A run-down pub in Norfolk has been turned into a property no

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The Victoria provides a taste of the Raj in deepest Norfolk. In February 2001, Viscount Tom Coke, son of the Earl of Leicester, decided it was time...

The Victoria provides a taste of the Raj in deepest Norfolk.

In February 2001, Viscount Tom Coke, son of the Earl of Leicester, decided it was time the neglected Victoria, which faces the entrance to one of the UK's finest beaches ­ the location for the All Saints Pure Shores video ­ had a makeover.

Coke visited Rajasthan in India and shipped back a pub's-worth of furniture, paintings, fabric and artefacts.

Four months later, the Victoria, which is on the Earl's Holkham estate, re-opened with seven individually-decorated letting bedrooms and an interior that provides an authentic whiff of the Indian sub-continent.

Despite the tenuous thematic links of Indian-themed décor with the Norfolk coastline, the result successfully sidesteps the risk of jarring by dint of its tastefulness.

But this was a business opportunity waiting to crystalise.

The car park for stunning Holkham beach ­ a seven mile long by half-mile deep stretch of perfect sandy wilderness ­ is next to the pub and attracts thousands of visitors on warm and sunny days.

Not surprisingly, the first day of opening in mid-July saw more than 140 covers.

And this summer, busy lunchtimes have seen as many 240 covers for lunch and a further 350 covers served on the special barbecue menu, more of which later.

Now, 18 months after re-opening, Coke is drawing up plans for a very substantial expansion of the Victoria, with a doubling of the restaurant size and a new accommodation wing to bring the total number of rooms to 26.

"The demand for our rooms has been phenomenal," says general manager Charles Ockenden.

"We've been fully booked every weekend for the rest of the year from about two months ago.

We have trashed our budgets completely.

In terms of the money that was borrowed to open the Victoria, we've already been able to repay quite a lot."

A large part of the Victoria's appeal is the food offering, which has been cleverly planned to appeal to its range of customers and which makes the most of local, and in particular, Holkham Hall estate, produce.

The menu makes strong use of the wealth of readily-available and fresh Norfolk seafood, most notably Cromer crabs and Brancaster mussels.

And the Holkham estate, which surrounds the pub, provides seasonal game such as woodcock, pheasant, grouse as well as venison and beef.

"It's a three mile round trip from the estate to slaughter and back here," says Ockenden.

"We get lots of compliments on the quality of our meat."

Capacity, and price-point ranging, at the Victoria has been enormously extended during the peak summer months through the addition of a barbecue menu offered in the courtyard behind the pub.

For those coming off the beach with hungry children, the pub offers a £6.50 barbecue ­ featuring Holkham estate venison sausages, hamburgers, chips, salads and estate-made ice cream.

Says Ockenden: "We've created an area where we can accommodate all these people.

The barbecue offering has been a phenomenal success, heaving from 11am to 8pm ­ and it's given us a kind of safety net when we can't do a table in what is a relatively small restaurant area."

An estimated 70% of those booking accommodation at the Victoria are currently coming from London and the South-east.

But the pub also has a strong local clientele, with, for example, estate workers ­ many of whom live in nearby tied accommodation ­ using it as their regular.

Cleverly, the first room that visitors come to at the Victoria has been retained as an informal tap room ­ with Sky Sports on offer.

"We get a lot of drinkers and we have a big regular crowd that we see twice a day," says Ockenden.

Loyalty to East Anglia's cask-ale producers means Woodfords and Adnams feature on handpulls at the bar.

And in June, the Victoria hosted a three-day beer festival that offered 40 different types of East Anglian-produced cask ales.

"It was fantastic and we'll do it every year now," says Ockenden.

"It'll be bigger and better next year with more advertising and Camra involved."

Despite the relative remoteness of the North Norfolk coastline, Ockenden insists that attracting and retaining staff has not been a problem.

One boon in recruitment terms is the availability of accommodation with a six-bedroomed staff house and separate cottages on offer for Ockenden and the head chef, Neil Dowson, who arrived in mid-August this year.

"We provide accommodation for 80% of the staff."

For Ockenden, the decision to work at the Victoria was an easy one.

"I had been working in Cambridge, which to me was getting a bigger and badder city.

Here, I can get up and take my dog and two-year-old son for a walk on the beach before starting work.

It's perfect.

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