North Walsham, Norfolk
Food, like music, needs to have soul. If the food you eat has soul, you won't just be fed, you'll be nourished and feel like you've been treated properly and the food you've put into your body is doing you good both mentally and physically.
My trip to Shambles was a last minute dash for a Sunday roast lunch. My companion had been before but not on a Sunday so she was in for a treat.
We were greeted warmly by our hosts, Rebecca and David, who are delightful by the way, and shown to a nice table by the window. The building was an old 16th century weavers barn and coaching inn, North Walsham's oldest building. It was a run-down, derelict place that had been empty for years until they took it on and saved it from rot and decay. They are doing a wonderful job, there's a little way to go but they're almost done. Buildings like this are important and need to be cared for and nurtured. Besides all that they do rather good food as well. Real food that has soul by the bucket full.
As a general rule I don't usually go for the roast beef on a lunch menu, it's just not worth it as it's hardly ever done well. Lamb, Pork or even Chicken is a safer bet. On this occasion there was beef or Guinea Fowl on the menu and as my companion desired the fowl I made the bold move of choosing the beef.
When asked how I'd like it cooked I had to say rare, to be honest I was surprised that I had a choice. Both meals came with an array of all the standard veg, although the quality of the vegetables and the way they were perfectly cooked told me there was not much thats standard about this operation. When I say the vegetables were perfectly cooked I mean that they weren't raw or boiled to oblivion, they were perfectly seasoned and treated with the respect that quality local produce deserves. The cheese sauce on the beautiful cauliflower was so tasty and delicious, a lovin' spoonful of mustard in there if i'm not mistaken, yummy.
The meat was a rib of beef, rare, tender and glorious, the best bit of roast beef I can ever remember eating. In fact, the whole meal was possibly the best Sunday Roast I've ever had, and I've had quite a few over the years. This was certainly the best one I've ever had in a restaurant, hands down.
But wait, there's more, I haven't got to the gravy yet. To call this ambrosial liquid mere gravy is an injustice. I was told by the owner that the chef begins the stock for it on a Tuesday and by Sunday its ready. When I'd finished eating I had to get a soup spoon to finish the luscious sauce straight from the gravy boat, it was superb.
North Walsham is not a particularly wealthy town, unlike most towns and villages in the area so the fact that the owners of Shambles have made a restaurant where local Mums & Dads can take their kids after school for some mouth-watering nutritious food that they can afford is a genius idea, it's restaurants like this with their kind of thinking and consideration that can and will change the way people eat and drink in a small town, they have raised the bar to a considerable height and I'm very much looking forward to a return visit.
We got a delivery from here last night. Firstly, the driver was at the door ten mins early, had rung us but we didn't hear the phone and after ringing the bell for a while he came round to the side gate and banged on that to get our attention, we were in the garden drinking...A very pleasant young man so well done to him.
Secondly, the food. We ordered two main courses, some dhal and chapatis, no rice or anything. It was the perfect amount of food and so delicious. The dhal was by far the best I've ever had and the main dishes, Boatman's Curry, divine, North Indian Lamb Fry, also divine, were outstanding, not heavy or greasy but packed full of flavour, the spices in the food were perfectly balanced out with just the right amount of heat.
They deliver all over the city so for a Lock-down treat you could do a lot worse than calling these guys. By far the best Indian food I've had in Norwich, no question.
The Crown at Burston *****
I went here for Sunday lunch a couple of weeks ago and had a truly wonderful meal. I gorged myself on the 'sharing plate for two' as a starter which I didn't share with anyone and for the main event went for the pheasant cassoulet that was divine. I was very full but we could relax on the sofas by the fire with a nice pint of Adnams. I went back last week for 'Steak Night' with my son. I had a ribeye that was the best steak I've had in years, perfectly cooked and so tender it just melted in my mouth. A couple more Adnams made it all perfect. Life is good.
I love this pub as it always has an excellent choice of local ales, some decent wine, delightful bar staff and live music at least twice a week. It's pretty great, Steve & Bev are the perfect hosts, Bravo!
THE OAKSMERE **
First off, this place is easy to find and the most beautiful building and grounds, the restoration job they've done is fantastic, excellent work. When the new owner took over I had high hopes for the place as he seemed to be doing it right and had big plans. Sadly, once the redo was done he seems to have done it all wrong, the front of house staff are appalling and they in turn have hired local kids that try hard but have no experience or training while the management hang out at the bar with all the 'rugger buggers' getting drunk and obnoxious. I normally have no problem with hanging out at bars getting smashed and try my best to do so regularly but as a paying customer, not management.
The food is mediocre at best, the menu looks great but that's where it ends, even the burger was inedible which in this day and age is just ridiculous, there is no excuse.
This could be the best place in South Norfolk and maybe one day it will be but unfortunately there's a long way to go. I wish them the best and hope they stick at it but they need to take a long look in the mirror...
UPSTAIRS AT BAILEYS ****
I went here the other day with a good friend who lives locally and pops in here 2 or 3 times a week for a coffee. We had a very nice lunch that was served by the owner who is quite a character and a very charming fellow. He runs the place with his family who are all Catalans so they know what they're doing. The food was a delight, not complicated or too fancy but perfectly cooked and beautiful flavours.
The deli downstairs is the best Spanish deli I've come across outside of Barcelona and with the cafe makes this place an essential destination if you are anywhere near Beccles. What the hell you're doing near Beccles I'm not going to ask but if you do find yourself lost in the Waveney valley then you really should treat yourself to some authentic Spanish cuisine.
INN ON THE GREEN ***
New Buckenham, U.K
I hate the name of this place, it’s in the middle of Norfolk, not yuppie Islington, anyway, aside from that we went for Sunday lunch a couple of weeks ago and the food was very good. They had a big party of people in the restaurant with us but that didn't seem to worry the two young waitresses who did a superb job. If they could just get some decent beer in instead of the cheap Greene King rubbish they serve up this would be a local favourite.
SOPHIE’S BISTRO ****
I love this place, the breakfast is outstanding and the coffee is really good. It’s a tiny little tea room kind of place that’s really comfortable with a low-key relaxed atmosphere. The food is great and has that home-cooked yumminess about it. Sit there by the window with a bit of lunch and read the paper for an hour, lovely.
The Brasserie Bar & Grill ***
This place is worth a visit just to walk around the grounds and house and take in the beauty. We went for a family lunch that was disappointing, like an expensive school dinner. For some reason the chef was serving at the carvery and was a rude and surly oaf, serving up mediocre food.
A nice bar with a good selection of local brews but the whole place feels a bit too corporate, but as I say, worth a visit.
The King's Head ***
We went for Sunday lunch to this very nice pub/restaurant in the pretty village of Bawburgh, just a few miles west of Norwich. The place itself has been very nicely fixed up and has a good menu and wine list. Whoever is running the place is making an all too common mistake by hiring young local (cheap) staff and not enough of them. The restaurant and bar was packed and there were two young girls doing their best to keep things moving but there should have been two more of them, or at least have the boss actually do something other than sit there counting all the money he's making...£75.00 for two people, lunch and a couple of drinks each.
I'd give it another try but not for Sunday lunch.
The Chequers **
Beautiful old pub in the middle of nowhere, I had high hopes for a good Sunday lunch but when the menu came I realised we had gone through some kind of time portal back to 1978. My avocado/prawn came and the avo was brown and inedible, the roast lamb and veg was okay but nothing too complicated there, the dessert came straight out of a packet that tasted like it had also been sitting in the freezer since the 70's.
The Vine ****
The Vine used to be just the smallest pub in Norwich but now it's the smallest pub in Norwich that has the best Thai food in the city. It's located in Dove st, just off the market in the city centre and really is worth a visit. The food is outstanding and authentic and while you're tucking in to a Pad Thai or a wonderful Penang you can enjoy a pint of local beer or cider, The Vine has been in the CAMRA good beer guide since 2011. For some 'Al Fresco' dining you can sit outside on the pedestrianised street. It's really good.
Clapham Tandoori ****
I went here for a friends birthday meal, there was about ten of us and we were all blown away by the incredibly tasty menu, great service, super friendly staff, decor, everything. Really really great and a lot of fun.
Two days ago I was back in London and staying with friends in Balham which is close by so I ordered a delivery for us. 45 mins later the most delicious meal arrived, delivered by the young man who took my order. My friends have decided this is their new 'go to' local Indian. Brilliant.
Brighton, East Sussex
I've been going to Wagamama since the first one opened just off Tottenham Court Road in 1992, the menu has changed a bit, but not much. Why fix it if it's not broken? The whole idea behind what is now a pretty huge chain is genius in its simplicity. Serve up reasonably priced excellent food in a no frills environment by charming young staff. It's not a complicated idea but it's one that a great many restaurants, especially chains, just cannot seem to grasp.
This particular branch is in the 'Lanes' in lovely Brighton. We were served by two charming young men called John and Sam. John had only just started working there last week and was a lot of fun, we had an interesting chat and he and Sam both did an exceptional job as our order was made up of sides and mains and we wanted it all at once, no worries.
Another staff member that must be mentioned is Nadia, the chef who managed to make Wok-fried greens, a plate of broccoli and bok choy, a thing of absolute joy.
Chilli squid, duck gyoza, lollipop shrimp, all delicious.
We shared a plate of Pad Thai that just the right amount of everything, so tasty and fresh, cooked to order like all their dishes, fresh and scrumptious.
To top it all off, waiter John persuaded us to try the banana katsu. I don't usually go for the sweet stuff by my goodness me, this was amazing, deep fried banana in panko crumbs with ice-cream, oh yeah.
So, Wagamama have done it again, great food, great place, excellent staff, all for 30-odd quid for the two of us. Brilliant.
Kingston upon Thames, U.K
I went here with my wife after a lovely day in London walking around the V & A museum, so we were both quite hungry. The food we ordered was quite delicious but the service was terrible. The waiter mumbled so I could barely understand him and just getting a drink took forever. I asked for a mojito that was on the menu but was given a very lack lustre cocktail that was overpriced, boring and tasted like it came out of a packet.
There was a manager type standing behind the bar the whole time who literally did nothing but watch the waiter struggle his way through the service, it was very weird and we couldn't wait to get out of the place, take-away only from now on, the food was yummy after all, they just need to hire someone who knows how to run a restaurant.
Season Seafood & Grill *****
If you've never been, Wells-next-the-Sea is a very picturesque town on the beautiful North Norfolk coast and is well worth a visit. This particular stretch of the British coastline is sometimes known as Chelsea-by-the-Sea, for reasons I won't go into here. Suffice to say it's a very lovely part of the country and made all the better by the good people of Season. This restaurant is the new home of husband and wife team Jeremy and Rachel Parke, who previously owned the excellent Relish, in the not quite so glamorous Newton Flotman in South Norfolk.
It seems that chef Jeremy and host Rachel have found the ideal spot for their culinary artistry on the quayside in Wells. The view from inside the dining room out onto the harbour is stunning and in more clement weather than we had, in early January, the glass doors open all the way for a more al fresco experience.
As for the menu, I had trouble deciding what to have, not because there were too many choices, but because I desperately wanted every single mouthwatering dish. I eventually settled on the 'Taste of North Norfolk Seafood' for a starter, which was quite delicious with great care taken in the presentation, a jar of pickled cockles, an oyster rockefeller, yummy crab mouse, a mussel & cauliflower fritter that was an unusual and very tasty treat with buttery lobster and tarragon, succulent and glorious.
I also tried the Aspall Mussels, steamed in cider, bacon, leeks and cream, oh my goodness me, I could get used to this.
Main course was a tender and moist pistachio crusted pork fillet, crispy pigs head that was a gift from the gods, perfect dauphine potatoes and superb creamed kale, all of which added up to one of the most sublime meals I've had in a very long time.
I haven't been to all the restaurants in Norfolk but I've been to quite a few and if there's anywhere better than Season then I'd like to try it.
Le Magasin *****
This charming little bistro is an absolute gem and if you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods I highly recommend it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I had a full English and a dozen oysters for a jet-lagged brunch, which may seem a tad excessive to some perhaps but it worked out very well for me. I wish I could have breakfast here every day but alas, I'm not allowed, she says I'm fat and I should exercise more. What nonsense.
The staff here are charming and very helpful and sweet. The coffee is very good and made properly. The restaurant has a friendly and very relaxed atmosphere, which I like, you're made to feel like a welcome guest rather than just another punter.
As I mentioned before the breakfast is spot on. The Stone Bass is a great dish, Pan-Roasted Duck, Moules, Risotto, all fabulous. The menu is just about right, its not too big, nor too small, there's nothing particularly revolutionary about it, just excellent locally sourced ingredients prepared with skill, beautifully presented and served with a smile!
I love places like Le Magasin, you can even take your dog, on a lead of course. Oh, and be sure to try the cakes and pastries, they're quite delicious and not at all fattening. well, maybe just a little bit, but you can always walk it off on the way to one of the lovely Harvey's pubs up the road.
Lewes, East Sussex
We went here last night for our first Indian food experience since we recently arrived back in the UK after many years abroad. I read the reviews and after sifting through the ones written by some curmudgeon that had to wait 3 minutes for his lager or didn't get the attention he or she feels they deserve, I decided that Chaula's should be given a try. We were not disappointed.
The menu is a mix of traditional Gujarati food that relies heavily on vegetarian dishes as well as the more standard Korma's and Kheema's. We went for the former as it was something new and I must say the flavours were amazing, the Tarka Daal was the best I've ever had, so tasty. Bindhi Bhaji, okra, was wonderful with a sauce of garlic,butter and general yumminess.
Whenever we go out for an Indian meal or get a take-away, my wife always has Chicken Tikka Masala, and I mean always. I rarely eat this dish mainly because its usually just chicken masala and is bland and generally unpleasant. Not so at Chaula's, it's real chicken tikka with a perfect masala sauce, very good indeed.
The highlight of the evening's culinary tour of India has to be the Lamb Lucknovi which, according to the menu has been 'Thriving over the last 20 years' and came highly recommended by the charming Dan, our waiter, who I must say was very knowledgable and passionate about the food, so much so in fact that I thought he must be an owner of some kind. If not, perhaps he should be!
Anyway, the Lamb Lucknovi was a taste sensation, slow cooked tender lamb stew that had the perfect amount of heat and spice, absolutely delicious.
Pretty much everything we enjoyed here was among the best I've ever had, even the naan bread was so light and delicious, the coconut rice is good enough to stand on its own. Outstanding.
We ordered much more food than we needed as we planned to take the remainder home for a yummy lunch the next day, but alas, it was so good we devoured the whole lot and it took everything I had to drive home and lay on the sofa for a few hours.
Do yourself a favour and take your loved ones here for a wonderful meal. Or just go on your own and don't tell them, either way you won't be sorry.
NO. 11 ****
The market town of Diss in South Norfolk has just had it's culinary status raised considerably by the newly opened Number 11 restaurant. In what used to be the Two Brewers, the new owners have transformed one of the more unsavoury pubs in the town into a very pleasant, comfortable and charming new bistro.
This is exactly the kind of place that Diss has been waiting for. You could easily pop in for a glass of wine on your way home or have a great meal with family and friends. There is nothing pretentious about it at all, the staff are very young and a bit under-experienced but they're obviously being well-trained and are professional but in a very affable and good-natured way. Its nice to see a young team being nurtured and well treated for a change.
I ordered a mackerel pate for a starter which made me very happy and excited about what was to come. It was beautiful to look at and the detail and care that went into it was impressive. The pate itself was probably the best I've ever had and the toasted ciabatta was perfect. A surprisingly delicious garnish of micro greens and some beetroot chutney finished it off perfectly.
My wife abstained from the starters and went straight to the Baked Skate Wing, served with capers, peas, parsley and new potatoes, absolutely divine. The fish was cooked to perfection, as were the vegetables, just the right amount of seasoning and elegance.
I chose the Leg of Lamb Steak, with kale, olives, chorizo and sauteed new potatoes. Out of habit I asked our waitress for some mustard but as soon as I tasted the succulent lamb I knew that in this case any unnecessary condiment would be a crime. The chorizo, olives and tapenade complimented the lamb with a wonderful array of quite intense flavour. With a good Malbec, purely to aid the digestion, it was a truly scrumptious meal.
At the end of the meal the chef came out to meet his customers, which was yet another nice touch, allowing him instant feedback as well as charming the punters!
I think this restaurant will be very successful, it certainly deserves to be, and hopefully the local populace will feel the same way. I'm sure they will.
The Rights of Man ****
Lewes, East Sussex
I have been craving a really good Sunday lunch in a nice pub for several weeks now and after a couple of disappointments we decided to try 'The Rights of Man' in Lewes. To start with, what a great name for a pub! It's next door to the law courts and is the name of a book written by Thomas Paine, the well-known revolutionary who lived here at one time or another. Anyway, the good folk at this particular hostelry couldn't have been more friendly and despite their youth were very professional, Tiga, Hacia, Aneide and John were very charming and attentive but not just to us, I noticed they were the same to everyone including a bunch of England fans who tipped up hoping to watch the football. Thankfully they chose to go elsewhere and we were left in peace to enjoy our repast.
Speaking of which, I was very hungry so I chose to have a little Chorizo and Squid starter that was very tasty especially when washed down with a nice cold dry cider.
For the main event my better half went for the beef and I chose the Pork Belly. Both were excellent choices. The pork was so tender and moist with the perfect amount of fat content and a good bit of crackling. The veg, always a 'tell' were cooked perfectly, just the right amount of bite and not overly seasoned. The Yorkshires were spectacular and some of the best I've had outside my own kitchen, they had some body to them as well as being beautifully puffed up, really, really good.
Sadly, neither of us had any room left for dessert but hopefully we'll get to have a crack at it next time, which if i have any say in the matter, will be very soon.
Sole Bay Fish Co.*****
We decided to take the dog for a day at the seaside so we drove over to Southwold and thought we'd have a stroll along the river where all the fishing boats are. By the time we got to the Sole Bay Fish Co we were quite peckish so went in for some lunch. Sadly it was rammed inside and the charming young host apologised but said she could give us a table in about an hour. We agreed to come back in an hour but on the way out we picked up some mussels and cockles from the fresh fish counter which is amazing, they have some of the best looking fish you'll ever find and as fresh as it could be. I also had a couple of Colchester oysters that were delicious.
We walked the pooch around for about 45 mins and stopped for a nice cup of tea at the Harbour Inn and headed back for some well-deserved lunch.
After a fair bit of deliberating we both went for fish & chips, cod for my better half, haddock for yours truly. We also went for a couple more oysters to start with, this time in beer batter, absolutely scrumptious.
The fish came with really good homemade chips, homemade tarter sauce and the best mushy peas I've ever had. The fish itself was so fresh and perfectly cooked in a light and tasty batter. Washed down with a nicely chilled Aspall cider, I have to say that this was the best Fish & Chips I've ever had, really, really great.
Bread & Wine*****
I went here with my grown-up kids and a couple of friends, six of us in all and a splendid evening it was. We decided to order a number of dishes to share and I'm very glad we did, although I must admit I wasn't happy about sharing the braised kid goat, it was so delicious. I've never really been a huge fan of offal although I do like the idea of 'nose to tail eating, its just that when I was growing up kidneys, liver and all that stuff was never cooked very well so I've never enjoyed it, until a trip to St John. Ox tongue with chutney was divine, not at all like the disgusting tongue sandwiches my nan used to make, thankfully. Every dish we ordered was scrumptious, Welsh rarebit, Ox Heart with beetroot, Terrine, Mussels, yum yum. But the Braised Kid with Turnip and Anchovy was sublime, it made me very happy. Also worth a mention was the 'Mushy Courgettes', basically chunks of the lovely veg cooked in butter and garlic, so delicious.
I don't usually go for the desert menu but took the advice of my companions and tried the Treacle Pudding, Apple Cobbler and the Madeleines all of which were superb.
I can't recommend this restaurant enough, its a slice of the best of England on a plate.
Oh yes, and the service was impeccable and the house claret, a magnum thereof, polished it all off nicely.
The Bicycle Shop****
We popped in here the other day for a bit of lunch before tackling an afternoon of Xmas shopping. I've been wanting to try The Bicycle Shop for quite a while as St Benedicts has always been my favourite street in the fine city of Norwich, even when I was a lad it was always home to an eclectic bunch of independent shops, cafes and bars and I'm happy to report that in these days of homogenised just about everything, there are still a number of indie businesses surviving and seemingly thriving among the cobblestones.
I chose for lunch the Monkfish filet with spiced squash puree, crispy bacon and corriander oil with some fries and homemade mayo. The fish was perfection, moist and delicious. The puree was a great idea as it adds a little punch and the delicious fries with the best mayo ever rounded it all off nicely.
My better half went for the crumb topped mushroom thingy which if you like mushrooms was probably not a bad choice but I cannot bear the nasty little things so I couldn't possibly comment, other than to say the dish was very generous and looked nice.
Service was charming, relaxed and professional. The shop itself was indeed an old bike shop for many years and now is full of house plants, art work, bric-a-brac and whatnots.
I can't wait to go back and try a few more items off the interesting menu, preferably without the threat of xmas or shopping hanging over me while I eat.
Brighton Sausage Co.****
First off, this is a shop, not a restaurant. However, if you want a hot sausage roll that will ' Brighton' up your day - see what I did there? - this is the place for you. The selection of sausages is the best I've seen for a long time and along with a wonderful variety of yummy cheese and fresh baked bread. It's heaven in a shop. The staff are very knowledgable and more than willing to let you taste the various delights on offer. This is going to be a regular port of call for yours truly. I can hardly wait for my breakfast tomorrow!