Norwich: Kitchen and Bar at Erpingham House
DAVID WAKEFIELD Erpingham House is a beautiful building, with huge, original windows and high ceilings, which offer an ambience to lift the spirit before a morsel is ever set before you. Plus, it is a good vantage point to watch the comings and goings in Tombland on a busy Saturday evening.
Eating out in Tombland, Norwich, can be a confusing matter. Once upon a time there was a well-established restaurant called The Aquarium, housed in elegant Erpingham House; The Aquarium then became, rather trendily, Shine, but for only for quite a short period.
Now it's changed names again and has become Kitchen and Bar at Erpingham House. Which is, in culinary terms, a bit of a mouthful.
But that's not important. Any fresh outlet in the city is always welcome and, this provides yet another contrasting eaterie to complement an already varied and eclectic menu in this area of Norwich. The restaurant is now owned by Knightlife, the company that operates the Orgasmic in Queen Street, at which really good, uncomplicated food is available. So we turned up with a good deal of anticipation.
We have always enjoyed visiting Erpingham House, no matter what name it happens to be operating under. To begin with it is a beautiful building, with huge, original windows and high ceilings, which offer an ambience to lift the spirit before a morsel is ever set before you. Plus, it is a good vantage point to watch the comings and goings in Tombland on a busy Saturday evening.
The new restaurant, as the name suggests, also has a separate bar - although it is no longer operating, as did Shine, as a nightclub (although a private members' club is planned). Consequently, the need was felt to have the ubiquitous pair of security men on the door. I understand why this is, but it's not something that, being a trifle old-fashioned, I feel comfortable with. However, full marks to the guys at Erpingham House, who opened the door for us and offered a cheery “good evening” as we arrived. Perhaps, after all, we didn't look like troublemakers.
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Once inside, the smiles were also present with the (predominantly female and young) front of house staff and we were shown promptly to our table. In its various existences, Erpingham House always enjoyed a sensible arrangement for dining tables - ie not too crowded - and I was pleased to see that the new owners have followed a similar pattern.
From the reasonably-priced wine list we selected a bottle of Pinot Grigio - certain of my friends will smile when they read this - and studied the menu (perhaps a little too attentively, but more of that later). Although the menu is not large, it is still varied, and seemed to us to be fairly imaginative in its choice.
My wife selected Thai-style fishcakes (£4.25) while I, being a big risotto fan, chose the smoked salmon risotto (£4.75). First impressions were most favourable; my wife enjoyed the tangy flavour of the lemongrass in the fishcakes and my risotto was spot-on - slightly sticky, as the blessed Jamie Oliver decrees in his recipe, and with a generous amount of fish, too.
A good start, then; unfortunately there was a slight hiccup with our main courses. My wife went for the stuffed pepper (£10.75) while I chose Mesquite salmon rashers (£8.95) and we shared a rocket and parmesan salad (£3.95). While these were fine so far as they went, my requested veg accompaniment of rosti potatoes turned out to be anything but. What I was served were parmentier potatoes (tiny cubes, deep fried) whereas potatoes done rosti style are grated. But they were tasty enough, and as my wife's pesto mash appeared to be absolutely fine, we kept quiet. Being rather full by this point we passed on the puddings and, with my coffee, our bill came to a reasonable £48.65.
We liked the Kitchen and Bar at Erpingham House. It was obvious that, with the new name and image, the staff were trying hard to make the right impression. So it's a shame when fairly obvious, and avoidable, clangers were present to spoil their hard work.
Unfortunately, we were not the only customers to notice the rosti bloomer, and some of our fellow diners were rather more forthcoming, and vociferous, in pointing it out to the waiting staff. Even more sadly, we were disappointed to find that an otherwise professional-looking menu was littered with spelling errors - for example: Sicilly (for Sicily), broccolli (for broccoli), Ceasar (for Caesar) and desert (instead of dessert) wine. And, to cap it all, my bill was presented under the heading “Erphingham House”.
Some might argue that, if the food is OK, then maybe these things don't matter. But I am sorry - they do. Wrongly-named dishes and grammatical bloomers on the menu give entirely the wrong impression, and it was obvious from our visit that this is something the staff at this restaurant were trying really hard not to do.
It didn't spoil our evening. The food was good, as was the service, and the atmosphere and ambience as good as ever it was in this fine old building. It's really a question of the whole operation getting its act together and giving it a bit more professional polish.
t Kitchen and Bar at Erpingham House, 22 Tombland, Norwich; 01603 630090
t Where is it? The restaurant is, appropriately, close to the Erpingham Gate at Norwich Cathedral.
t Parking: There are several car parks nearby, although you may be lucky enough to get one of the few on-street spaces available. Try either the Monastery or St Andrew's car parks.
t Suitable for disabled? There are several steep steps leading up to Erpingham House which could prove awkward.
t Suitable for children? Certainly not in the evenings. Lunchtimes, possibly.