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‘Clever dishes with big flavours’ - our reviewer’s take on city restaurant

PUBLISHED: 06:30 03 October 2020 | UPDATED: 06:43 03 October 2020

Restaurant review at the Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub in Norwich. Picture: LAUREN COPE

Restaurant review at the Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub in Norwich. Picture: LAUREN COPE

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There are certain restaurants which quickly build social media momentum.

Restaurant review at the Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub in Norwich. Picture: LAUREN COPERestaurant review at the Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub in Norwich. Picture: LAUREN COPE

Whether it’s a beautiful backdrop or stand-out dish, if elements capture the digital imagination it can become a powerful marketing tool.

What it does risk, of course, is a case of style over substance - looking great in a phone square doesn’t equate to an unforgettable experience.

The Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub on Magdalen Road, has certainly gained a following. Since it opened last July - headed up by Jimmy Preston, who previously worked at Galton Blackiston’s No 1 in Cromer - I’ve seen photo after photo of its imaginative dishes, which take inspiration from countries all over the world.

They look great, and my hopes were high for our early evening booking, when the pub was slowly starting to fill and we were one of three tables eating.

The Artichoke pub in Norwich. Picture : ANTONY KELLYThe Artichoke pub in Norwich. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

The menu is concise and dishes sit somewhere between sharers and mains - they’re larger (and from £7.50 to £11 on the main menu, slightly more expensive) than what you’d see with tapas, but cheaper than many mains.

We were advised that three dishes is about ideal for two, so opted for the Asian watermelon salad (£7.50), pad kra pao flat bread with minced and shoulder pork (£11) and the massaman beef short rib (£14 off the specials menu), as well as a portion of their togarashi fries (£3).

It was pretty perfect ordering - the lightness of the watermelon salad, with sweet and salty nuoc cham (a Vietnamese dipping sauce with fish sauce, lime juice and sugar), freshness of mint and coriander, crunch of peanuts and mild heat of pickled chillis was a light, refreshing addition to our meaty, more indulgent plates.

The flat bread was laden with pork (both minced and shoulder), oyster sauce and fragrant Thai basil, a fried egg sat in the middle and it was topped with chilli, crispy onions and spring onion.

Restaurant review at the Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub in Norwich. The watermelon salad. Picture: LAUREN COPERestaurant review at the Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub in Norwich. The watermelon salad. Picture: LAUREN COPE

I’m desperate to recreate this. It was elegant comfort food, packed with flavour and texture (I headed straight for the more yolky bites) and I’d happily order it for one with a beer.

The fries were crispy and coated in togarashi, a Japanese assortment of dried chilli peppers and other seasonings including ginger and seaweed, which gave a punch of heat.

But the star of the meal was our slow-roast short rib of beef, with a massaman reduction and beef dripping flatbread.

I’d eyed this up on their Instagram last week and was pleased to see it still on the specials menu. The creamy, nutty heat of massaman curry is my go-to when ordering Thai, and this modern take was spectacular.

The Artichoke pub on Magdalen Road in Norwich. Picture: Neil DidsburyThe Artichoke pub on Magdalen Road in Norwich. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Melt-in-the-mouth beef, served in the rich spicy sauce, with a fluffy flatbread to mop it up. Crispy, barely-there noodles on top changed the texture. Roll-your-eyes-good. I’d recommend a trip here for that alone.

For dessert, we had the dulche de leche Basque cheesecake (£7) (the other option was a raspberry sorbet toasted marshmallow biscuit crumb for £7), which was velvety smooth. Wonderful.

Setting

Restaurant review at the Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub in Norwich. The pork flatbread. Picture: LAUREN COPERestaurant review at the Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub in Norwich. The pork flatbread. Picture: LAUREN COPE

The Artichoke is a spacious pub, with a modern and clean decor. There’s fairy lights dotted around and it’s open and light. There’s plenty of tables inside, but more seating outside if you prefer.

Service

Friendly, helpful and quick. Staff wore masks, we did test and trace on our way in and there was hand sanitiser where needed. The bar menu can be accessed by using a QR code on your phone, so it’s all very social distancing-friendly.

The Artichoke pub on Magdalen Road in Norwich. Picture: Neil DidsburyThe Artichoke pub on Magdalen Road in Norwich. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Drinks

The Artichoke has 20 lines of draught beer and a huge selection of craft beer and ciders. Given that it’s a pub, there’s also the usual soft drinks and a range of wines. It was Oktoberfest for our meal, so we both had a Paulaner (£5 each).

Restaurant review at the Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub in Norwich. The massaman beef short rib. Picture: LAUREN COPERestaurant review at the Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub in Norwich. The massaman beef short rib. Picture: LAUREN COPE

Accessibility

There are a couple of steps to get into the building, but it’s spacious inside and on one level. There’s also access to the toilets from another outside door. The menu is marked up with vegan and vegetarian options.

Toilets

Restaurant review at the Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub in Norwich. Picture: LAUREN COPERestaurant review at the Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub in Norwich. Picture: LAUREN COPE

Clean cubicles, no issues.

Parking

We parked in a nearby street which had a two-hour limit, but, in busy NR3, it’s not the easiest place to park. It is, though, well-connected by buses and is a stone’s throw from the city centre.

Restaurant review at the Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub in Norwich. The togarashi fries. Picture: LAUREN COPERestaurant review at the Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub in Norwich. The togarashi fries. Picture: LAUREN COPE

Value for money

We paid £52.50 for the two drinks, four main dishes and a dessert to share, which I felt for the quality was great value. Portion sizes weren’t small.

Restaurant review at the Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub in Norwich. The dulce de leche cheesecake. Picture: LAUREN COPERestaurant review at the Xo Kitchen, based at the Artichoke pub in Norwich. The dulce de leche cheesecake. Picture: LAUREN COPE

Summary

Certainly not a case of style over substance. Really well thought-out, clever dishes which are beautifully presented and deliver big flavours. There’s plenty of amazing food in Norwich, but the Xo Kitchen is exciting.

Disclaimer: Our food reviews are always independent. They are the opinion of the reviewer based on their experience of the venue when they visited. The establishment is not aware of our visit, is not informed we intend to write a review and bills are paid by the reviewer. The choice of places reviewed is also independent and is not based on venues which do or do not advertise in our publications.

Our reviews are published every Saturday morning.

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