How is the food at one of Norfolk's most unique eateries? Stuart Anderson headed to M's of Aylsham to find out.

The town of Aylsham has turned into a bit of a hub for foodies. 

In 2004 it became the second small community in the country to join Cittaslow, an international network focused on local food culture. And the town hosts annual events to celebrate fine fare such as the Big Norfolk Sausage Bash and the Aylsham Food Festival. 

Eastern Daily Press: M's of Aylsham, in Red Lion Street.M's of Aylsham, in Red Lion Street. (Image: Stuart Anderson)

So it is no surprise that food lies at the heart of the regeneration of the town's centre.

And a cornerstone of this has been bringing a former ironmongers on the Market Place which had sat vacant for many years back into use. 

Several businesses operate from this grand building, and one of them, at the Red Lion Street end, is M’s. 

Eastern Daily Press: The baked camembert at M's of Aylsham.The baked camembert at M's of Aylsham. (Image: Stuart Anderson)

It’s an unusual mix, combining a fishmongery, a seafood-tilted tapas restaurant and a cocktail bar all in a cosy little venue. 

We tried it out a little earlier in the winter, the warm yellow lights inside promising a snug respite from the midday chill. 

This is a place where food is to be shared. The menu lists about a dozen tapas dishes, or you can go for one of three grazing boards - either cheese, charcuterie or seafood.

It all sounded so tempting, but we quickly agreed the baked camembert from the tapas menu (£9.50) would be an excellent way to start the meal. 

Cheddar may be far and away the UK’s favourite variety, but for my money, there’s no nicer way to enjoy cheese than share a pot of pipping hot and runny camembert with crunchy bread.

The cheese was served with a sprig of rosemary, and the bread came with a pot of caramelised red onion chutney. 

The sweetness of the chutney balanced out the savoury cheese beautifully, and the bread was fresh and crusty.

For two people, this wasn’t a small starter, and by the time we were wiping the pot for the final morsels of that delicious cheese, we felt well on the way to contented stomachs.  

Next up came another tapas dish, the beef meatballs (£7).

Eastern Daily Press: The beef meatballs at M's of Aylsham.The beef meatballs at M's of Aylsham. (Image: Stuart Anderson)

These were in a rich, red sauce of tomato, garlic and onion, and tasted lovely although I could have used a bit of extra bread on the side.

Then as our ‘main’, we went for what has to be M’s signature dish and the most expensive food item on the menu - the seafood grazing board (£20).

There was a lot on this large fish-shaped plate, so let me go through the different items and give a little critique of each. 

Eastern Daily Press: The seafood platter at M's of Aylsham.The seafood platter at M's of Aylsham. (Image: Stuart Anderson)

First, the bread: Plenty more of that crunchy sourdough was provided, ideal as a counter to the sauces and richer seafood. 

Smoked mackerel: There were a couple of fillets of this served cold and dry. Mackerel isn't my favourite fish, but this was lovely, the smokey taste lingering on my tongue after every bite.

Hot smoked salmon: This large portion was probably the best salmon I’ve ever tasted, flakey and melt-in-your-mouth.

Crayfish tails: Probably my favourite part of the meal, these felt as fresh as they had just come out of the water. 

Cromer crab: A turned-up crab shell crowned the plate, garnished with one of its claws. The meat - and there was plenty of it - had that particular sweet tang that is typical of Norfolk-caught crab, a trait they say is down to the chalk reef and nutrient-rich waters that characterise its marine environment.

I was happy to leave most of the crab to my wife, and she completely cleaned out the shell.

The plate also came with a seafood sauce, aioli and a couple of slices of lemon for extra flavour.

All together it was excellent, and easily enough as a main meal for two.

Eastern Daily Press: Bread Source in Aylsham.Bread Source in Aylsham. (Image: Stuart Anderson)

There seemed to be nothing sweet on offer to finish off with, so we settled up and headed back out into the cold.

We didn’t have to wander too far before realising that the former ironmongers building also houses a branch of that now decade-old institution - Bread Source - the only one, in fact, outside Norwich. 

We got an ad hoc selection - a carrot cake (£3), a chocolate cookie (£1.80) and pain au chocolat (£2.20), to take away, and we ate them in the car before driving home. 

Eastern Daily Press: A chocolate cookie from Bread SourceA chocolate cookie from Bread Source (Image: Stuart Anderson)

The cookie was perfectly crispy on the outside and gooey in the centre, and the pain au chocolat cracked up satisfyingly into flakes when I bit into it.  

Small, but perfectly formed is how you could describe M’s. There is, regardless, a range of spots to sit: A higher table with stools, a low table with armchairs and another table or two.

It was virtually empty when we were there but I can imagine when visitors are enjoying a cocktail or three in the evening it’s a very convivial place to be.

Eastern Daily Press: The carrot cake from Bread Source in Aylsham.The carrot cake from Bread Source in Aylsham. (Image: Stuart Anderson)

Our total bill from M’s was £40.80 two the baked cheese, meatballs, seafood platter and two drinks. It was a lot of very good food, so this was great value. At Bread Source, we spent £7 for three takeaway pastries/cakes, which is not too shabby either. 

M’s is famous for its cocktails, and even introduced a ‘bottomless brunch’ with unlimited cocktails, prosecco and beer late last year. But we kept things simple, I had a glass of Coke (£1.80) and my wife had a pot of tea (£2.50).

Although we arrived without a booking just after 2pm - so when you would expect lunchtime traffic to be ebbing away - we were seated with a smile. The owner prepared our food promptly and was happy to answer our questions, so excellent service. 

There’s a bathroom which was clean and tidy when I visited. 

There should be no problem for anyone with mobility issues in getting around inside - although it's a small venue, there is plenty of space to move about.

Highlight and summary
Although the camembert was excellent, the highlight would have to be the seafood platter. This was a real treat with a range of local produce to try and something I’d very much like to eat again. 

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 that do or do not advertise in our publication.

If you like that, try these...

Black Boys, Aylsham - Of the town’s several pubs, this is the most prominent, sitting as it does at the top of the Market Place. The portions here are huge and the grub is delicious.

Biddy's Kitchen, Market Place, Aylsham - This cosy tea room has the same vintage look and feel as its counterpart in the Norwich Lanes. It's a great spot to relax over a few scones and a hot brew.

The New Forge, Aylsham - Just south of the roundabout at the bottom end of town, this pub has a cosy, relaxed feel and a roaring fireplace in winter. If you're hungry, you have a choice between British pub classics or Thai dishes.