Food review: The Maids Head Hotel -'the best meal I've had in years'

Hand dived scallop, herb stuffed chicken wing, chorizo mayonnaise, lemon dressing

Hand dived scallop, herb stuffed chicken wing, chorizo mayonnaise, lemon dressing - Credit: Rosanna Elliott

A hotel restaurant may not be the obvious dinner destination if you aren't staying at said hotel, but after trying the food at The Maids Head in Norwich's historic Tombland, I'm extremely glad we strayed from the beaten track.

When we were first considering eating there, it was with the view of sampling their 'casual dining' offering in the newly opened spring courtyard. The prospect of ordering sandwiches, quiche, or fish and chips was, however, put out of our minds when we caught a glimpse of the enticing a la carte menu, so when we arrived we changed tack and committed to investing a bit more time and money in the experience.

The spring courtyard at The Maids Head Hotel in Norwich's Tombland.

The spring courtyard at The Maids Head Hotel in Norwich's Tombland. - Credit: Rosanna Elliott

The prospect of passing a few hours in the courtyard was certainly a pleasant one. The pretty hanging flowers and foliage, paired with sturdy but decorative heaters, made for a lovely setting for a meal and as we had come by straight from work on a Monday, by the time we'd settled in we were the only couple in the space as most had opted to eat inside the Wine Press restaurant instead. Having all that space to ourselves felt like a real luxury, and we joked that we were getting a taste of how celebrities live when they book out entire venues for an intimate meal - though to his credit John Travolta seemed very content to mingle with us locals in his recent visits to various Norfolk watering holes.

The menu (£36 for two courses, £45 for three) that had tempted us away from our original plans boasted such a variety of delicious sounding dishes that my partner and I did have some trouble choosing our starters. While we waited, we were presented with a complimentary amuse bouche of the chef's design, a dinky mug of a foamy broccoli and stilton concoction. It was something that I would never have ordered, but it was absolutely delicious, light, moreish and full of flavour. It gently reminded me of the potential rewards of stepping outside your culinary comfort zone.

What we eventually decided on for starters was the homemade duck prosciutto, crispy egg yolk, celeriac remoulade, truffle dressing, and rocket cress for my partner, and I chose the hand dived scallop, herb stuffed chicken wing, chorizo mayonnaise, and lemon dressing. Both dishes looked stunning when they arrived and I realised it had been years since we had made the effort to have a truly special dining experience, and this impromptu visit to a hotel restaurant was turning in to one.

Homemade duck prosciutto, crispy egg yolk, celeriac remoulade, truffle dressing, rocket cress.

Homemade duck prosciutto, crispy egg yolk, celeriac remoulade, truffle dressing, rocket cress. - Credit: Rosanna Elliott

The starters tasted as good as they looked. My partner's duck dish, which I eagerly tried when he offered, was a wonderful balance of salty and citrusy flavours and I really enjoyed the range of textures, from the gooey egg yolk to the fresh, crunchy celeriac. My scallops were sweet and delicate which worked beautifully with the punchier flavours of the herb stuffed chicken thigh and chorizo mayonnaise. The presentation and portion sizes were artful and left us anticipating the quality of the next course.

Hand dived scallop, herb stuffed chicken wing, chorizo mayonnaise, lemon dressing

Hand dived scallop, herb stuffed chicken wing, chorizo mayonnaise, lemon dressing - Credit: Rosanna Elliott

For his main, my partner went for the marinated sirloin of beef, braised brisket en crepinette, brown butter pomme puree, tenderstem broccoli, horseradish emulsion, pickled shallots, and red wine jus. He really savoured the beef and described the cooking as  "perfect". Again, I tried some of his food and it was the kind of dish that makes you let out a contented sigh.

Marinated sirloin of beef, braised brisket en crepinette, brown butter pomme puree, tenderstem broccoli

Marinated sirloin of beef, braised brisket en crepinette, brown butter pomme puree, tenderstem broccoli, horseradish emulsion, pickled shallots, red wine jus. - Credit: Rosanna Elliott

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For my main I ordered pan fried cod, tempura lobster, saffron confit potatoes, braised fennel,  and a lobster bisque. The bisque seemed to somewhat disappear on pouring, but there was nothing at all missing from the dish. The cod was wonderfully savoury and the fennel added a fresh, aromatic dimension. I've had saffron flavoured dishes before and haven't been particularly keen, but it really worked here and the small piece of tempura lobster was sweet and succulent beneath the batter. 

Pan fried cod, tempura lobster, saffron confit potatoes, braised fennel, lobster bisque.

Pan fried cod, tempura lobster, saffron confit potatoes, braised fennel, lobster bisque. - Credit: Rosanna Elliott

For our final course my partner chose warm honey sponge, glazed fig, ginger snap, and chestnut ice cream. He again generously gave me free reign to have a taste and it was a really lovely dessert - not too sweet and the spongey indulgence of the cake was complemented beautifully by the delicious, subtle chestnut ice cream.

Warm honey sponge, glazed fig, ginger snap, chestnut ice cream

Warm honey sponge, glazed fig, ginger snap, chestnut ice cream. - Credit: Rosanna Elliott

Every dish we ate felt luxurious, indulgent and memorable. I finished the meal with an excellent cheeseboard of Norfolk cheeses and felt completely satisfied.

Norfolk cheese, carrot & golden raisin chutney, pickled celery, grapes, crackers.

Norfolk cheese, carrot & golden raisin chutney, pickled celery, grapes, crackers. - Credit: Rosanna Elliott

Setting

The spring courtyard is an idyllic space to enjoy a meal, my partner and I have been together for a long time now, but we couldn't help feeling like we were on a romantic date due to the charming setting. You may not want to eat under the light cover in a thunderstorm, but on mild evenings it is perfect.

Drinks

We were shown an extensive menu of wines, spirits and cocktails. I can't imagine anyone not being able to find something to their taste, but trying to curb the costs a little, we just had a large bottle of sparkling water for the table, which was very refreshing.

Value 

The bill for food came to £90, which for three courses each of this quality felt an entirely fair price. It was definitely quite a bit more than we would usually spend on eating out, as with sparkling water, coffees and the service charge, the total bill came in at over £100, but it really was the best food we have had in years and a night we will remember. I would definitely like to go back for a special occasion as I'm confident the food would be wonderful.

Toilets 
We were so swept up with the food and the atmosphere that neither of us remembered to check out the toilets! The attention to detail and presentation of the rest of the hotel would suggest the toilets are perfectly decent at the very least.

Accessibility 
The  main restaurant seemed accessible, and the hotel has wheelchair accessible rooms, but the spring courtyard itself may need a little rearranging for guests who use a wheelchair, as while there were plenty of available tables when we went, they were quite tightly packed together so it took a little manoeuvring at certain tables to pull chairs out.

Service 
Our hostess was very friendly, prompt and attentive without being at all invasive. We couldn't have asked for better service, we were never kept waiting and I wouldn't have minded if we were at the surroundings were so pleasant.

Highlight 
Getting to eat such a special meal on a mundane Monday evening.

If you like that, try these...

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Frizz & Fromage, Wroxham

A cheese-lover's heaven.

The King's Arms, Reepham

A quintessentially Norfolk pub.

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.