Don’t wait for restaurant week - great value eating in Norwich is available every week
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Andy Newman says get out and enjoy a meal for a reasonable price in January
My last column before Christmas seems to have struck a nerve with readers. You may remember that I urged you to visit our local restaurants in January and February, on the basis that in the current climate, even the most successful independent establishment is never more than a couple of lean months away from disappearing.
This plea to 'use them or lose them' was given extra urgency this week, when the Norwich-based Centre for Retail Research revealed that more than 10,400 jobs were lost in the restaurant industry in 2018 – an average of 30 every day.
Among several readers who wrote in response to my column was Steve Mackinder from Denver, near Downham Market, who accused me of 'living to eat' (guilty as charged), and also complained that my mission appears to be to persuade everyone that 'shelling out £60 a head for six tiny pieces of smoked salmon, a scattering of salad and some drips of exotic jus followed by two fancy potatoes, cabbage and a pork chop (more dripped jus) followed by a milky cardamom posset' is good value (to which accusation I plead not guilty).
Mr Mackinder says that during Norfolk Restaurant Week, eateries were 'knocking out superb grub at £25 for three courses', and laments that such promotional weeks don't happen more often.
Well, I have some good news for Mr Mackinder. Whilst I do occasionally push the boat out for a special occasion, like him I am always on the lookout for good value in restaurants. He will no doubt be happy to hear that the £25 menu is very much alive and kicking in our local independent establishments, week in, week out.
Even at the very top end, such value is to be had – Richard Bainbridge's Benedict's Restaurant has a three-course lunch menu for £22. There is no choice – you get what you are given. But what you are given is cooking of the very top order.
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Norwich's other three-Rosette restaurant, Roger Hickman's, has a lunch menu at £28; slightly over Mr Mackinder's budget, but nevertheless sensational value given that there is a choice of four dishes for each course, and you get a free amuse-bouche as well – and probably the best cooking in the city.
Even within the strictures of a £25 budget, there are plenty of choices Bishop's in the city has a three-course lunch menu for £21 (three choices for each course), and nearby Farmyard offers a £19 three-course lunch menu, also with three choices for each course.
Closer to Mr Mackinder's West Norfolk home is Market Bistro in King's Lynn, where the set lunch menu (albeit with a limited choice of dishes) is only a pound over his target spend of £25.
If eating in the middle of the day is inconvenient for Mr Mackinder, he needs to head to Norwich's Last Wine Bar, where the three-course set menu, offering half a dozen choices for each course, is an astonishing £18 – and available every evening except Saturday, as well as at lunchtimes.
Order from the huge choice of wines available by the carafe, and you can enjoy a meal with wine for Mr Mackinder's budget of £50 for two.
All of these are excellent, locally-owned, independent restaurants which champion the best of Norfolk's produce. I am sure that a quarter of an hour spent on Google will throw up many more examples of similar good value.
Mr Mackinder says 'why not another Restaurant Week in February?' The answer is that the value he seeks is available every week – and I'm sure our local eateries would be only too pleased to welcome him any time.
Incidentally, all of this is in stark contrast to a big-name chain restaurant where I ate recently. I ordered a ribeye steak, which cost an eye-watering £27.95. Imagine how shocked I was when I found out that this only got you a plate with the steak itself and a small bunch of watercress; if I wanted chips and a peppercorn sauce, that was an extra £6.50.
Trendy the place may be – but I won't be going back.