Mother-and-daughter team Sheila and Becky Kidd are the culinary brains behind the daily-changing menu at the Ark in Erpingham, Norfolk.
Sheila has cooked in the restaurant's kitchen ever since she and her husband Mike opened in the living room of their home 13 years ago. Becky, one of seven children, joined them seven years ago. Son-in-law Stephen, who runs the front of house with Mike, completes the family business.
Neither Sheila nor Becky have had any formal training. Sheila is influenced by Elizabeth David, while Becky assimilates ideas from current publications by chefs and cookery writers such as Joyce Molyneux and Sophie Grigson. This, together with trips to Italy, France and Australia, has created an eclectic cooking style, with homely overtones.
The homeliness is perhaps most apparent during the winter months, with the regular appearance of dishes slowly cooked in an Aga. Pheasant, marinated in red wine, olive oil and spices, then braised in cider on a bed of red onions, prunes and walnuts is one such example. Another is lamb braised with cream, yogurt and aubergines.
Open four nights a week during the winter (Wednesday to Saturday), five nights in the summer (Tuesday to Saturday) and for Sunday lunch only, the Ark offers a menu that changes according to the availability of local produce.
The east coast, just nine miles away, offers excellent fish and seafood caught at Sheringham and Weybourne and game comes direct from local shoots. The Kidds are self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables harvested from their garden through the summer.
The Ark's menu offers a choice of four or five starters, four or five main courses, a cheese course offering British cheeses from Neal's Yard Dairy, and four puddings. The dishes are listed on a hand-written menu. Two courses cost £16.75, three, £19.50; and four, £22. Coffee and home-made chocolates are £1.30. A three-course Sunday lunch, which includes coffee or tea, is excellent value at £12.25.
The Kidds make a big effort to provide interesting vegetarian dishes - there is always at least one meat-free starter and main course on every menu. Recent examples include walnut pâté en croûte with fresh tomato sauce and sautéd wild mushrooms, and spinach and Gruyère filled omelettes with a tomato sauce.
Sheila and Becky are always happy to prepare a favourite dish for customers who ask. "So long as we are given advance warning and are able to source the produce, then we're happy to meet a request," says Becky.
The extensive wine list, taking in all regions, begins with a choice of six white and six red house wines all priced at £8. They include a South African Libertas Chenin Blanc 1995 and a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon Montes 1993.
The 32-seat restaurant tends to be full during the summer months and at weekends during the winter, with covers dropping down to about 12 per night on winter weekdays. The opening of three bedrooms for customers who want to extend their dining experience has helped boost business over the past few years.
The Ark, The Street, Erpingham, Norfolk. Tele: 01263 761535.