Food review, Roger Hickman’s: ‘Effortlessly elegant dining’
- Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis
“Where’s this restaurant again?” my veggie friend Rach queried as we ambled along Norwich’s Upper St Giles Street.
Rather stealthy this place. Unassuming. In fact, unless you know what RH stands for (Roger Hickman’s) there’s very little that gives the chef’s eponymous restaurant away.
Nestled alongside bustling, popular destinations such as The Plant Den, St Gile’s Pantry and Bread Source, Roger Hickman’s, bathed in a neutral grey, doesn’t scream ‘look at me’.
In fact, you can’t see inside thanks to the veiled window dressing. It’s all rather mysterious. Which, I think, adds to the appeal. It’s quite clever if you ask me. Want to see inside? You’ll have to book a table.
We were in for lunch. Stepping off the busy street into Hickman’s is soothing. Blues and greys lick the walls. Lighting is low and ambient to the point that, if you couldn’t see out the window, you wouldn’t know if it’s night or day.
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The split-level dining room is all banquettes, comfy chairs, pressed linen, twinkling glasses, but nothing brash or shouty. The space serves as a frame to show off the food – which is, after all, what you’re going there for.
A glance at the menu. It's, in one word, concise. Just a few options for each course, plus the tasting menu. And an impressive wine list, coupled with a range of local spirits and beers.
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A short menu makes my heart sing. It means the food is fresh, and the kitchen is generating minimal waste – both essential to succeed these days.
Before I move onto the food, I really want to make a point of stressing just how good the service is here. From start to finish it was nothing short of wonderful. Informative, friendly, so welcoming. The team worked fluidly together to ensure service ran smoothly - in fact, it was a quite balletic to watch. We both commented on the waiting team throughout and after our meal.
Lunch was the seven-course tasting menu (£50) which we had with wine pairings (£80).
To begin, a biscuitty glass of prosecco, so malty it almost verged on heading into Champagne territory. A good start.
Next up we were presented with our pre-starter, served in dainty bowls the shape of upturned sea urchins. Inside were precisely cubed pieces of sweet watermelon, tumbled with feta curds, coriander cress, toasted pine nuts and salty dried black olives. A refreshing, palate-juicing bowl that set us up nicely for the meal to come.
But first, rosemary focaccia with marigold yellow butter. And a proper butter knife. Not that these things matter, but as a point of detail we rather liked that they’d gone to the effort.
I’m going to get unashamedly poncy in my description of the starter of heritage tomato salad, in that I found it to be a ‘crescendo’ of flavour. From top to bottom, the intensity of the fruit was demonstrated. A light tomato froth, hiding tiny sweet heritage baby toms and sliced bigger specimens and fragments of delicate tomato gel. All this, nested over a rich, deeply savoury concasse, which intensified the potent glutamates (the fruit is one of the most umami in the veg patch when cooked) of the tomato. Texture came from crunchy fried onions and spring onion. And a splash of basil oil tied the plate together.
Served alongside was a glass of Vermentino Domaine Des Yeuses from the Languedoc region. A match made in heaven with the tomatoes, being grassy and almost herbaceous on the nose, with hints of buttered nectarine and citrus.
Second up was a verdant pea and mascarpone risotto, served al dente, and running through with the sweet, nutty flavour of pure pea – enhanced by pea shoots, which are usually superfluous and to be picked off the plate, but worked in harmony here. The few meaty nuggets of crumbed cod cheek on top worked a treat. All that let the bowl down was a too-thick Parmesan crisp, which erred on the side of rubbery.
The wine match was Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough. Another herbaceous wine on the nose, with hints of tomato vine. On tasting, that classic injection of gooseberry was there, with honeysuckle, a touch of grapefruit, and a slice of salinity.
I bow to the next plate of tender chicken breast. It can be such a boring (and dry) meat, but the kitchen team at Hickman’s had done the bird justice. It arrived succulent and buttery, with a hint of tarragon, dressed in a creamy grain mustard sauce, with sweet shallot puree, pickled shallot, sauteed chestnut mushrooms and broad beans. Classic cooking at its best.
Rachel’s vegetarian ‘main course’ was a mash up between a warm salad and a pasta dish. Thin, delicate tortellini of gutsy mushroom sat atop spinach, frilly chanterelles, bites of sliced radish, lentils and green beans. Substantial and filled with flavour.
I’m on the lookout for a bottle of the Soraie Cecilia Beretta Veneto IGT wine (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Corvina and Croatina grapes) that paired with these plates. What a stunning wine! It reminded me of a young Beaujolais, being gently bosky on the nose, opening on the palate with ripe sugar plums, jam, and a touch of tar. Gorgeously drinkable.
On the cheese plate (with crackers and quince paste), I’d like to have seen some local varieties, but what was there was all good stuff – and it had been brought to temperature, not fetched cold straight from the fridge.
Goats’ cheese was slid over onto Rachel’s plate (I can’t stand the stuff), while I tucked into fudgy, long-aged salty Old Amsterdam gouda, one of my favourite blue cheeses (Ireland’s Cashel), and perennially popular Black Bomber.
It came with a glass of late bottled vintage port, and was swiftly followed by a cleanser of raspberry (strawberry for me) sorbet with Champagne foam.
Our last ‘proper’ course was Eton mess. Hands up, I’ve never ordered this dessert before. It's the kind of thing my mates and I throw together at the end of a summer dinner party when we can’t be bothered to cook. But here, like the intrigue of not knowing what’s inside the building, the bowl concealed secrets. Delicious secrets. The kind of mess I could live in.
Fresh strawberries. A green-tasting strawberry and basil gel foam. Strawberry sorbet. Tonka bean meringue shards. Clotted cream parfait. Pistachio cremeaux. Blimey, it was almost enough to induce a When Harry Met Sally Moment!
I was equally enamoured by the paired Sauternes, Chateau Laville from Bordeaux. A luscious drop. Sauternes can sometimes launch an assault on the senses with its piercing varnishy top notes. This was a much gentler affair. One of golden sultanas, toffee and even pineapple. It was light, rather than oily. A must-try.
The meal was rounded off with tea for me, coffee for Rach, and a generous plate of shortbreads and chocolate truffles. The ganache had sadly split and gone grainy – not that I’m complaining – it's chocolate.
What more can I say, apart from this was an experience that was practically perfect in every way.
It’s definitely worth finding out what lies behind the curtains.