Norwich: Café Parisien
TONY COOPER Everyone in the supper party agreed that it was a most harmonious and entertaining evening. It followed on from most of them (as part of the Festival Chorus) singing their hearts' out in Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem at St Andrew's Hall, one of the highlights of this year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival, the largest arts festival of its kind in the region.
Everyone in the supper party agreed that it was a most harmonious and entertaining evening. It followed on from most of them (as part of the Festival Chorus) singing their hearts' out in Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem at St Andrew's Hall, one of the highlights of this year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival, the largest arts festival of its kind in the region.
The performance was like a thunderbolt out of the sky - and forceful rain showered upon us as we made our way along St George's Street to Café Parisien for the after-show party. We passed over the wrought-iron bridge designed by Sir John Soane and caught up with the night brigade holed up in the Playhouse bar listening to hip-hop, rap and the like rather than music by some old (albeit revered) 19th-century opera composer by the name of Joe Green.
Such a contrast in music styles, I thought, reflected the rich and varied cultural life of Norwich, a city rich in its musical heritage and now equally rich and varied in its choice of restaurants with St George's Street and the surrounding area offering cuisine from a multitude of countries making it a nice cosmopolitan area in which to enjoy a night out.
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When we arrived at Café Parisien - a little bit of contemporary France in the heart of old Norwich - Romain Robert, its patron, greeted us warmly. He loves the food business. But, I guess, he should do as he hails from Paris, one of the great gourmet capitals of the world.
Before coming to Britain about a decade ago he worked in several European countries gaining valuable experience. And since being here he has enjoyed working at some very salubrious establishments - Simpson's-in-the-Strand is just one of them. When he got hitched to a local girl, he settled in Norwich and that was most definitely a gain for the city.
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His grounding as a cook and as a restaurateur came from two brilliant chefs in Paris where his family owned a variety of restaurants. His father was also a big influence. He held a good position as maitre-d'hotel of the Elysee Palace under the reign of President Mitterand. Here was a man who loved his food.
With a party of 18 the menu was under siege straightaway and truly tested and, I'm pleased to say, passed with flying colours. Here's to the Tricolor! Wave that flag!
The starters were delectable - they usually are here. I went for salmon and crayfish with rocket finished off with a nice aioli dressing with cherry tomatoes. Opposite, I spied a deep dish of rich tomato and chorizo soup. Being an avid soup eater I eyed it up and thought, next time for sure! My immediate neighbour enjoyed a large dish of scallops with a cream and chive sauce. What the rest of the gang had I can't remember, but I don't think anyone went for that great French delicacy - snails. If you've got the taste for them, the dish (costing £4.25) is served with six of the best finished with a parsley and garlic sauce.
Fillet of beef served with mushrooms in an appetising St Augur sauce provided me with a wonderful main course that I soon polished off. Looking at what the others had proved an interesting game. Beef bourguignon seemed the most popular choice, followed by guinea fowl breast in a rich wild mushroom sauce. Both cost £11.95 each.
Side orders come as an extra at £2.95 each apart from one at £3.15. That's not too bad! A smooth French cabernet savignon (£10.95 a bottle) proved the right choice. But wine is good here as Romain personally picks each to complement his menu. They range from traditional and classic labels to lesser-known ones.
Timing is everything in a large party and the starters, just as the main courses, were all brought to the table in rapid succession. And that's not so easy as it sounds!
Pudding time came and went and came back again. It always does. And after a good interval I cannot resist. When the dish I had chosen came to the table (banana flambéed in a chocolate sauce) it set the ball rolling. It was simply delicious! All desserts are priced at £4.50.
Further along the line, shared desserts were the order of the day and one that looked divine was the combination of five desserts served on one plate at £5.95. Picking at a pud is a pleasant way to round off a meal apart, of course, from having a cognac or coffee. When we drifted into Sunday morning I felt it was a bit too late for port and cheese. But that's what I would have had if time allowed.
And if you're in celebratory mood and want to lash out on a bottle of champagne, you've got two of the best to choose from: Jean-Pierre Marniquet at £26.50 or Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin at £42.50. Sacre bleu!
A quick menu is also available for anyone wanting lunch (from 12 noon) or a pre-theatre supper (from 5.30pm). Two courses cost £12.95 while three £15.95. Or you can enjoy a steak au poivre for the modest price of £9.95 and get a free glass of wine into the bargain! That sounds pretty attractive.
Vive la France!
t Café Parisien, 13/15 St George's Street, Norwich; 01603 628900.
t Where is it? Opposite Norwich Playhouse, and near to Norwich School of Art and Design, Norwich Gallery and St Andrew's Hall.
t Any parking? There's some street parking nearby plus St Andrew's multi-storey car-park in Duke Street and a surface car-park in Colegate, reached by Calvert Street and Golden Dog Lane.
t Do I need to book? It's certainly advisable, especially at weekends, or when there's something on at the Playhouse or in St Andrew's Hall.