May Blog: 14 Years at The Saracen’s Head

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This April we celebrated 14 years at The Saracen’s Head, and to mark this occasion we decided to catch up with owner and proprietor Tim Elwes, to hear the story of how he and his family came to his childhood home of Norfolk and took on the rural Tuscan farmhouse pub with rooms.

Born in Burgh next to Aylsham, Tim left his Norfolk family home at 21 to head to a life in London in the music business. Working with high-flying acts and booking their live shows around the UK and Europe, Tim spent many years with bands, gigging and on the road for long periods of time and has seen some big changes in the industry. 

He recalls life on the road and feels the quality of live gigs from those musicians remains as good today as it was some 40 years ago:

‘The touring was how the acts used to build their name, now you’ve got social media. The bands that go out and do the festivals now are the same bands who did it in the 80s, because they know how to perform to an audience and have worked over the years to build a following.’

Taking a break from the thrills of band life on the road, Tim went on holiday to France, to a ski resort where he met and fell in love with Janie, who was co-founder of a small ski company specialising in short break holidays.

Janie spent a couple more years in the Alps which meant that Tim increased his air miles before she returned to London and worked in hospitality.  In 1995 they married and left the UK to run a 10 bedroom chalet hotel for Janie‚Äôs old business in Courchevel 1850.

‘That’s where it all started.’ Tim remembers. ‘I knew nothing about running hotels – Janie had worked in hospitality so she taught me everything.’

‘We started off doing food and I was front of house and ran the bar, which sometimes meant I had to stay up until four in the morning, looking after extremely drunk people!’ 

The following 12 years saw Tim and Janie taking on a second hotel with 18 rooms and what became a very popular aprez ski bar in the centre of the resort, whilst bringing up 3 young boys.

In 2008 the family returned to the UK, when the boys were about to change school years, so it made sense to move – and both Tim and Janie’s fathers had both recently passed away. 

In 2010 they took over The Saracen’s Head, from Robert Dawson-Smith and after extensive renovations, opened for the first time as new owners on the 1st April 2010 and gradually introduced the loyal customers of previous times and new guests to a refined and seasonally inspired, ever changing menu.

Sourcing local produce is as important for the customer as it is for the chefs, and educating people about seasonal availability is something The Saracen’s does so well – by creating menus based on what’s available, not what’s fashionable. 

Using seasonal ingredients is such a crucial part in working towards a sustainable future for Norfolk and it’s farmers. As well as this, the food simply tastes better when it’s produced locally.

‘We try to use as much local produce as possible, because it’s all here – in the fields around us, so there’s no need to import things from all over the world. The first strawberry of the summer tastes incredible because it’s grown here. It’s the same with asparagus, crabs and all the wonderful local produce.’

The Saracen’s has faced big challenges – a bad flood and of course Covid-19, but the gang remain ever positive and ready for the next season. Tim and his team want to continue producing great food at a reasonable price, and retain their creativity in using gorgeous locally produced ingredients.

The Saracen’s Head has always had something very special about it, and it’s continued in Tim and Janie and their small team of dedicated staff, and the understanding they have over making simple, great food and comfortable accommodation. 

In a world in which there are too many inexperienced entrepreneurs opening and closing restaurants before you’ve had a chance to order a glass of Pinot Noir, we think The Saracen’s is here to stay.

Happy Anniversary!

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