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.