When I heard the Ivy was coming to Norwich, I was overjoyed – I’m all for BIG-ing up Norwich but to have a company like The Ivy choose us that’s gotta mean something, right! We’ve already got the biggest Jamie’s in the UK & the biggest open-air market & we’ve got the best produce known to man (or woman) – –
So, when I got an invite to the launch party I was over excited.
BUT more about that in a minute.
You see when I worked in London as a chef back when I first met my hubby, then boyfriend Nick we both shared a love of food. We had our own private Sunday club – choosing a different restaurant from the London Time Out guide. We went to every foodie haunt possible from Bibendum’s in Mayfair to a Sri-Lankan café in hackney. Trying all the best ones, going to all the new ones, eating street food to Michelin stared beauties. We didn’t spend our money on Nicole Farhi we spent it in Quaglino’s, and not down the boozer but down Drummond Street in a South Indian.
So – – – when we moved back to Norwich, I missed the food scene. I missed the Stoke Newington Okabassi restaurants and the indulgent service of the big boys, let alone the lack of Ingredients. When I first moved back to Norwich there was only one shop selling sushi rice, pea shoots were something you bought in a toy shop, even Thai sweet chilli sauce was a myth. I was once traumatised when a check out girl didn’t know what an avocado was.
The foodie choices in Norwich were limited to say the least –
Well that was 20 years ago, since then I’ve watched riverside go up, my husband build Chapelfield (single handidly!) and on top of that the explosion of food landed right here in Norwich. Like it followed me and became bigger than anything I could ever dream about.
Like 500 places to eat, 30 pop up street food vendors on Norwich market, local cheeses by the dozen, drinks to fill an ocean, crabs have all sorts of seafood friends while meat doesn’t only oink – it’s all at our disposal with bread to soak it up and Gin to wash it down with. Okabasi – Mangal grill we have two (ask me I’ll tell ya).South Indian, Japanese, dim sum, pie shops, vegan joints, temples of Gin & Poke bars – we have em all.
So, there I was arriving at the ‘Ivy’ launch party with 100’s of other lucky Norwich folk to sip pink champagne and nibble on truffle aranchini and other mini yumminess’s. Then the sweet white chocolate tarts came out with a squidgy gooey choux bun tasting like the best creamy donut in the world and to top that they brought round mini ice-cream bombs that popped in your mouth with sweet sticky loveliness.
I’m not apt at socialising (I was mainly there to eat) but I met some amazing people including Mr & Mrs Zaks, the Wild Knight Vodka couple, the buyer for Jerrold’s, a media babe, the proudly Norfolk team, a few EDP’s, Hannah whom I knew from Louis, the Figbar’s, some bloggers posing in the toilets & some amazing staff whom I questioned to gain an insight into the Ivy brand. I saw a few cheffies but couldn’t pluck up the courage to introduce myself – – Hi’ I’m Zena from Love Norwich Food, I’m a blogger, food writer, cookery tutor & business owner with 30 years in catering, oh & I promote Norwich food on my website for free – – – ‘Who R Ya’
(back in the room) I found out that they have 140 staff, with 80% or more being local. They use a few local ingredients – I’d like to see more on their scrumptious menu (I might be having a sneaky little word). 18 of their staff are runners – that’s because the kitchens upstairs and they have to run down to deliver the food to one of 50 – odd waiting staff. Not at the same time of course – – the ‘Ivy’ serve a 16-hour day! That’s a first for Norwich.
The décor is Art Nouveau, classic and clean with vibrant colours. The bar amazing – dripping with plants, lights and crystals & oozing with all the best in drinks. It’s a treat for the senses – lavishly decadent with a feeling of ‘treatability’.
So, when you go in any time between 8am – 11.00pm, 7 days a week – – you’ll be treated to breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner &/or cocktails in the very best of styles. Service of course will be impeccable, portions will be generous, prices reasonable and food quality high with amazing tastes – did I say the menu is amazing. The Ivy simply does it brilliantly.
I can honestly say this not only because they wined and dined me that other evening but because a few days later we booked ourselves in for Breakfast for a foodie day of China Wedding Anniversary celebrations.
The full English comes with 2 sausages, 2 streaky bacon, 2 fried eggs, black pudding, a whole plum tomato, a juicy flat mushroom and a pot of beans with a side of toast all for £12.95. However, because we’d been recommended the veggie breakfast we went for one of each and shared. The Veggie is the best around for £11.95 grilled halloumi with avocado, 2 poached eggs with hollandaise, beans, potato cake, mushroom and tomatoes with a side of toast – – truly yum, especially with a side of crispy bacon. But you can go for eggs benedict’s, pastries and other classics.
We couldn’t resist the mini pastries for a reasonable £4.45, 4 scrumptiously warm moist Danish with butter and jam on a mini tiered stand. Coffee and tea comes in many flavours in the best silver wear plus they have a whole host of juices, smoothies and blends – next time I quite fancy a green concoction, with a bowl of Granola and of course a pot of Darjeeling.
I could tell you more about my week of food from the friends BBQ, to the seaside ice-creams in Eccles to the plump prawn sarnie at my local café to the rich Indian we had on Sunday but nothing will ever compare to the experience we had last night in ‘Benedict’s’ – I found myself insta-graming OMG and I’m not a teen, I never use ‘Oh, my God’ NEVER, EVER!!!!! But OMG Benedict’s.
My and my hubby Nick have been married for 20 years, I’m not gooey, I’m not even remotely romantic – I call myself realistic. Marriage can be challenging – kids (teens – even worst), bills, responsibilities, mortgages, smelly pants, moody evenings after work and lists that never ever get finished. And let’s face it if I wasn’t a chef he would have left years ago – – but it’s been 20 years and the one thing that gels us together more than the kids & our marriage which I love in equal measure, is food.
And what’s the best place to go to celebrate – ‘Richard Bainbridge’s place down St Benedict’s Street. I’m a massive foodie, I’m even edible but I have to ashamedly admit I’ve never been before – – how bad is that!
I mean we have tried, when it first opened we gave up trying, then it was shut a few times but this time we smartly booked ahead.
It’s a medium small restaurant with seating for about 25 – 30 people. Open Tuesday – Saturday Lunch and dinner, last orders around 9pm. With tons of busying staff making for great attentive service. Nicely decorated, smart and clean with a private dining area called the Sewing Room upstairs (yes, please).
Team Benedict’s staff are a well-oiled friendly bunch who all know their stuff.
But the food – – – – we went for the 6-course tasting menu for £49 per head, hubby went for the £27 wine pairing. You can also have the 8-course menu for an additional £12 or alternatively choose a 2 course of the main menu for £29 or a 3 for £39.
And when you compare those prices to some of the crappy chains around (£18 for a main!!!) with half the ingredients made in a factory while other components are deep fried by some snotty teenager, then it’s a bargain.
While menu choosing we were hit with a quirky crisp (I’m not giving to much away, you need to check it out for yourself). Then you get a selection of ‘snacks’ as just-so named on the menu.
You know when you’ve been in catering for 30 years but the foods that good and complex you have no idea what you’re eating but you know its bloody amazing – that was the white, snowy mini tart canape – which you pop in your mouth and it sort of explodes.
Then we had ___ (I told you I’m not telling you everything) with this incredible dipping sauce like the most luscious sabayon. I admit it, I wiped it clean and licked it off my fingers – – no waste here.
And that was before the starters and just after the most amazing bread and butter – – ohhh the butter.
I truly believe Mr Bainbridge’s kitchen team are sauce geniuses, ‘Samurai’s of spoonable flavour’. One dish had the most magnificent chicken broth – I could have literally bathed in it.
Good to see local ingredients like Cromer crab, wild knight vodka, Norfolk Strawberry’s and Blickling lamb – which made up our main a delicious tender lamb slices with aubergine puree, an orgasmic melt in your mouth rendered lamb and spinach concoction and the most beautiful courgette art piece I’ve ever seen.
I can’t say I’ve seen a huge host of courgette installations but this was by far the best one, it even beats the ‘courgette in formaldehyde’ by Damien Hurst I witnessed in Bradford, I think it was a courgette! – –
Anyway, the next course was my favourite – – ‘Thornage Hall Blackcurrant, Blackcurrant leaf’ – – – OMG (here I go again, it’s either that or orgasmic, simple words do not suffice) anyway, it was bloody gorgeous. followed by dessert number two Richards, sorry Mr Bainbridge’s winning Great British Menu dish.
I was so excited I forgot to mention we interjected a £6.50 supplement cheese course before the sweet stuff – – with a sneeky glass of port, we shared the sandwich tin of local and artisan cheeses with gorgeous crackers and rich chutney – one was a little toooo stinky for me, but my hubby enjoyed it with an extra glug of vintage port. Certainly enough for two and perfect perched in the middle.
Wow – – – it truly is a restaurant of excellent-ness (I’m allowed to make up words I’m a Dyslexic chef). I promise myself never, I mean never to not go at least once a year. I owe it to myself, I owe it to my taste buds but most of all I owe it to living life to the fullest it can possibly be without death or illegal habits.
I woke up this morning sad – sad because everything I now eat in the future won’t be as good as all the scrumptiousness I endured happily yesterday. This lunch time I’ve got some 2-day old bread and some ham from the freezer I had left over from a charity afternoon tea.
I feel somehow, I need to deconstruct it – maybe serve it on an amazing plate with a ham veloute and some micro herbs, I then need to sprinkle on dehumidified ham cheek and then char it on a Victorian mangle with a side portion of Kohlrabi puffs.
But I can’t be bothered so I’ll just rough it.
That’s all folks – – from Love Norwich Food, Loving Norwich Food.
By Zena Leech-Calton ©