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Friday, August 3, 2012
It may look unassuming but there is nothing ordinary about the food at the latest incarnation of Norwich pub The Reindeer. SIMON PARKIN is impressed.
How many pubs do you know in Norwich — or elsewhere for that matter — that serve ox heart salad, chicken lollipops, black pudding sausage rolls, pig cheeks, duck hearts on toast or humble pie?
Forget burger and chips or a microwave lasagne — they do things very differently at the latest incarnation of The Reindeer.
The Dereham Road pub has been given a makeover by new landlords, brother and sister team Danny and Kate Searle who took over the Rumsey Wells, formerly St Andrew’s Tavern in 2008.
They will continue to run that popular watering hole, but have similar big plans for The Reindeer that involve turning it into a gastronomic destination specialising in some unusual and very British dishes.
The pub’s self-taught chef Toby Hockley is obsessed by offal. “Modern British, without unnecessary frills or pretence,” he says about his culinary style. “The bar menu includes potted rabbit and pig cheek and there is also a dining menu, plus a feasting menu where groups can order joints of meat or large sharing pies.”
He adds that he can’t stand any food that is processed and that shows in the menu. It is full of local, seasonal ingredients — the best of British, all cooked, with a few notable exceptions like the acclaimed Brays pies, in the pub’s kitchen.
The pub itself has been given a makeover with new décor and an unassuming rustic look. On our visit it lacked much in the way of atmosphere, though it is perhaps dearly days.
The selection at the bar excellent with a great selection of real ales, continental beers and a wine list selected (and tasted) by the siblings themselves. But what really catches the eye is the menu — or menus, as there is are separate choices for bar snacks, lunch and dinner.
Forget bags of crisps, the former includes potted crab, smoked pig’s cheek, homemade crackling; and during food serving hours the afore mentioned duck hearts on toast, chicken lollipops, plus beer battered whitebait, hot buttered asparagus and bloody Mary oyster shots. Lunch meanwhile takes in homemade soups, usual sandwich selections and a traditional ploughman’s.
The dinner menu follows the usual three course structure, though there is also an offshoot selection of feasting dishes whole roast chicken, joint of meat and large pies suitable for groups and cooked to order (with 24 hours notice).
Starter and main course selections are limited to half a dozen or so choices with dishes vary almost daily depending what’s in season. Though there is the usual soup of the day, as you may have gathered by now the starters are typically adventurous.
We tried salmon and sole terrine with a sorrel and orange salad. It was well executed, packed with flavour and deliciously light and refreshing.
The mains included ox hearts, lamb shanks and spatchcocked spring chicken, leek and wild mushroom. If you don’t share the offal obsession, fear not there are option like the less out of the ordinary beer battered haddock and chips. And it isn’t all meat either; they do a limited but adventurous vegetarian selection too.
We tried the plaice, potatoes and samphire which came with a surprise addition of shrimps and despite being simple managed to be a far from ordinary.
Everything we saw and tasted smacked of a passionate young chef in love with experimenting with what’s grown, caught and reared locally.
If there’s any justice it should make The Reindeer a destination for foodies — just as well as its unassuming location at the city end of Dereham Road, overlooking the Murco filling station, is certainly nothing special.
I just hope the location doesn’t put people off because this venture deserves to be a success.
Open: Kitchen open Wed-Sat 12pm-3pm/5pm-11pm, Sun 12pm-10pm
Prices: British tapas £4 for 1, £7 for 2, £10 for 3, Dining starters from £5, mains from £11, feasting dishes £12.95 per person, desserts vary
Vegetarian options: At least one starter and main
Wheelchair access: Yes