The past year has – once again – seen a number of high profile restaurant comings and goings.

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News of celebrity closures as “operators” as diverse as X-Factor host Dermot O’Leary, football pundit Jamie Carragher and comedic fruit and veg man Gregg Wallace shouldn’t really come as any surprise, I suppose.

Wild Garlic, run by 2009 Masterchef winner Matt Follas, has closed and the most upsetting news of the new year is that Norwich-boy-done-good Tom Aikens is shutting the doors at his eponymous two-Michelin Star restaurant in Chelsea at the end of the month, albeit to concentrate on the gorgeous Tom’s Kitchen brand.

Norwich city centre has seen a wave of new openings and I know from personal experience just how tough the marketplace is.

Despite all the hype, huff and puff Norwich still has that air of shutting-up shop at 6pm.

After a visit to the theatre in the summer, we joined the throngs streaming down Theatre Street and wandered throughout the eerie streets in search of sustenance.

Following a fairly fruitless search, we finally discovered the shining light of the late night bite scene, The Bicycle Shop on St Benedict’s Street, but the city – discounting the no-go areas of Prince of Wales Road – is often deserted.

And it’s not just deserted at the closing hours of the day: you can walk from Magdalen Street to the Assembly House at 6pm on a Sunday and not see a soul.

As with the majority of the population we took a break over the past few days and I had my one Saturday night off of the year, an experience I have no desire to repeat.

Again, a visit to the city centre was surreal. With no booking I thought we’d struggle to dine, but in most venues it was tumbleweed time.

Newly-opened venues, spick, span and shiny, were completely empty, save for the eager staff, leaning on the bar awaiting the chance to cook, serve and wish you a happy new year. The wander back through the streets at 10pm found many of the newcomers in darkness.

The established independents and the chain operators will doubtless (a) have seen this before or (b) have the financial clout to carry on regardless, but trying to establish a foothold is a fraught gamble.

It can be done: look at Café 33, Frank’s Bar, The Grosvenor Fish Bar and the aforementioned Bicycle Shop, but I fear for many. On that cheerful note, I’d like to wish you all a very belated happy new year!

Despite my doom and gloom, I’m sure the eating out phenomenon is here to stay (I very much hope so, for obvious reasons…).

It might help if the proliferation of TV chefs could turn their attention back to their own kitchens meaning more prospective customers would tear themselves away from the telly in order to eat the food that appears in front of them – in real life as opposed to on a big screen, Technicolor HD 3D TV. It tends to taste better on a plate than on a screen.

18 comments

  • it's not the 70's anymore Albert and guella, it costs money to run a successful establishment. The restaurants I mentioned earlier do great trade at higher price points, and are very busy so many people ARE prepared to pay those prices. Maybe you are better off in mcdonalds or Little Chef?

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    User Removed

    Wednesday, January 8, 2014

  • Let's be honest, 6pm on a Sunday is not exactly going to be the busiest time of the week socially in the city centre, whether it be for drinks or food. Most people are getting ready for the working week, surely? If you try Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, both lunch and evening, many places seem pretty busy to me!! It's easy to paint a picture of doom, and I'm not saying all is rosy, but at least try doing research at sensible times when places are indeed busy.

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    Adams is God

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

  • It should also be mentioned the lack of late night shopping in the city. Chapelfield are open late on Thursdays and until 7 on Saturdays. Obviously the centre opened later at Christmas (although not as late as I would have wanted for Christmas). However, the rest of the main central area never seems to open late on a even a Thursday. There should be some sort of and maybe there is a City Centre group that tries to promote the city as a whole. Why the Christmas light switch on is spread over three dates, Chapelfield, Castle Mall and the city is beyond me. There has to be a more co-ordinated plan of action to make Norwich 'one' and not several factions. Have been to the Bicycle Store. Seemed as if I was walking into someone else's private function. Not welcoming at all. RE Capac Raimi comment, try walking up it at 4am in the morning. Its no childs play area I can tell you.

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    fjq11

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

  • I agree that Norwich does close at 6. I work in retail, and even our late-night Thursdays are quiet. I also agree with some comments here 're: Bicycle Shop is not the best place to eat. Tombland is much better and Cavells and Middletons are both great steak venues. Having worked in a few towns across Britain, I can agree that Norwich likes to go to bed eArly!

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    andrea richardson

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

  • I enjoy breakfast at the bicycle shop, never had a full meal there and could not say more about it. As for Roots, we turned around at the door after reading the confused menu and hearing the owners, berating a staff member for all and sundry to hear, very unprofessional.

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    ingo wagenknecht

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

  • Andy and Albert Cooper between them have summarised the problem. I have lost count of the number of times in the last couple of years I have planned to go for a meal and evening out in the City but have been deterred by prices I am not prepared to pay for unimaginative offerings and the complete lack of reasonable evening public transport. The same comments also apply to shopping and until the councils ajd businesses actually begin to react to what overlooked sectors of the market want rather than pander to their own prejudices then the city centre will continue to die on its feet.

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    guella

    Wednesday, January 8, 2014

  • I thoroughly respect Hughes as a chef, but cannot agree on the Bicycle Shop. Eager Staff? The half dozen times I've visited they're chatting to their mates. The food is uninspired and bland and has no consistency. Pretentiousness is through the roof. The restaurant scene is doing well though despite massive saturation, Last Wine Bar, Bishops, Cinema City, Roger Hickman's and some of the better asian places are packed out most nights, the new and old places on Riverside seem to be doing well despite serving low quality cuisine...

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    User Removed

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

  • "News of celebrity closures as “operators” as diverse as X-Factor host Dermot O’Leary, football pundit Jamie Carragher and comedic fruit and veg man Gregg Wallace shouldn’t really come as any surprise, I suppose." - Nonsense. Waited all that time for a verb which never came.

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    Bob Carter

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

  • Um... isn't Norwich one of the lowest-crime cities in the UK? I moved here three years ago and cannot believe how quiet (in a good way) and safe the city centre is, even late at night. Even the locally notorious Prince of Wales road is like a kid's play area compared to some areas of other city centres. Get some perspective man!

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    Capac Raimi

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

  • And car parks shut early too and as for park & ride - forget it. Prices and pretension are far too high in NIrwich

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    andy

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

  • Agreed it seems the City coses up shop apart from people looking to get drunk a s a p.Facilities for say the over 30s +,is sadly lacking yes restuurants excist for this age group,but little else by way of clubs for "older" people,its always more of the same and promoters don,t seem to see the great untapped market that is there

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    Albert Cooper

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

  • I remember going out one Thursday night towards the end of May 13 and was surprised how busy all the restaurants in The Tombland area were. Maybe Richards walking down the wrong streets.

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    Abraham

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

  • Agreed it seems the City coses up shop apart from people looking to get drunk a s a p.Facilities for say the over 30s +,is sadly lacking yes restuurants excist for this age group,but little else by way of clubs for "older" people,its always more of the same and promoters don,t seem to see the great untapped market that is there

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    Albert Cooper

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

  • There are just too many restaurants now as well. Norwich cannot support a dozen Thai restaurants, one has already folded. Same with the higher end of the market - see newcomer Roots doing what others do well already. The same is happening with coffee shops in Norwich, there are now so many. A crash and burn will have to happen eventually.

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    User Removed

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

  • When Chapelfield added additional restaurants on the Plain, I thought that this would encourage late night dining. However, most shut at 10 or 11pm. This really is not late enough. 1am or 2am would be more appropriate. I think there would be demand.

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    fjq11

    Wednesday, January 8, 2014

  • Maybe these places should try lowering their prices to reasonable ones, then they might have more custom

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    DJ

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

  • You may be right. I think you need to have an ironic moustache and your trousers halfway down your crevice to get the eager service in the Bicycle Shop.

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    Capac Raimi

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

  • The city is dying I am afraid, there is just too much hassle, compared to going out elsewhere.

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    John L Norton

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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