Norwich: Mishka's Champagne and Caviar Bar at St Giles House
DAVID WAKEFIELD The menu in Mishka’s is fairly small, and is clearly aimed at those who prefer a light (even possibly a liquid) lunch.
My wife and I see eye-to-eye about lots of things; but, just occasionally, there is an issue about which we will never agree, and recognise the fact. One of these is the thorny subject of wine served by the glass, something which I have felt for years is frequently, at best, a rip-off; and just occasionally, downright robbery.
I can just about put up with the prices charged if the wine is served a) straight from a bottle, and not from a hideous bar dispenser or, worse still, one of those communal hoses that also pumps out Coke, tonic water and other soft drinks; b) at the correct temperature; and c) is not Liebfraumilch.
I suppose we had kept these views to ourselves until a few years ago when my brother - who has a droll way with a story, particularly when told against himself - was visiting, and related a wine experience.
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He and his wife had been in London for the day to see a show, and fancied a pre-theatre drink. Visiting a well-known wine bar in Leicester Square they chose (without scrutinising the price-list) two glasses of a fairly ordinary Chardonnay; he offered a £10 note to the barman and was somewhat taken aback to be asked for another £1.50. As a result he indicated to his wife that she had better enjoy it as no more would be forthcoming!
This, naturally, set me off. My argument is always based on sheer economics, knowing full well that the whole bottle can be obtained from a supermarket at about half the price that we sometimes pay for a glass; thus, in some cases, mark-ups are scandalous. My wife takes the more aesthetic route, arguing that we are paying as much - possibly true, in the case of the West End - for the ambience, and the chance to people-watch, as well as the wine. She also (although hasn't said as much) probably feels that I should be more magnanimous when it comes to treating her to a drink…
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Thus it was that some of this might have been on my mind as we walked into Mishka's Champagne and Caviar Bar, one of the attractive eateries within the walls of the recently-opened St Giles House Hotel, in Norwich. It was the end of a week's holiday, and we felt like rounding it off in style, rather than partaking of our usual coffee and snack during a hard day's shopping in the city.
St Giles House is a handsome building, with its neo-classical façade, and was formerly occupied by British Telecom, and then an insurance company which was part of Norwich Union. Wandering into the equally impressive reception area, we were greeted by a pleasant girl in a smart suit, guided up some steps into this art-deco themed bar/restaurant, and to some comfortable armchairs to await our order.
I have to say that the ambience struck me as being rather civilised - a real haven on a busy Saturday lunchtime. We were not alone; the only other incumbents were two smartly-dressed ladies, possibly a mother and daughter, at one of the tables in the eating area. The background music was tasteful and unobtrusive.
The menu in Mishka's is fairly small, and is clearly aimed at those who prefer a light (even possibly a liquid) lunch. The liquid in question is - hence the bar's name - based mainly around champagne, and a wide range is available, with Louis Roederer Cristal - the almost obligatory tipple of the celeb brigade - topping the list at a tad under £200 a bottle.
Restraining ourselves, we chose, instead, the Sauvignon Blanc - two large glasses (£4.25 each) for my wife and myself, and a small glass (£3.75) for daughter. Spotting a well-known glint in my wife's eye, I said nothing, and concentrated on the aesthetics which, I have to say, were pleasing.
What's more, the wine was served well and went down a treat with the two blini dishes that we shared between the three of us - the house smoked salmon at £8.95 and the goat's cheese and green tomato jam at £7.95. These were generous helpings and quite sufficient for our needs, though we could have chosen various larger cold plates: Brie, sun-dried tomato and spinach tart (£10.95) or Charcuterie with pickles and beetroot chutney (£12.95) for example. Those really wanting to push the boat out can order Osietra caviar at £60 for 30g or £90 for 50g.
So, a most pleasant lunch break then, aided by good food and wine, and impeccable service. The identity name on our bill indicated that our young and ultra-polite waiter's name was Ferenc, which suggested he might have been Hungarian. As much as I would liked to have chatted to him about the great Puskas, who shared his christian name, he was probably far too young to know what I was talking about.
By now the mum and daughter had gone, and we were left alone. Possibly Mishka's Bar has yet to be fully discovered, but it can be heartily recommended for that extra special lunchtime break.
As for the wine…well, on this occasion my wife was right. This time the aesthetics won hands down.
t Mishka's Champagne and Caviar Bar at St Giles House Hotel, 45 St Giles Street, Norwich; 01603 275180; www.stgileshouse.com
t Parking? On-street parking is scarce and meter-controlled, but there are several pay car parks close by.
t Need to book? On the evidence of our visit possibly not. But if you want to make sure, then call.
t Suitable for children? No.
t What about disabled guests? A problem in that there is a flight of steps leading up to Mishka's. But again, call the hotel for further advice.