If you’re visiting Norwich, make sure you come with an appetite.
The city is home to an extensive variety of restaurants with a number of celebrity chefs serving their renowned cuisine throughout the county, from Delia Smith and Jamie Oliver to Roger Hickman, Galton Blackiston and Richard Hughes.
I’m a big foodie and love the opportunity to indulge in an evening of new tastes. I was recently looking for a restaurant to take my fiancé for a surprise birthday meal and, after being spoilt for choice, decided upon The Lavender House in Brundall, just outside Norwich, Norfolk.
The restaurant is owned and run by top local chef Richard Hughes who is a television and media regular, thanks to his celebrated cuisine, cookery schools and reputation for first-class food and service.
From the day I booked the restaurant to the evening we arrived for dinner, I poured over the menu time after time in a bid to help myself to arrive at a decision quickly once seated. This is harder than it may appear when you’re faced with dishes that make your mouth water just from glancing over the printed descriptions…seared scallop, Blythburgh pork belly, eight-hour cooked beef cheek….
With so many recommendations and so many incredible choices, I did the only thing you can do in such circumstances, I wore my loosest fitting dress and endeavoured to try them all.
The tasting menu was too good an opportunity to miss, though it comes with a somewhat waist-expanding nine courses!
We sat in the bar with a glass of cold wine, wondering whether it might have been wise to have skipped lunch; too late though as we were guided through to the restaurant. With an 8pm reservation, every seat in the room was filled. The building dates from 1540 and is packed with character with a low ceiling, wooden beams and large fireplace.
First up, Parmesan & garlic custard
We weren’t quite sure what to expect with garlic custard but were very pleasantly surprised. Served in a small jar with a crumbly cheese topping, it was smooth and full of flavour. Just the right size to start the marathon meal with eight courses to go.
Whipped Binham Blue Cheese, winter salad, roasted plums and port wine
I’m not a huge fan of blue cheese but thankfully it was just a pretty swirl, innocuously nestled away amid ingredients that I love. The roasted plums were delicious, warm and sweet and the port wine dressing was the perfect accompaniment to the winter salad.
Free range Blythburg pork belly, cauliflower, caper and raisin
Definitely a presentation winner, this dish was every bit as good as it looked. The pork belly was absolutely succulent, melting in the mouth and topped with a roll of salty crackling. Delicious.
Seared Scallop, chorizo, Granny Smith, sourdough crisp
If scallops appear on any menu as a starter, I will always go for that. A plump, juicy scallop in a sweet apple sauce and with another of my favourite starters – chorizo – tumbled over the top. Definitely my favourite dish at this stage of the tasting menu.
One problem, if you can possibly call it a problem, is that while the atmosphere is so nice, the company is perfect and the wine is flowing, between courses we are absentmindedly enjoying delicious warm bread that keeps being refilled on the table – I am definitely beginning to feel the shadow of fullness creeping up on me and there are still five courses to go!
Eight-hour cooked beef cheek, smoked potato, roasted heritage carrot, prune and Cognac
Wow. When the eight-hour, slow cooked beef cheek is presented we can hardly believe our eyes. The smell is incredible and the portion size has suddenly increased to that of almost a main meal. I can foresee a struggle between my senses that greedily want me to sample everything and my stomach which seems to have hit capacity somewhere in the first hour. Pushing a fork into the beef it just falls apart as the juices trickle over the potato. It’s far too good to just sample, so, once again, the waiter returns to two very clean plates…four courses to go.
Local cheese, picked grapes, celery, oat digestives
At this point I have to be honest, I was just too full and if one course has to be sacrificed, for me it would be the cheese. I thought it was worth the compromise so that I could get back up to full strength to indulge in the three desserts. I have it on very good authority, though, that it was extremely tasty.
Pink Champagne sorbet
The sorbet was perfect to cleanse the palate and take a breather after the savory courses. Delicious, sweet ice with a tang.
Iced lemon parfait, pink grapefruit curd, rosé meringue, lemon thyme marshmallow
We took another little pause before the parfait but it was incredibly light and, despite now being extremely full, it was very easy to enjoy. Creamy, refreshing and tingly with a grapefruit twist.
Dunkin doughnuts with raspberry, chocolate and yoghurt dips
More than two hours after we began, we had reached the final dish. Crispy doughnuts with indulgent, melted chocolate, sweet raspberry and cool, light yogurt. No better way to finish a perfect evening of beautiful cuisine complemented by locally sourced ingredients and artistic presentation.
Never before have I been too full to accept coffee and chocolates after a meal, I don’t think I’ll be eating again for a week!
So much more than just a restaurant, The Lavender House felt like a real dining experience, from the beautifully presented food to the impeccable service. One of my favourite parts of the night was seeing that chef, Richard Hughes took the time to pop out of the kitchen throughout the evening, making sure to stop at every table for a chat. Rather than customers, we feel like guests; it certainly added to the evening and gave it that special touch that I had hoped for when looking for the perfect location for a surprise birthday evening.
The tasting menu changes, visit the website to see what’s coming up. The price is £59.95 per person.