It's been a tough season for Delia Smith. She's come in, she's published a book showing busy people how to cook using supermarket ingredients, and she's been shown the yellow card for cheating as a result . And to make matters worse, her football team, Norwich City, are still recovering from a terrible start to their own season.
Despite all the aggro, though, Delia has won respect even from her critics for not cashing in on the Delia Effect around her latest book. Unlike many of her colleagues in the culinary premiership, she isn't in league with the supermarkets, or lending her name to a range of bottled sauces, or flogging stock cubes.
That independent spirit resurfaces in her latest catering venture, a brasserie in the Norwich City ground. While most celebrity chefs are busy building empires, Delia's diner revels in the defiantly place-specific name of Yellows, after the colour the team plays in. There's just something about that name only a Norwich fan could love.
When we rolled up there for a midweek lunch – testing the all-day concept by arriving at 3.30pm – Delia and her husband were just leaving the building. They are directors and majority shareholders of the club, and her Canary Catering Company is based at the ground, where it already operates a fine-dining restaurant, ploughing profits back into the club.
Yellows, like Delia's Restaurant, is open to the non-match-going public, but it's a much more casual affair. The look is American sports bar – low ceiling with exposed ducting, dark wood furniture, bare brick walls decorated with blown-up black and white photos of the Empire State Building and other Norfolk landmarks. There's a long bar flanked by flat-screen TVs (games are screened live on match days), and an attempt at a Central Perk-style break-out area, with squashy chairs. It's authentically American in as much as it resembles a sports bar on the third floor of a newly built suburban mall.
The menu is temptingly written, as you'd expect, and features several dishes from Delia's latest book, though presumably not made with tinned mince and frozen mash from the local supermarket. Alongside American diner specials – the inevitable burgers and steaks, hot salt-beef on rye, barbecue ribs, chilli – are lighter brasserie dishes such as Creole prawns and Asian beef salad with grapes. All a very long way from the meat pie and hot Bovril of match-going tradition.
Our meal started promisingly with Louisiana crab cakes, nubbly and crisp on the outside, with a well-seasoned, crab-dense interior jazzed up with plenty of fresh coriander. Buffalo wings – fried chicken wings in a sticky, vinegar-sour sauce – were also decent, and authentically accessorised with celery sticks and a blue cheese dipping sauce.
Chicken is a controversial topic where Delia is concerned; her perceived refusal to condemn battery farming in a recent radio interview ruffled a lot of feathers. Norfolk is poultry-farming country, but the menu doesn't specify the provenance of its birds; it's probably fair to guess they're not using the finest Label Anglaise specimens, judging by the dry-as-dust slipper-lining that featured in a main course of Caribbean chicken. Allegedly marinated in lime, ginger and garlic, the tough, desiccated fillet was entirely flavourless. Some beige rice and a few oxidising salad leaves completed the sorry plateful, along with a mango salsa that I won't be attempting to recreate from Delia's book. If this is how the dish turns out when cooked from scratch using fresh ingredients, I shudder to think what the cheat's version must taste like.
Cincinnati Five Ways chilli was better, though the spicing managed to be both assertive and underpowered; still, a nice touch to serve it not with rice, but with five different fixings, including pinto beans and saltine crackers. A side order of Boston baked beans made with smoked pork belly had a molasses-rich depth of flavour that stood as a one-dish testament to the superiority of fresh food over tinned.
Perhaps because it's attempting to offer all things to all men, Yellows wobbles a bit between sophistication and family-friendliness. There's a good menu for children (£7), crayons are swiftly produced, and desserts containing alcohol are tagged "for grown-ups". But the room is dark and bar-like, and the cocktail list offers a vodka-based concoction called Sex on the Pitch. (Inexplicably, no one has thought to pay tribute to Delia's legendary half-time appearance with a Let's Be 'Aving You, featuring a measure of every spirit behind the bar.) The impression that we were attending a children's party in a deserted nightclub was reinforced by a sickly line-up of puddings, including banana split, coconut cream pie and butterscotch sundae, all drowning in whipped cream.
The front-of-house team are young and keen, but for allowing Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You" to play on a skipping CD they should be penalised. Or at least forced to watch replays of Norwich's recent matches on a permanent loop.
Overall, then, a game of two halves. Given the standard of catering at most football grounds, Yellows is pretty spectacular. But as the brainchild of one of Britain's most famous and influential cooks, it needs a bit more work to earn promotion to the Premier League.
Yellows, Norwich City FC, Carrow Road, Norwich (01603 218209)
Around £20 a head
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