Norwich: Indulge Bar and Grill
What is different about Indulge starts with its looks. you can choose your cut of meat, specify how you want it cooked, select a flavoured rub of your liking, plus a “sop” and a sauce of your choice. But is it just an upmarket steakhouse?
They say that in Norfolk we like to do different, though on a night out in Norwich you might be forgiven for missing this between the Slugs and Lettuces, Pitcher and Pianos, Ha Has and all the rest of it. But one of the city's newest - and most popular - establishments is genuinely trying to break the mould. After an evening in Indulge you cannot help but realise that there are certain reasons why the mould exists, but let's not let that stop us cheering a brave, and mostly beautiful, effort.
The restaurant's PR company (this being a no-expense spared sort of enterprise in all sorts of ways) make much of the fact that this is a “unique concept”. What they are talking about is that you can choose your cut of meat, specify how you want it cooked, select a flavoured rub of your liking, plus a “sop” (a very silly word which means a flavouring drizzled over during cooking), plus a sauce of your choice. To me this makes it sound like little more than an upmarket steakhouse, not to mention that if you choose more than one of these you are likely to end up with the most confused piece of meat in history. Just imagine Mexican honey mustard drizzled over a Jamaican Jerk rub and finished off with Wildfire chilli and Southern Comfort. I'm not sure whether this is a treatment you would get in a brothel or a prison - or quite possibly both.
What is different about Indulge starts with its looks. The nondescript former Hogshead, which has been empty these last couple of years, has become a cavernous but remarkably elegant space. There are chairs backed in beautiful, slightly kitsch fabrics in shades of purple, an of-the-moment black chandelier in the hallway and beautiful silver wallpaper that leads you upstairs to the restaurant (downstairs being a bar area where you can also eat).
The doing different continues with classic films being shown silently on various screens dotted around the place, but this was just one idea too many. Reserving one room as somewhere one might actually watch a bit of a film with a beer or two might have been quite a nice idea, but as it was Audrey Hepburn simply clashed with the rest of the décor.
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Still, we readily forgave them this, since there were plenty of other ideas that worked. Complimentary popcorn comes in ceramic pots that cleverly resemble a slightly crushed plastic cup. Appetisers arrive on rather gorgeous wooden platters. But the menu was one of those reminding-you-why-the-mould-exists moments - huge and folded up like a concertina, it looked great but was the devil to read. And really, the substance of the menu is complex enough without making things any more difficult. First there are appetisers, and dishes which can be ordered in “sample” or “ample” portions. There are 15 different burger toppings, plus the previously-mentioned torture chamber of meat treatments, plus a dozen side dishes (of which you must choose one if you have ordered an ample portion), and seven kinds of sausage. And this is before you have even got to the salads, or sharing platters, or desserts. “I don't understand,” said the man at the next table. “All I want is a burger.”
Fortunately, all this effort is rewarded by the food. An appetiser of simple nachos with salsa and sour cream dips was generous for the price and did the job nicely; mini peppers stuffed with cream cheese had a nice balance of blandness and heat, though deep-frying them did them no favours.
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A main of lamb noisettes had no noticeable trace of their Moroccan spice rub, which was no great loss since the meat itself was full of flavour. It was a first-class bit of sheep, though the cynical would say that so it should be for £13.50. Mozzarella, tomato and olive grills turned out to be a sort of upmarket veggie burger with a full, smoky flavour that would put most burgers, of whatever persuasion, to shame.
Being a greedy pair, we shared a sample portion of skewered butternut squash and halloumi, an inspired combination whose only fault was that it was not big enough. Though thanks to some exciting sweet potato chips and some handcut not-quite-crispy-enough chips-cum-potato wedges, we were much too full for dessert, though I feel confident that a brownie and fruit skewer with warm chocolate fondue may well be the food of the gods.
We left applauding the fact that someone had made the kind of investment that these days usually gets left to the chain places. There are one or two things still to iron out - the bottled bitter on the drinks menu is still to arrive a month after opening, while £2.50 seems remarkably steep for a glass of fruit juice, especially when the house wine is the same price.
The thing with doing different is that you win some, you lose some, but probably the most important thing is to try.
t Indulge Grill and Bar, 1 Queen Street, Norwich; 01603 666868; www.lovetoindulge.com
t Parking? Usual city centre free-for-all.
t Smoking? There is a non-smoking room downstairs.
t Do I need to book? For the upstairs restaurant, but not otherwise.