The Belgian Monk, Norwich, restaurant review: Signature dishes impress but beware of going off-piste
- Credit: Geraldine Scott
Opened in 2000, The Belgian Monk in Norwich was designed to make the diner feel like they could be sitting in a kroeg in Bruges.
And stepping into the cosy eatery in the heart of the city's Lanes you could have been transported the 600 miles to the country famous for mussels and good beer.
When I visited The Belgian Monk with my friend Tom it was a weeknight, so it was quite quiet, although there was still a buzz about the place.
But even thought it was only a Thursday, we were not able to book a table and had to wing it.
My expectations were set high - not only did Tom rave about the place but a colleague dubbed the restaurant her favourite in the city, a high accolade indeed.
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But what I was left with was instead a feeling of mediocracy.
To start, I opted for mussels - the menu boasted The Belgian Monk was famous for them and they sold around 300 kilos per week.
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The varieties to choose from are almost endless, with quirky takes such as chorizo creeping on to the menu.
As a lover of all things seafood I chose a portion with added lobster, calamari, shrimps, scallops, clam meat, and prawns.
These were very tasty, well-cooked, and there was no shortage of them.
While Tom went for a vegan starter, the shakshuka, which he felt over-promised and under-delivered.
He although it had a nice texture it was 'far from the punchy paprika-laden dish that was promised'.
But he was soothed by his main course, the Espana tartiflette, a potato and cream which came with added chorizo, chilli, and bacon.
He admitted it was 'perhaps daunting in size for someone with a smaller stomach' but there was a decent amount of chorizo, and the fresh chillis were perfectly spicy.
'The freshly-baked roll served with it was excellent for soaking up the cheese sauce and satisfying my carb-on-carb cravings,' he said.
My mistake, and maybe the reason for my disappointment, was to deviate from the Belgian theme and try a steak, served with a mini tartiflette.
Although it was acceptable, and cooked correctly, it lacked a juiciness I was looking for, and the onion rings were no better than those found in my local kebab shop.
Both portion sizes were massive, leaving little room for dessert, but on offer were the classic chocolate brownie and cheesecake options.
Or for £4.25 the Koffie Delice gives you a cup of Belgian filter coffee served with a mini sweet treat.
To drink, we both tried one of the many beers on offer. Tom went for the apparently trademark cherry beer, while I tried to bosbier, which was made with blueberries.
Both were delicious.
Inside, the decor is traditional and the atmosphere lively, even when it was a bit emptier.
And outside it fits into the historical vibe of Norwich's Pottergate.
The waiting staff were all friendly, and happy to give advice on food.
But unfortunately we were seated right near the loos which although seemingly clean were a bit smelly - enough to put you off your meal!
Being slap bang in the middle of the city parking is both great - with St Giles and St Andrews car parks near by - and a pain, because it is tucked down a pedestrianised area.
But that does, of course, put you in the perfect location to move on to any of the city centre pubs for a night cap.
The price is pretty good - one of the restaurant's aims is to offer reasonable prices - for starters, mains, and a beer each we paid £60.30.
The highlight for both of us was the tartiflette, an indulgent serving of potato, cream, and other toppings which was really comforting.
Overall, I'd like to go back and give the place another shot, potentially sticking to what they are known best for this time. But this time I wasn't bowled over by what I tried.
This is an independent review.