfolk dining pub of the year title.

The pub, part of New Zealander celebrity chef Chris Coubrough's Flying Kiwi group, can now boast a hat-trick of accolades, as it was also voted East Anglia's best freehouse and top turnaround pub in last month's Great British Pub awards.

Last year another Flying Kiwi pub, The Crown Inn, East Rudham, took the dining title and master chef Mr Coubrough, 39, believes he's beating the British at their own game because he follows a simple recipe: 'Good food, good drink, good service - it's not rocket science,' he said.

The King's Head, which Flying Kiwi took over and re-launched in April last year, attracted 60,000 customers in its first year, drawn by a menu based on seasonal, local produce, including beef from the chain's own Dexter cattle which can be seen grazing within yards of the pub, game brought in by customers in return for a pint, and wild mushrooms gathered by 'Little John' the forager who finds his bounty 'anywhere where he thinks no-one's looking,' according to Mr Coubrough, who starred in ITV's Coastal Kitchen TV series and who is now filming another, called A Taste of Greenland.

Another local supplier is Wells farmer Teddy Maufe who grows barley which Mr Coubrough's wife Jo turns into the Norfolk Kiwi Ale, sold in all the chain's pubs.

In charge of the cooking at the King's Head is head chef, Blakeney-born Emma Wedderburn, 32, who has worked in a number of top Norfolk kitchens, including those of Galton Blackiston's Morston Hall. She served up 10,000 meals this August alone, working 16-hour days.

Mr Coubrough praised her efforts, and those of King's Head manager Jono Jorge, 26.

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'They are really skilled at managing their teams and keeping them enthusiastic when everyone's tired and it's sunny outside,' he said.

He was especially pleased to win the dining award for a second time because eligibility was based on the recommendations of 'happy customers' whose tip-offs were then verified by undercover Good Pub Guide inspectors.

Next week Mr Coubrough will add a fifth pub, the White Hart Hotel, Hingham, to his chain, which also includes The Crown at Wells-next-the-Sea and The Ship at Brancaster.

He believes the recession is a good time to buy and that people will always put aside money to treat themselves on special occasions.

Flying Kiwi has just bought the former fire station building, next to the Letheringsett pub. It will be turned into six bedrooms, plus a riverside pub garden for adults.

Mr Coubrough laments what he thinks is a trend to turn traditional pubs into 'nice English wine bars and nice English night clubs.'

'I love proper English pubs,' he said. 'They're about real fires, dogs, hearty meals and someone behind the bar who smiles and can keep up their half of the conversation.'