Jive Kitchen & Bar review: 'Complex flavours in a deeply cool setting'
PUBLISHED: 09:52 07 July 2019 | UPDATED: 06:41 08 July 2019
It's been making (Mexican) waves for the past few years, but does Norwich's Jive Kitchen and Bar live up to all the hype? Stuart Anderson went to find out.
There's something about stepping into deeply cool places like Jive Kitchen and Bar I find compelling.
Having opened a couple of years ago after a campervan trip around Mexico, the team aimed to bring a splash of Latin American street food to Norwich.
In keeping with the theme, they turned a multi-storey city centre into something resembling a hurriedly-renovated Bogata tenement.
It's impressively done, with colourful artwork standing out against distressed brick and render walls, drinks specials doodled on a roll of paper above the bar and exposed lighting fixtures.
The overall effect is slight drab, which seems intended to help make the riotously rich and colourful food stand out even more than it already does.
Each dish we tried looked and tasted like nothing I'd ever experienced, and each morsel certainly jived its way across my tastebuds.
We shared a starter of masa fried chicken wings (£7), which came in coated in a screaming habanero butter sauce and covered in sesame seeds.
They were hot and spicy and messy and delicious, and came with a little pot of cream to quench the flames.
My partner went for a couple of tacos as her main - the hanger steak (£7.50) and the pork belly (£7). First impression - amazing presentation. Both tacos coming out looking like miniature abstract artworks. They were served on the same plate and were about a million miles from Old El Paso - if that's your idea of regular Mexican cuisine.
The blue corn tortillas were round and flat and looked and tasted a bit like small vinyl records. But what the bases lacked for taste, the toppings above more than made up for.
The hanger steak taco was bursting with Korean flair, with sprinkles of kimchi and firey gochujang mayo. There were also slivers of crispy potato over a runny bed of bone marrow butter, which brought the whole thing down to earth.
The pork taco was tangy and sweet, with hints of garlic, and was done in a chipotle adobo seasoning. There were also bits of pickled onion and slatherings of barbecue pineapple salsa, just for an extra kick.
I opted for a burrito. The offering is brief here: You can choose either a meaty one with beef brisket barbecoa, or a veggie one with re-fried lentils. I went for the beef, and boy, wasn't there a lot of it!
Not that it looked that way when the plate came out though, with the burrito carefully carved into two so you can see varying layers of orange rice, purple shredded cabbage and green guacamole, which comes for £2 extra.
It was a deceptively big dish, with loads of brawny brisket tucked away under the folds of the wrap, all of it tender and topped with cheese and a lovely salsa called ranchera. The ingredients were fresh and offered a complex range of flavours - again not quite like anything I've had before.
And just like the wings and probably the tacos, the burrito was something you could manage with your hands, in the best street food tradition.
As a side, we got a bowl of loaded fries (£7), which, just like everything else, was presented beautifully. The fried potatoes were topped with cheese, ranch sauce, barbecoa brisket and had spring onion greens scattered on top so the whole thing didn't appear entirely sinful. I've heard it said these are the best loaded fries in the city, which I can easily believe.
Although our bellies were all but full, we split a pot of churros for dessert (£6.50) - it was either that or ice cream - Jive's only options for an end-of-meal sweetener.
The churros were soft, doughy sticks powdered with cinnamon sugar and they came with a bowl of butterscotch sauce for dipping - they tasted divine and I found myself wishing we had ordered a second helping.
How does it measure up?
The drinks offering is far more extensive than the food, with a long list of tequilas and similar mezcals, cocktails, several Mexican beer, floats and more.
I went for the 'smoke stack' cocktail (£8) made with mezcal, aperol, pineapple, ginger and lime, which gave me a nice buzz. I also had a glass of coke (£2.50) because the cocktail had vanished within about three minutes. My partner went for a tequilas sunrise float with a dollop of vanilla ice (£5) which was also very good.
Location and ambiance
Jive is in the heart of Norwich, just opposite Jarrolds in Exchange Street and has a lovely view over the market and Gentleman's Walk. It's laid-back and casual.
Staff were quick and polite and were happy to answer questions about the dishes. It took about 90 minutes for us to be served three courses, which is spot on in my book.
The nearest car parks are at the Forum and St Giles, with St Andrews only a five-minute walk away
There is, however, usually a long line of taxis right outside at the rank in front of the Guildhall.
A couple of unisex stalls are up a floor from the bar. Very clean and tidy.
Our total bill for a starter, two mains, a side, a dessert and three drinks came to £65.50. That's probably more than you'd pay in a Medico City diner, but great value on this side of the pond.
I'd have to say the masa fried chicken wings starter because that sauce was so intense and unlike anything else I'd ever had.
Would I eat there again? Although I could probably chomp my way through the entire contents of their skimpy one-page menu in a long afternoon, there's no question I'd go back to Jive. It's a cosy little place, and the complexity and otherness of the food are well worth a repeat performance.
Our reviews are conducted without a restaurant's prior knowledge and are an independent account of our visit.