My Pub: the Fox at Lyng, Norfolk

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Foxing clever: Victoria and Gavin Hunt have worked in many industries before taking on two pubs
Foxing clever: Victoria and Gavin Hunt have worked in many industries before taking on two pubs

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With an exceptional food offer, the Fox at Lyng has become a destination pub for many in East Anglia. Co-licensee Victoria Hunt reveals all.

Facts 'n' stats

Name: The Fox at Lyng

Address: The Street, Lyng, Norfolk NR9 5AL

Wet:dry split: 50:50

Name: The Lodge Griddle & Grill

Address: Main Road, North

Tuddenham, Norfolk NR20 3DJ

Wet:dry split: 35:65

Licensees: Victoria and Gavin Hunt

The pub

The Fox has been leased on a 10-year contract by myself (Victoria) and Gavin Hunt since March 2014, this is our second pub. The first (the Lodge at North Tuddenham), we have had since the summer of 2007 and is on a 20-year lease.

Both pubs had previously been closed for a year before we refurbished and reopened them. Both pubs are independently owned, and we are very lucky that they are, therefore, freehouses and we have no brewery ties meaning we can purchase from wherever we wish.

Both pubs are within four miles of each other in mid Norfolk, the Lodge is more rural and, although it does have a small drinking community, it’s a 65:35 split on food and drink with the majority of its custom from diners travelling to eat with us. The Fox is situated in a small village with a population of almost 1,000 people and has a healthy 50:50 split on food and drink.

Both pubs have a great reputation locally for the standards of the food offering and the relaxed friendly and welcoming service given.

The Fox (originally called the Fox & Hounds before the reopening) features lots of foxes all around the building and we have a little competition for any children to count them all up. It works well when the little ones start to get a little bored. On the theme of the Fox, we have customers buying us fox bits for the pub, but I am pleased to say we do not have any stuffed foxes in a box on the wall!

My Pub (4)

The publican

I’ve been a licensee since 2007 after a full and varied career across many sectors of the hospitality industry.

Having qualified from the Hotel School at City College Norwich in 1992, I moved to Surrey and worked initially at Gatwick Airport and, after a year, joined a contract catering company and progressed quickly to a management position.

In 1998, I went back to Norfolk to raise my two children and worked in pubs, conferencing, pub accounts and as a wedding and events manager at a stately home before taking the plunge (by then a single mum) to take on my own pub two years later with Gavin. It was a complete change of career for him. He was a welder and hydraulics engineer but is now a chef and publican.

In 2014, we decided to open our second pub, which has had many highlights in a short space of time. Winning the Norfolk Pub of the Year in 2016 to being finalists in 2018 at the Norfolk Food & Drink Awards and the Great British Pub Awards. And, in 2019, finalists of the BII Licensee of the Year awards.

Role of honour

  • Winners of Norfolk Food & Drink Awards – Pub of the Year 2016, finalists 2018
  • Commendation of Excellence 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018
  • Finalist of the Great British Pub awards 2018
  • Finalist in BII Licensee of the Year Awards 2019

The trade

The Fox has a great customer base mix because we have four very defined areas that cater for all customers of all ages.

We have a great, modern restaurant with an open feel into the main bar, which is popular for private hire for weddings, christenings and exclusive dining parties. Plus a fantastic ‘old world’ bar that is now our informal dining area with large open fireplace and low beams. Then there’s a modern open-plan drinkers’ bar with a pool table and dartboard that leads to a large beer garden and a large street food mural against the backdrop of the village church next door.

Being in an area renowned for fishing and walks, we tend to get a lot of holiday makers.

The Lodge was completely rebranded in 2017 for its 10th anniversary and we moved away from the traditional ‘restaurant’ feel and softened the décor and made our menus more casual.

We now call ourselves the Lodge Griddle & Grill and this has welcomed people far more frequently. People now dine weekly or more often as opposed to only on special occasions.

The team

The team is a mix of full and part time at the Fox. We have increased numbers to five fulltime chefs this year, including a head chef and a kitchen assistant – a move that was also in order to be able to offer four-day working weeks.

Gavin, as chef-owner, has taken a step back, yet is still seen in the kitchen three or four evenings a week but spends his days now doing maintenance and other bits and pieces, which always need attention. Front of house has two full-time staff and five part-time staff. We don’t tend to have front of house hierarchy, I also still work the floor on a weekend and some evenings, and the staff find their own levels – you always get natural leaders and followers but the fantastic thing is all of our staff care, they care about the product, the customer and each other.

Training is key, if you invest time and effort into your staff then it makes them realise the reasons why we do what we do.

The Lodge has a smaller team because it is a smaller venue with three full-time chefs, two full-time front of house – with one being a manager who has worked for us for 10 years.

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The drink

We serve only local ales at both pubs and these change daily so there is always something new to try alongside our own session ale at the Fox, which is called For Fox Sake. We were delighted to introduce this with the support of Norfolk brewer Wolf.

We feature a large range of spirits, including a great selection of Norfolk gins and an increasing range of rums. We only sell wines that are not available in supermarkets or neighbouring pubs. We recently increased our selection to four whites by the glass and three reds, plus a range available in bottles only. Of course, we cover the basics on the bar with premium lagers such as Heineken Extra Cold, Birra Moretti and Amstel, cloudy cider and Guinness and John Smith’s.

We also have a large low-and-no alcohol drinks list at both pubs for the drivers and those who get bored of drinking soft drinks. We have some delicious non-alcoholic wines, gins, ales, lagers and cocktails, and I’m pretty sure from the feedback that we have the largest selection in the area for non-drinkers.

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What’s on the menu?

  • Smoked haddock chowder and crispy soft-boiled egg (*) - £7
  • Creamy wild mushrooms, pine nuts and truffle oil (v) (*) - £6.50
  • Soup of the day baked bread (v) (*) - £5.50
  • Chicken liver, brandy and thyme pâté toast with red onion marmalade (*) - £6
  • Crayfish and prawn cocktail with Bloody Mary mayo, brown bread and butter (*) - £8
  • Paella with your choice of: Seafood and chorizo £16, chicken and chorizo £14.50, roasted vegetable - £12 (V)
  • Trio of lamb cutlets, crushed new potatoes, roasted Norfolk asparagus and Parmesan sauce - £18
  • Honey-seared duck breast, Dauphinoise potatoes, braised red cabbage and plum jus (gf) - £16
  • Pan-seared sea bass, new potatoes, chorizo, fine green beans and salsa verde - £14.50
  • Burgers – all served with a soft bun, home-made coleslaw and choice of chips (*) Falafel, hummus and haloumi burger (v) - £12
  • Handcrafted classic Fox burger, bacon and cheddar - £13
  • Greek lamb and feta burger with tzatziki - £14

(gf) gluten free (V) vegan (v) vegetarian (*) can be adapted to GF

My Pub (7)

The food

The food we serve is all made and prepared onsite. The quality is what sets us apart from our competitors. We have a wealth of experience in our kitchens and all dishes are far deeper in terms of preparation than you would expect from a country pub.

We have a simple ethos – regardless of the dish – is it the very best we can do? You would be surprised at how many people will comment on items such as the tartare, even this is taken to the next level.

The food is so important if you are expecting people to make the effort to leave home, drive out of town and visit you – if it is only average then it doesn’t make the journey worthwhile.

We always try and beat our customers’ expectations by offering great food, great drinks and great friendly service.

The Lodge has a range of starters, including sharing plates, 15 types of burgers, home-made pizzas, steaks and ribs, alongside a few classic pub favourites. On a Sunday, we offer fantastic home-made roasts at both venues alongside our full menus. Sundays have now become our busiest day because they offers something for everyone.

Many places just offer a roast but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

The events

We are known locally at the Fox for our Monday street food events. This was one of the first pubs in the area to introduce the concept of street food in a pub garden. Now in our third year, we have different traders selling a varied range of street food in the garden every Monday between April and September.

It is a great atmosphere and, on a summer evening, it is not unusual to have 120 people in the garden enjoying the food, drink and ambience.

We really are one of the busiest pubs now on a Monday night, it really is an incredible atmosphere and we have introduced some busking nights on a Monday too that add to the relaxed feel in the garden.

We also host a Fox community bake-off competition. In its second year, the competition runs for 12 weeks and raises money for a local good cause or charity and it makes in the region of £2,000 to £2,500.

The competition finishes with the winner from each of the 12 weeks competing against each other with three local celebrities as judges. This year we had Richard Bainbridge, a winner on the Great British Menu and chef-patron of Benedicts restaurant in Norwich; Charlie Hodson, winner of the Great Sausage Roll Off and pioneer of Norfolk Day; and Alan Miller, ex- Arsenal goalkeeper who has links with Holkham Hall & Estate and their fantastic food fares.

The Lodge and the Fox both host beautiful bespoke weddings designed on the exact wishes of the couple.

The Lodge also holds a charity called #Lodgefest every year while the Fox holds regular summer garden parties.

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The future

This summer will see the addition of a children’s wooden play area at both sites and then the enhancement of outside eating areas with, maybe, the addition of heaters and we are looking into garden pods too.

We keep talking about adding a third pub to our portfolio but we feel incredibly lucky to have two great teams and two very busy pubs that we always find a reason to keep concentrating on the two rather than diluting ourselves and our offer into three sites.

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