Norwich: Brummells Seafood Restaurant
Brummells is not talked about, but it should be. Not because it is fashionable, for it is quite the reverse, but because the food is top-notch, the portions generous and the experience worthy of a special occasion.
A less likely inhabitant of Magdalen Street can hardly be imagined. There among the curry houses, charity shops, kebab merchants and ethnic stores is one of Norwich's most expensive restaurants. It is something of a conundrum: Brummells' pricing places it among the likes of Adlards, Tatlers, and, say, the Merchants of Colegate in the elite of Norwich restaurants. Adlard's is to be found on genteel Upper St Giles, the Merchants on equally genteel Colegate, and as for Tatlers, Tombland is, if not genteel, at least fashionable. Magdalen Street is neither.
Some would call it “edgy”; in any case, it is not where you expect to find a top-drawer seafood restaurant. Perhaps it is because of this that the curtains at Brummells are invariably closed. Were they not, its diners would have a fine view of the kebab shop opposite, which is perhaps not what you want as you are eating your seafood platter.
On the other hand, those walking past are left none the wiser about what lies within, whether it is even open (the fact that the door is down a side passageway does nothing to help this), apart from to conclude from the menu that it is rather expensive.
And, as a general rule, they walk on.
Brummells is not talked about, but it should be. Not because it is fashionable, for it is quite the reverse, but because the food is top-notch, the portions generous and the experience worthy of a special occasion. As indeed, not to labour the point, is the bill.
The building dates from the 17th century, and the décor is a mixture of old-fashioned country pub and aquarium: think old wooden planes on the walls, nestling among drawings of every species of fish and seafood to be found on the menu, plus a few more besides. It is not a place that speaks of a wish to be cutting-edge, and the menu bears this out. Those who go for a starter will receive a sorbet between courses. Not exactly old-fashioned, but these days if you are offered a little freebie, it tends to be an amuse-bouche or a pre-dessert, while sorbet is usually to be found on the dessert menu. The menu is stuffed with classics: lobster thermidor, Dover sole simply grilled and served with lemon, cod with provencale sauce. There is barely a dish on the menu that would have seemed out of place 10 or even 20 years ago, which is not a criticism, but nevertheless unusual in an age where restaurants follow fashion as much as anything else. The chefs (Andrew Brummell is assisted by John O'Sullivan) would no doubt say that what is important is to let good ingredients speak for themselves, and they would be right.
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So we started with sardine fillets, served with chilli oil on a bed of beansprouts, which had exactly the right subtle note of chilli. A “gateau of sweet peppers” was a pretty little thing, with three shades of roasted pepper interleaved with a soft Welsh goats' cheese.
Next was skate wing served with black butter, which came with a little mound of samphire nestling on top. The menu promised a whole wing, which materialised as two enormous triangles of fish, one on top of the other, probably twice as much fish as you would expect. The vegetarian main course is not the obvious thing to have in this temple of seafood, but very good it is nonetheless. A reworking of a perennial starter from the menu, seafood pancakes topped with Ilchester ale cheese, this was wild mushroom and spinach pancakes, topped with cheese and served with a creamy sauce. Again, nothing up-to-the-minute about it, but that mattered not a bit amongst the richness of the mushrooms and the heart-stopping creaminess of the sauce.
The other half, who enquired about the variety of vegetables when given a choice of vegetables or salad, was told there was “a good selection”. Never was a truer word spoken. Ten different vegetables duly appeared, nicely cooked, notable for including Brussels sprouts, though it was June, and a little pot of red cabbage which had been braised thoughtfully with spices and perhaps a touch of cider vinegar.
We were too full to try any desserts, though the amaretto and dark chocolate pot looked tempting, and the home-made ice-cream doubtless worth trying. With a nice bottle of Rioja for £19, the bill was £70 plus tip as it was. Not that we regretted a penny of it. Brummells is not a place to dine every week, but it is a place to push the boat out. The wine list features Cristal for £200 and Chateau Petrus for £480, and fine cognacs at prices from the reasonable to the dizzying. Or if you would rather splash out on food than on wine, drink the house wine at £3.75 a glass and indulge with a seafood platter for £35. Either way, you can be sure of an evening to remember.
t Where is it? Brummells Seafood Restaurant, 7 Magdalen Street, Norwich; 01603 625555; www.brummells.co.uk
t Parking? You can park on-street in the evening, or car park options include Anglia Square and Colegate car parks.
t What about vegetarians? There is a vegetarian starter; there is a vegetarian main course too, though it is not listed on the menu.
t Do I need to book? It was quiet when we visited midweek, but it is best to book so they know you are coming.