Britons Arms, Norwich, restaurant review - A place to cosy up on a chilly autumn day
Before you even set foot into Britons Arms, you know you're in the most ancient part of Norwich.
The area around Elm Hill is steeped in history, and the cobbles could tell a thousands tales. And Britons Arms, a coffee shop and restaurant perched on a tight corner, is no exception.
Britons Arms is the only building to have survived the city’s great fire of 1507, and experts date it back to 1347.
And when you step through the small door into the cafe, with its low ceilings and dark wood beams, it certainly feels Medieval.
I took my mother along for a light lunch and we were greeted with friendly smiles and sat by the window, on a heavy wooden table where we could watch the world go by.
The lunch menu is short, but with a good selection of specials there was more than enough to choose from. But before we got started with our food we were treated to some of the smoothest coffee either of us had drank for quite some time.
When grabbing a cup of coffee is usually seen as a utility, a way to top up the caffeine levels to get through the day, both my latte and my mother’s americano were incredibly luxurious and felt like something worth stopping and taking time over.
We both chose a dish from the specials menu - coulibiac for me, a Russian fish pie with salmon, mushrooms, rice, and cream. For my mother, she chose a sausage, sage and apple pie with homemade coleslaw (both £8.95).
Both were served with a generous side salad and homemade mayonnaise.
The pastry of both pies was rich and portions were not to be sniffed at. My mother’s offering was packed with juicy apples which gave it a succulent taste, while my coulibiac felt indulgent - probably due to the cream!
Lined up on the counter were tempting treats from scones to cakes, we opted for a slice of the special blackberry, apple, and ricotta crumble torte, and the raspberry and hazelnut meringue roulade (£4.95 each). Both were served with a choice of cream, or ice cream.
My mother is very particular about cream and for as long as I can remember she’s been very disgruntled if “real cream” - i.e. not out of a can - is not served with any dessert.
Thankfully that was not the case here and she praised not only the cream but the dessert itself, which was perfectly chewy and light. For me, my crumble torte, paired with a glass of local hot spiced apple juice, made it feel like it should have been raining outside while I was wrapped up in the warm.
The building itself is cosy, with a (admittedly electric) wood burner adding to the feeling this was a tucked away place to have a quiet bite to eat.
Service was friendly and the waitress was kind enough to read the specials board as we couldn’t quite make out the handwriting.
You might not expect parking to be easy in such an old part of the city but the Monastery car park across from Britons Arms makes it easy to get to if you have mobility issues - although be careful on the cobbles!
It was not a cheap eat, at £34 for the two of us, but we did leave with full bellies and a feeling of having had a hearty lunch.
And the toilets were quite basic, with the hot water seemingly not working.
The highlight for me was the feeling of being in such a historic part of Norwich, indulging in locally produced food and drink.
I’ll definitely be returning with a good book on a day when all you want to do is listen to the rain and stay warm.
Three dishes you must try
1. The coffee - If I can count this as a dish, this was the most tasty cup of coffee I’ve tasted in a long time. The latte foam, in particular, was exceptionally smooth.
2. Raspberry and hazelnut meringue roulade - This was a giant piece of dessert which was packed full of fresh fruit and “real cream” - delicious.
3. Coulibiac - One from the specials board so may not always be available but it was interesting to try something so different in the traditional cafe.
Value for money
I did feel the lunches, as tasty as they were, were a little steep at £8.95 but that was the most you would pay. Soup was more reasonable at £4.95.
If you like that, try this
1. If it’s history you’re after, the tearoom at Anna Sewell House in Great Yarmouth is the place to go. The birthplace of the Black Beauty author dates back to the 17th century and Miss Sewell was born in 1820.
2. For a light lunch, try KindaKafe on Castle Meadow in Norwich. For that extra feel-good factor the cafe even hosts its own charitable and social change events and offers a pay it forward scheme for those in need.
3. Or if it’s the local produce which brings you in, Benedicts - also in Norwich- prides itself on Norfolk fare. Expect a higher price point here though, with former Morston Hall head chef and 2015 Great British Menu winner, Richard Bainbridge, as owner and head chef.
This is an independent review.