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-cafĂ© 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).