Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Earlham Arms

The important thing about generosity—often overlooked—is that it only works with good stuff. Last weekend, we saw excellent comedian/Abby’s new BFF Bridget Christie at the Playhouse. Not only did we get a condensed version of her award-winning 2013 show, A Bic For Her, but her entire 2014 show as a ‘second half.’ And she didn’t even pick on us when we came back late from the interval. That’s generosity.

So when we revisited the Earlham Arms for a classic roast the next day, we were primed to receive, and receive hard. The recent Flying Kiwis refurbishment is a vast improvement on the weird sporty hybrid it used to be—though simply taking the Astroturf off the wall is enough to do that. The Earlham Arms now boasts an excellent selection of beers, including offerings from its own brewery.

The roasts weren’t mentioned on the menu, but our waitress kept us in the loop, and they came in at under £10 a head. Not every kitchen-pub in the area manages that, somehow. I have good memories of my last roast here, when my slab of beef came out pink enough to fight breast cancer, so when the waitress ‘warned’ us that the topside was served rare, I said something encouraging: “good.”

“You’ll love this,” or some similar sentiment, I said. Not to Abby, but to long-term Friends of Grub along for the ride, famously meat-hungry Morgan, and Richard, proud owner of Apple’s new flexiphone. ‘Love it.’

 I should have kept my damned mouth shut.  The beef, when it came, was cooked grey. Maybe the lovely rare beef had been sent back to the kitchen by part-time carnivores once too many. It was bad enough for Richard to leave a decent chunk on his plate, but not so bad that it stopped me taking what he’d left for myself.

Nut roast doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, and with the beef doing so badly, it had a perfect opportunity to step up and shine. It’s a pity, then, that this nut roast contained only peanuts, and managed to be both too hard and not nutty enough. Abby, famously fast eater (recall the Case of the Thirty-Second Baguette,) was chewing for a good two days on it.

It wasn’t all bad. The roast potatoes were excellent, crispy and fluffy, and the Yorkshire puddings good. Good beers are perhaps the closest equivalent to a Get Out Of Jail Free card that you have when in trouble with Enduring Grub, and The Earlham Arms has stacks on stacks of these, and decent knowledge of them too.

Sadly, the kitchen staff hadn’t seen Bridget Christie’s acute, angry, and physically silly masterpiece in generosity the night before. They chose to be generous with—of all things—cabbage. Do I look like Kay Carroll? A little bit. Do I like cabbage as much as her? No. Nobody does.

So that doesn’t count as generosity.

That’s padding.

Friday, 26 September 2014

The Woolpack Yard

It has been an unforgivably long time since either of us posted on here, and for this I sincerely apologise to all our ardent fans (well, my mum reads this blog, at least). In the last few months, we have moved house, been on holiday, attended a couple of weddings and allotmented pretty darn hard. Oh, and I started my masters this week. All of these things have cost time and money, leaving a depleted amount of either for meals out. I know this is a flimsy excuse. But now we are back, I assure you, from our summer hiatus.

Last week, we decided to make use of a cinema voucher that was given to us by our lovely friends James and Charlotte, and went to see Pride. A truly marvellous film. But more about that later. With a few hours to kill before the film, we decided to take advantage of the tapas happy hour at the Woolpack Yard.

Neither of us had ever seen or heard of the Woolpack, but I had seen a couple of posts about it on Facebook in recent weeks, and decided I liked the look of it. Tucked away on Muspole Street, just off Duke Street, it is big and purple and inviting. They have a few interesting beers that I’d never encountered before (including their own Woolpack lager), cocktails, and an extensive tapas menu. Between 5:30 and 6:30, Monday to Thursday, all tapas dishes are two for the price of one – hence the appeal to us frugal young foodies. The girl behind the bar was extremely friendly and welcoming when we went in, even offering us a brief history of the pub, and we were soon seated in a cozy room decorated with fairy lights – ubiquitous Norwich hipster-chic, but fun. Ben had a pint of Yardbird Pale Ale, and I had some sort of posho sloe gin and elderflower cocktail – I got the impression from our waitress’s eagerness to check back and make sure it was ok that it was the first one she’d ever made, but it was very nice.

The menu is divided into meat, seafood and vegetarian. Everything sounded so good that we both got a bit overexcited, but we managed to restrain ourselves and choose six dishes. After we ordered, our lovely waitress let us know about the fine range of board games on offer, and we had a raucous game of charades while waiting for our food to arrive. (Ben only refrained from acting out the classic song ‘My Ding-A-Ling’ due to the fact that there were children at the next table).

Ben, who is a fan of any pork of the pulled variety, went for the Jack Daniels pulled pork tacquitos, which he proclaimed delicious, and even went on to compare them to a similar dish at Wahaca in London. High praise indeed. The black pudding croquettes, on the other hand, he found slightly bland and disappointing. Could have used more pudding, apparently. I had the Cajun rubbed crispy squid, partly because I love calamari and partly because I was amused by the image of a hapless chef massaging a squid with Cajun spices. It was crispy and spicy and delicious, and went very well with the smoked paprika mayonnaise that came with another of our choices, sweet potato bon bons (amazing). We also shared fried halloumi with spicy couscous (tasty, because duh, halloumi) and gnocchi with roast tomato, goats cheese and caramelized onion. The latter was definitely my favourite of the lot. I could easily have eaten a huge, non-tapas sized bowl of it. I’m getting really hungry thinking about it now. I might have to run straight back there now and eat about twelve portions of it, before Ben gets home from work.

Due to the two for one offer, our bill was pleasantly low for such nice food (around 25 quid for six dishes, a pint and a half of beer, and a posh cocktail). I’m not sure I’d go outside of the deal though, as I can imagine it could very quickly get quite pricy. The Woolpack also does dessert tapas, but we decided to buy Minstrels from Tesco and smuggle them into the cinema instead.

We were full and happy, and after a chat with Ben’s aunt outside Jane Austen College and another drink at the Rumsey Wells we toddled along to Vue, only to find that we were the only people who had turned up to watch that particular screening of Pride. The cinema was empty. The only time anything even close to this has happened to me before was at a midafternoon, weekday showing of a rather disturbing independent Australian teen thriller, which my friend Bridget and I found ourselves watching with only a solitary middle aged man for company. So, naturally, we kicked our shoes off, sat in the comfy ‘luxury’ seats and made out a lot. Pride was incredibly inspiring, entertaining and heartbreaking, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

So, to sum up, go to the Woolpack Yard if you’re into nice booze and tasty, interesting tapas-y food, with genuinely friendly, helpful service and a twinkly sort of atmosphere. And go to Vue in the Castle Mall on a Thursday night if you want a surprise private screening of a film of your choice.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Harbercue @ The X Bells

I was sick of being 26. After a year of it, I was frankly ready to leave the whole business behind. So I made a few calls, pulled some rather influential strings, and got the necessary paperwork in place: I would have a birthday. After browsing through the Age Catalogue I decided to heed the expert advice and follow my 26 with a 27, only slightly used. The 27 is an excellent package, they said, with a very reasonable rate of happy returns, and becoming quite the vogue age for my peer group.

It also seemed like a good excuse for a meal. It is a rule of thumb at Enduring Grub that we should try more new places than places we’ve been to before, so we don’t keep pigging out at our favourite five scoff-houses over and over again. But on a birthday, rules of thumb don’t carry much weight, and we booked ourselves a table at the meat capital of Norwich.

Harbercue features at The X Bells on most weekends, when it’s not busy being toured around food festivals and other painfully cool events. Booking is essential, which is a small indicator of how much of a buzz this pop-up kitchen shares with its packed host-pub.

The menu is simple and confident. I ordered the mixed tray of beef brisket and pulled pork, with a huge pile of 16-times-fried (I’m guessing) chips. The brisket is good, and avoids the dryness you sometimes find, but the star is the incredibly succulent, flavoursome pork. You can’t stop eating it just because you’ve eaten enough of it. The meal isn’t over when you’re full, says Louie CK. It’s over when you hate yourself.

There is only one veggie option, so they’re lucky that it’s delicious. The Cowboy is a spicy and exciting bean burger, and Abby’s only complaint was that the food is so good that she ordered too much of it, and, even following Louie’s advice, she couldn’t finish it all.

She has a point. We ordered the entire sides menu between a party of six, when none of us were unlikely to finish our mains. Perhaps this largesse was due to the birthday atmosphere, or perhaps battered jalapenos are too good (they are) to resist, on any occasion. My personal theory is that we ordered so much food because of mildly impaired judgement; The X Bells were offering two cocktails for ten pounds, and if there’s any way to get my mum delightfully tipsy, it’s by convincing her that it’s a great deal.

The food is a great deal, too. You can easily eat for under £10, and still not need to eat for two days afterwards. But my real impression of the night is one of atmosphere. Tipsy Mum fitted in well with Random Drunk who kept wishing us well; everything was noisy, in a happy way; the Harbercue frontman was welcoming and friendly; a band started playing, so we danced; I ate twice my bodyweight in hot sauce alone.

27 is so far living up to it’s catalogue description with aplomb. I shall stay this age until I’m 40. 

Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Reindeer

When Abby's parents come to town, we tend to go out for dinner. And when we go out for dinner with Abby's parents, they tend to pay. So naturally, I suggested we head to Pricey McFlashswag's Goldplate Bistro. You can imagine how gutted I was to learn that Mark, Abby's pater, had heard us talking about The Reindeer so often that he was set on going there instead ( I learnt the same night that McFlashswag's Bistro has mysteriously gone out of business. Sad times.)

When we usually talk about the Reindeer, it's to say things like "the beer is fantastic," "did you try that other great beer?", and "it's not even shaped like a reindeer." But its billing as Pub & Kitchen, along with its weirdly fascinating list of bar snacks (duck hearts on toast is typical), mean that calling it a beer specialist is likely to miss the point.

We managed three different mains and four different desserts between us. Given the size of the menu, this lack of overlap is no small achievement and you should praise us handsomely. Our derring-do in menu choices may be partly to blame for the fact that the excellent array of food included a few eyebrow-raising elements.

The least successful of these was Abby's 'deconstructed' tart, which would have been better left together.  Two crackers with a cheese flavoured foam between them sounds about as appetizing as it looked, and was only saved by the excellent roast beetroot and tomatoes that, while clearly not part of the same dish, happened to come on the same plate. Marilyn's black bream, on the other hand, was delicious, and did a good job of saying 'you should have ordered me' to Abby, a feeling she rarely gets when eating out with me and my dead-land-animal obsession.

Marilyn's starter of fried asparagus with a poached goose egg was the undoubted star of the early rounds, being dubbed 'unctuous' while making the rest of us jealous. Mark's mussels were stacked high in a beery veg broth, and received two thumbs up. My own starter of venison and chorizo terrine, studded with pistachios, originally had me reeling at the technology involved in condensing a metric ton of meat into a starter-sized portion. Apart from its denseness, however, I can't recall it really tasting of all that much, which is a little sad given the ingredients.

The only moment of menu overlap came with Mark's and my mains: butler's steak (from the shoulder, the same bit of meat as blade but cut for frying) with horseradish dumplings, kale and strings of carrot. We both ordered medium rare, but the emphasis on medium  was more up Mark's street than mine. The dumplings were tremendous, and the dish as a whole (no deconstruction needed) was excellent.

We ordered every dessert off the menu, and we found it hard to find fault with any of them. My trio of chocolate was incomparable to the typical sickening pile of fudginess, due to a delicious white chocolate mousse and an ability to somehow not be sickly at all; Abby's lemon tart was so zingy that it didn't matter that the sorrel and creme freche didn't add much on the side; while Marilyn had to use great diplomacy when comparing her Norfolk rhubarb trifle to our own, Allotment 141c rhubarb.

The Reindeer is relaxed and large, and welcoming (even with a wake going on). The service told us everything as a question (so, okay, it's actually from the shoulder?) which is a happy level for service to be noticed on, and there were apparently some beers, somewhere.

It is testament to the overall quality and thoughtfulness of the food that this review has not descended into a list of beers, each with a pencil sketch of the unique glass it comes in (yes, we still care about that.) Because I don't have my sketchbook to hand, I will limit myself to saying that the choice is wide and full of surprises and Kwak is a good place to start.

Having said that, when Abby's parents are in town, we eschew beer in favor of big, expensive bottles, and whatever comes in them. Preferably goldplated.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Mulberry

I’ve been trying to work up a nice backstory, some humorous and/or intellectual patter for this blog post, that seeming to be what reviews should be about. Ben is a great fan of AA Gill, who seems to write about everything but food for the first seven paragraphs of an eight paragraph review. But as I personally prefer AA Milne and it’s Wednesday evening and I’m tired after a long day at work trying to look busier than I actually am and thinking up wedding related puns for a colleague’s impending matrimony, I hope you will forgive me for mostly just talking about food this time around.

Having  wined and dined (lunched and beered) with my dear old friend Phoebe at the Unthank Arms a few weeks ago, I was naturally thrilled to have the opportunity to repeat this whole Sunday lunch shenanigan when my slightly less old but equally dear friend Cynthia came to visit this past weekend. After careful deliberation, we selected as our target The Mulberry on Unthank Road. We arrived somewhat hot and flustered, having powerwalked from my house, running late due to rather too much lingering over breakfast and the obligatory allotment tour. Our waitress, however, was completely unruffled by our lateness, our sweatiness and the fact that I had several stalks of rhubarb protruding from my backpack, and we were soon seated in the lovely light dining room.

The atmosphere at the Mulberry is a nice combuination of a relaxed pub-café vibe, and an attention to detail which makes everything feel a little bit special. I say this mostly because, having recently discussed how nice it is when your fancy beers came in the correclyt branded fancy glasses, Ben and I were pleased when our Adnams Dry Hopped Lager (which is super delicious, by the way) came in vessels labelled the same. We’re easily impressed, clearly. Our waitress also made sure to check that Cynthia realised her own order of ginger beer was, in fact, non alcoholic, our Cyn clearly having the look of a hardened drunk about her.

All three of us opted for the roast – Ben and Cynthia for the beef, and I for the nut roast. Three enticingly laden platefuls arrived. All came with an impressive selection of vegetables that set them apart from your bog standard pub roast: alongside roast potatoes and baby carrots were spiced red cabbage, creamed leeks, and kale. To my meat-eschewing tastebuds, this selection of sides could almost be a meal in itself. Nut roast is a much maligned foodstuff, and often rightfully so – I’ve had more than one sad, pappy slice of defrosted vegetarian afterthought in my time. The one at the Mulberry, however, was lovely – clearly homemade, with nice big crunchy pieces of almond and hazelnut. Ben and Cynthia reported that their beef was slightly overdone for their liking (I think Ben has probably been spoiled by the still-mooing slab of roast beef that he devoured a few months ago at the Earlham Arms), but the profusion of delicious sides made up for it. All our meals came topped with a funny little hat of slightly flat Yorkshire pudding, which we all preferred to those huge bloated specimens that are all air and dry bits and disappointment. The homemade horseradish sauce was also a nice touch.

And then, the desserts. OH THE DESSERTS. Ben, predictably, plumped for the brownie with white chocolate ice cream. It sounded fairly uninspiring to me, but judging by the rapturous expression on his face and the one bite he begrudgingly let me try, it was anything but. Unable to choose, Cynthia and I shared the chocolate and amaretto tart with cappuccino ice cream, and the strawberry cheesecake. Both were scrumptious, but the chocolate tart was the star. The intense flavours of dark chocolate and amaretto were perfect with the strong coffee taste of the homemade ice cream. It was so rich we struggled to finish it between the two of us, but I courageously forced down the last bite so as not to waste any of this true masterpiece of pudding.

Completely stuffed, we waddled away happy, not only with the food but with the price – the Sunday roast is pretty good value.  Which would almost tempt me to go back next Sunday, were it not for the ever lengthening list of places to review which I have been lying awake worrying about ever since starting this blog (if the definition of worrying is chuckling gleefully and cartoonishly licking one’s lips).

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Three Ways

Sometimes you eat out because you want excellent food; sometimes you do it to mark (or make) an occasion. On Tuesday, Abby and I ate out with the explicit intention of chilling out, maxing, and relaxing all cool.

Our first choice, the veggie cafe Wild Thyme, née Pulse, was closed, so we consulted The List. We ended up at the less veggie (phew) Three Ways, a family-run Lebanese restaurant hidden in plain sight in almost the exact geographical centre of Norwich (by which I mean, less than 100 yards from The Works.)

Do the Enduring Grub team know a lot about Lebanese food, you ask? 

Do we ever, we reply. But we say that as a way to dodge the question, really. We spent a few minutes trying to work out where Lebanon might appear on a map before giving up, claiming such activities to be guilty of  'cultural pigeonholing' and 'annoyingness.'

Apparently Lebanese food always comes on a bed of fresh, if slightly off-kilter, salad, and with a pre-starter of raw beans. Abby thought the beans a nice touch, while I could understand why they were served free, before you'd eaten anything else (the only conditions in which I would be likely to consume them). 

We shared a couple of starters. The spinach kibbeh were tasty and unfamiliar, while the battatta harra (spicy potatoes) were tasty and familiar in the extreme. I had the lahma mishwia for main, juicy lamb kebabs with rice and an over abundance of onion, but I was immediately jealous of Abby's pick from the specials menu; halloumi and falafel, with pickled chillies, houmous, and bright purple, salty-as-hell pickled turnips. 

I paid the price for my slightly unadventurous choices, coming away with an impression of generous portions of merely decent food; Abby feels this to be a slightly unfair conclusion. 

I was more won over by the restaurant itself than the food. Readers of the 'Grub will know it is high praise indeed when I say that if Three Ways were to appear as a set in a film, that film would be directed by Wes Anderson. And we had the lovely room to ourselves for the first half of the evening, except for the owner, who served us with great informality and friendliness. 

We were joined by other diners about half way through. Despite the fact that Amr Diab (according to the CD case left on the counter) was singing the same song over and over again for the whole evening, the restaurant was quiet enough that you could hear your fellow diners order a drink, say, or discuss the shish tawouk; and similarly, our neighbours could presumably hear us bicker over whether Lebanon was an island, steal each others food, and take sneaky photos for a blog of some description. 

And yes: perhaps they could hear one of us fart. And perhaps it was a much louder fart than that person had expected. Perhaps--perhaps--the fart may have echoed. 

Perhaps one person got silently told off for this, and only then realised that the other group of people had all stopped eating for some reason. Perhaps the farter found this funny, but really shouldn't have laughed. And--who knows?--perhaps the other person found that funny, and the whole thing escalated.

We'll never know.

But a restaurant that lets you feel so at home that you can give birth to a mighty wind, such as legends are made of? That restaurant has done its job of chilling you out, maxing you, and relaxing you--yes--all cool.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Unthank Arms

Sitting in bed today, home from work with a miserable, stinking cold, Sunday afternoon already seems like a far-off, golden memory. Just a few short days ago, I, too, sat out in the sun drinking cider and gaily swapping cheerful anecdotes, sans tights, cardigan or worries. Now, as I snivel into my Supernoodles and stare glassy-eyed at my eighth consecutive episode of Come Dine With Me, I shall take comfort  in recounting mine and Ben’s latest dining adventure: Sunday lunch at the Unthank Arms. (Ben is also off sick today, having learned the hard way that by giving me his cold said pathogen would not simply enter my body and vacate his, leaving him fit and well again. Instead we are both sick, grumpy people.)

I was lucky enough this weekend to be graced with the company of my dear friend Phoebe, who set aside her exciting London lifestyle and world-changing climate research to pay a visit to sleepy old Norwich. We were doubly lucky as the weather on Sunday appeared to be under the misapprehension that it was mid June or so, rather than the sad damp month of March. After roping Phoebe into helping me plant potatoes on the allotment, and then lying in the sun in Eaton Park for an hour or so to recover from this exertion, we met up with Ben and headed for the Unthank Arms on Newmarket Street.

We had booked a table, but decided to forgo the (undeniably light and pleasant) bar and sit outside in the lovely garden instead. The unsmiling chap who took our order at the bar seemed to resent the fact that he was stuck inside serving us drinks instead of basking outside, like the rest of us, with very little clothing on. There was quite a long wait for food, but we were happy chatting and soaking up as much vitamin D as we could. But when the food did come out, Ben and Phoebe’s came out quite a while before mine, leaving me staring longingly at their plates, insisting in a martyred fashion that they start without me and nicking Phoebe’s chips. Which I did find a bit annoying, as it shouldn’t be that difficult to get three meals out at the same time. But my meal arrived at last, and a ten minute silence punctuated only by chomping and gentle belches (Ben’s, of course. Phoebs and I are delicate ladythings) bore testament to the goodness of it all.

For his main, Ben opted for the spatchcock poussin, which sounds a bit rude but I have been assured is nothing but a flattened baby chicken (which sounds so much worse than what I was originally imagining). He enjoyed it though, the meat was tender and juicy and the Israeli couscous with chorizo and peppers that accompanied it was tasty. And, according to Ben, any meal where you have a carcass on your plate at the end of it has got to be good. I shall not comment on that, but will add that I’m pretty sure he actually only ordered it so he could reference this.

Phoebe and I both went for burgers of different descriptions. Phoebe’s satay pork and king prawn burger came open-faced on a ciabatta with a sort of spicy Thai slaw. We weren’t sure where the prawns were, but figured they must be ground up in the burger, because Phoebe said she could detect a hint of seafood. She was impressed by the flavours and the authentically Thai combination of pork and prawns (she lived in Thailand for several years, so we shall trust her knowledge of these things.) I ordered the jalapeno bean burger, and it was truly stupendous. How, you may ask, can a veggie burger be described as “stupendous”? Well, my skeptic friend, it was everything a bean burger should be: crispy on the outside, soft and moist in the middle, fragrantly spicy and absolutely covered in melted cheese. Served on a perfectly toasted sesame bun with a homemade-tasting tomato and onion relish and fat, golden chips. I AM SO HUNGRY RIGHT NOW.

We paused for a brief breather: then dessert. Phoebe, a world renowned custard fanatic, practically bathed in the stuff that came with her apple and blackberry crumble (I am noticing a disturbing theme on this blog of the desire to bathe in gooey foodstuffs). Such a connoisseur is she that she actually ate (or drank?) most of her custard separately from her crumble, so as to fully enjoy the flavours of both. Both were good. Ben and I both had crème brûlée – I was going to be more exciting and have something different, but having borne witness to the devastation crème brûlée envy can wreak on an otherwise healthy relationship, I decided it was safest to get my own. In the end, though, they were slightly different as there was only one left of the white chocolate variety offered on the menu, so I selflessly volunteered to have Baileys flavour instead. Both came in seemingly bottomless coffee cups, with a scoop of pistachio ice cream, a stick of white chocolate and an ocean of mango coulis. They were exhaustingly creamy and delicious, and mine was very, very boozy.

Sunshine, a food coma and good friends will make you happier than drugs or money – I think it was some rap guy who said that. Maybe. Anyway, full points to the Unthank Arms for delicious food and a beautiful day (yes, I am giving them credit for the weather), if slightly undermined by slow and less than friendly service (but who cares, because the weather was nice). Now it’s time for a lemsip and a snotty nap, and perhaps I shall dream of bean burgers.