Bishop's Dining Room, restaurant review: Will diners have a religious experience at Alex Tranquillo's elegant Norwich townhouse?
Amol Rajan was appointed editor of The Independent in June 2013. He was previously Editor of Independent Voices, a comment, campaigns and community platform across print and digital. He was earlier Deputy Comment Editor, Sports News Correspondent and News Reporter. He writes a restaurant column for The Independent on Sunday, and has a column in the Evening Standard (Thursdays). He presents ‘Power Lunch’ on London Live TV (Thursdays), a one-to-one interview with the most influential people in the capital. Previously, Amol worked on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff, and at the Foreign Office. He is currently a trustee of Prospex, a charity for young people in Islington. He has also written a book called ‘Twirlymen: the Unlikely History of Cricket’s Greatest Spin Bowlers’.
Sunday 13 April 2014
Many of you will no doubt be spiriting yourselves away to places new over the Easter weekend on a well-deserved break. But what to do when you get there and you're trundling along without a clue where to stop?
I was in that position recently with a bunch of mates on the way through to a weekend in East Runton, near Cromer, where wind-lashed beaches offer some of the better constitutional walks England has to offer.
I was in that position, that is, until someone chanced upon the website of Bishop's Dining Room on their mobile. "Informal fine-dining at surprisingly reasonable prices," it says. It lacks poetry, but given the rumbling of stomachs, it seemed worth a go – and as it turns out, one of out two ain't bad.
It really is a dining-room, by the way, with a very elegant bar occupying the front of this pink townhouse on the corner of a dinky little street. As you head past the bar area, where what looks like a galaxy of wines is on offer, a quaint, small but not cramped, pastel-coloured dining-room comes into view, where the average age is, at a rough guess, 75.
We're a bit young and boisterous for such a small place – and that's when we realise the marketing blurb is only half-right. Far from being "informal", this place is the opposite. Luckily, the prices are indeed "surprisingly reasonable". You can get two courses for £14.95 or three for £17.95 which, given it can be hard to find a main course for less than £17.95 in central London, is pleasing.
A local venison, pigeon and pistachio terrine is rich with nutty and game flavours, and sits atop a sourdough toast coated with a spicy pear chutney. The sweetcorn, thyme and Binham blue-cheese fritters are a bit weird and a bit small: little fried crispy bites in which the pungent cheese overpowers the thyme. But the potted shrimp from Lowestoft has a marvellous lemon-and-mace butter for company; and the lightly cured mackerel fillet with Bulghar [sic] wheat salad and pomegranate dressing makes up in size for what the fritters lack.
There is nothing memorable about the mains, but they are still good value. I plump for a slow-braised beef, shallot, bacon and baby-mushroom pie, which comes with a horseradish mash and wilted winter greens. Except the pie isn't a proper pie: it's hot pie mixture in a bowl, with some removable pastry as a lid. Deconstructed pie, you might call it, and I can't say I mind. The horseradish mash doesn't have enough oomph, mind, and the greens are more soggy than wilted.
Things improve with a roast breast of chicken that comes with forest mushroom, madeira cream sauce and a gremolata mash – and this time you really can taste the gremolata. There's an excellent gratin of local fish and shellfish, too, with a deliciously balanced lemon-and-mustard cream, and buttered spinach that manages to taste both healthy and sinfully fatty at the same time.
I can also heartily recommend the beautifully pan-seared fillet of hake with purple sprouting broccoli, crispy potato cake and a very salty anchovy butter.
To finish, we have a succulent cinnamon-and-date pudding with cinnamon ice-cream, which is ideal for those of you who (like me) really enjoy the taste of cinnamon; spotted dick with a muscavado glaze and Chantilly cream; and a pretty rigid and intense chocolate-caramel tart with vanilla ice-cream. Mostly, these are fine, but in the last instance the vanilla ice-cream commits the classic mistake of being too much ice and cream and not nearly enough vanilla; and like I say, cinnamon really has to be your thing for you to try the first.
Not one thing item I've described so far today inspired excitement, loyalty, or pure delight; there is no real stand-out dish; and none of the food here is what you might call top-notch.
For all that, if you are in Norwich any time soon, you should head to this place. It is run by Alex Tranquillo, an Italian who clearly has an eye for detail and a passion for food. More importantly, he seems to run one of the few remaining places in Britain that isn't a rip-off. I'm conscious that too many of my reviews are out of the price range of readers of this newspaper. I hope this place isn't. I think you'll be glad you go, if you do.
Bishop's Dining Room, 8-10 St Andrews Hill, Norwich, Tel: 01603 767 321. £65 for two, with drinks
Four more things I've been eating this week
At a wedding in Grantham, I had a chalky, sweet meringue with dark chocolate through the middle. And it was perfect.
Nearby, at the Bingham pub in Nottingham, I had super rarebit with a very strong mustard flavour in the cheese sauce.
The first time I tried it, in Stockholm after a 21st, I thought it was a pea-based hummus. Now I'm addicted and have it on toast.
My wife Charlie's dessert is nearly famous: yoghurt, cream, mashed-up Crunchie and optional berries. Heaven on Earth, trust me.
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