Dining with Mrs Thatcher

ADLARD'S: 79 Upper St Giles Street, Norwich NR2 1AB. Tel: 01603 633522. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch, 12.30-2.30, and Monday to Saturday for dinner, 7.30-10.30. Three-course lunch, pounds 16.50; dinner, pounds 32. All credit cards accepted
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The Independent Culture
THERE is a page somewhere in James Boswell's journals where he is staying in a pub with a very attractive girlfriend. In order to make the pleasure even more acute, he goes down into the yard to look up at the window of their room. It is a cold night, and he imagines for a moment or two that he is a poor friendless traveller. Then, inflamed, he pounds upstairs again.

After a few weeks on the road as a touring actor no such fantasy is necessary when it comes to diving into a plate of hot food. Weeks of sandwiches on park benches, of buns, baps and bars of chocolate wolfed in the dressing room while the tannoy orders you on stage, have a wonderful effect on the appetite.

Having been warned that last orders at Adlard's in Norwich were at 10.30pm, Angela Thorne and I scoured our faces of make-up, scrambled out of our costumes, slipped past the very charming theatre chaplain who was telling us about the 30 medieval churches in the Old City, raced through the October fog and were sitting at our table by 10.15, starving.

Adlard's is in a little street of old houses and shops bisected a hundred yards further up by one of the motorways that, together with a lot of insensitive Sixties building and a high-rise concrete car park on the crest of a hill, mar what is otherwise one of the most beautiful old cities in Europe.

The restaurant is decorated in green outside and in. Above a dado the walls are lined with brighter-than-billiard-table-green velvet, hung with modern paintings, the tables well-spaced and covered with white cloths, with good cutlery and pretty glasses.

Apart from one long table of young executives, we were alone. This was probably our fault: when I rang from the theatre the man who took my booking wanted to know what the show was and was cruelly disappointed to hear it was a comedy. "When there's opera on we're always packed out."

We were greeted by a demure and attractive intellectual of an waitress who brought us the menu and the two glasses of dry sherry we ordered. There were five starters and four main courses, uncomplicated by any extravagantly described and unpriced "specials". Angela, our leading lady, asked for chargrilled Mediterranean vegetables, thyme polenta, olives and sauce vierge for her first course, and I had chargrilled scallops and langoustines with baby fennel and sauce Antiboise.

The wine list is carefully chosen, with a good descriptive blurb, and as we were still to some extent celebrating our reunion after playing Mr and Mrs Thatcher 15 years ago we had a bottle of Domaine Latour Beaune '91 for pounds 21.

Angela's first response was that her char-grilled vegetables made the kind you get with sun-dried tomato bread in your Marks & Spencer's sandwiches seem pretty pathetic: they included grilled fennel, onions, peppers, olives and whole cloves of garlic, each entirely distinct in flavour, moist and popping out of their skins; the thyme polenta was wonderful and everything floated in a transparent golden sauce. My grilled scallops and langoustines were equally delicious, and whether or not sauce Antiboise comes from Antibes or means anti-something unspeakable there was a real flavour of expensive Mediterranean cooking.

By this time the executives at the long table had gone home in a storm of "Cheers, Mick!", "Cheers, Nigel!". We had the elegant restaurant and, as I knocked back most of the Beaune, the increasingly attractive demure waitress to ourselves, and settled down to having a long laugh about what the hell we thought we were doing out on tour. We discussed all the possible financial motives of our producers, creditable and otherwise, whether my character, Georgie Pilson, could perhaps try not to grimace quite so grotesquely while Angela's character, Lucia, talks to him about whether or not he is wearing a toupee, and remembered early days, Angela's most colourful reminiscence being about a fellow actress she once had to share a bedroom with on tour who wore horn-rimmed spectacles, a string vest and Y-fronts.

For our main course we resisted rump of lamb or sea bass. Angela had roast young partridge, parsnip and potato Anna, and buttered Savoy cabbage - which was actually what I wanted, but in the interests of criticism I had the Lunesdale duck, glazed apple and apple chutney and gratin dauphinoise. I say criticism, but I defy even the most sanctimonious Food Queen to find fault with what we had to eat. The partridge was perfectly cooked - Angela gave me quite a lot to taste - the parsnip and potatoes were delicious, and the Savoy cabbage was good as it looked. My own duck was excellent, in dark pink slices, and the combination of glazed apple and apple chutney was a revelation of what can be done with apples.

There were four possible puddings, of which Angela chose banana parfait with almond biscuits and caramel sauce with poppy seeds, and I had cassolette of prune and Earl Grey ice-cream with hot spiced prune compote. I can't vouch for the banana, as Angela ate the lot, crying out in theatrical enjoyment and scraping the plate, but the prunes and the ice-cream, which came in a huge expanded trumpet of crunchy, brown-sugary almond biscuit, were very memorable indeed.

We thought about ordering a sticky drink. I was even facetious enough to point out a misprint in the menu to the attractive waitress, explaining that pire William meant something entirely different from poire William, and suggesting, I think, that she might like to come and see the show. In any event, I got the impression that she only went to opera, and we made do with coffee. The bill came to pounds 98, and I left a pounds 12 tip.

Two nights later I was taken to Marco's at 17 Pottergate, which was smaller, homelier, and I think even better, but I hope I can return to write about that another time.

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