Review by Fiona Duncan, published 2nd September 2010.
Driving directly from Nottingham city centre to Burnham Market we felt as if we'd been deposited in a parallel universe. On a sunny Saturday, well-heeled hordes were out in force, browsing the bijoux shops in Norfolk's prettiest village and gathering outside the Hoste Arms to drink and chat.
I wish I'd stayed here sooner. Sadly, on the day before our visit, a memorial service for Paul Whittome, the Hoste Arms' creator and life force, had been held, Whittome having died much too early at the age of 55. He was a showman and by all accounts he had a showman's send off. As for his creation, everyone said he would have wanted the show to go on and that's exactly what was happening.
What show? Forget ''country inn''. Thanks to Whittome, the Hoste Arms became something quite different: a magnet that has helped put the north Norfolk coast on the map for city folk. Chelsea-on-Sea, as it's come to be known.
The inn itself is all about eating. A series of dining rooms circle the front bar, with reception behind facing the spacious lounge, a glitzy, wackily decorated space with oversize velvet button back chairs, purple sofas and a huge gilt mirror propped against the wall.
Beyond is another dining area, Moroccan themed, and around the courtyard, used for parking, the bedrooms. Eight of them have a Zulu theme, reflecting the South African background of Whittome's widow, Jeanne, who is responsible for all the interiors; the rest are a bit like the lounge: oversize or eye-catching headboards, some four posters, piled up cushions, chandeliers, contemporary wallpapers, showy mirrors: slightly tarty; good fun.
It's not all rock-and-roll. We had to fight our way to reception with our bags and queue to check in. And the food at lunch was a disappointment: a tasteless, sauceless fish pie and a dressed crab with little sign of its advertised accompaniments.
There are people everywhere, all the time, at the Hoste Arms, but if you want some quiet alongside the buzz, then there's an answer: ask to stay in Vine House across the road, where there are two charming sitting rooms, a delightful garden and seven more classically styled bedrooms. There's budget accommodation too, in a newly redecorated former railway station on the village edge where one of the bedrooms is a converted Pullman carriage.
It remains to be seen what will become of the Hoste Arms, but its personality is so marked, stamped into place by Whittome for the past 21 years, that one suspects the curtain will remain up for a long time to come. If there's a danger it's because it feels like an operation rather than an endeavour, more form than content.
- The Hoste Arms, Burnham Market (01328 738777; www.hostearms.co.uk). Doubles from £94 per night, including breakfast. Access possible for guests with disabilities.