Norwich: The Wine Press

It is less than a stone's throw from the market place, but the people that throng the streets of Norwich mostly pass by the Wine Press. Tucked away in a little courtyard off the market place, venturing through the passageway and down the steps is an act of the determined or the curious.

It is less than a stone's throw from the market place, but the people that throng the streets of Norwich mostly pass by the Wine Press. Tucked away in a little courtyard off the market place, venturing through the passageway and down the steps is an act of the determined or the curious.

But over the years it has built up its fans as a relaxed place for a drink, while it has still to make its mark on the foodie scene. We were on our fourth visit before we ordered food - not with any great anticipation, but the result was a pleasant surprise. The lack of excitement may have been something to do with the décor. Italian coffee posters on the wall and an ill-advised brown and yellow carpet suggest a style that was of-the-moment at some time in the 90s but now looks rather dated. Still, it is pleasant enough, with a couple of squashy sofas in the bar area and a cavernous restaurant area behind. There are also tables and chairs in the courtyard for warm weather.

During our lunchtime visit the Real Ale Drinker became slightly self-conscious upon noticing that he was the only one in there. I'm not sure if it is the name that puts the men off, but there were plenty of women, mostly thirty-something but with a sprinkling of older ladies. Think Look East presenters, ladies who lunch, solicitors and the odd shopper and you will have the general idea. Whether as a cause or effect of this female domination, there was no proper beer ('they could easily keep a couple of bottled ales in the fridge', complained my companion). Instead there was plenty of lager, spirits and the like, and a wine list which was respectable, but not long enough to confirm the impression given by the name, which rather suggests that this might be a wine bar. The Real Ale Drinker made do with a reasonable glass of Rioja, while I stuck to a pink grapefruit juice.

Food arrived after a slightly longer delay than was comfortable (they do have a selection of sandwiches and jacket potatoes if you are in a rush) but made up for it by being better than our expectations. It is not quite clear from the menu what to expect - there are the run-of-the-mill dishes like lasagne and steak and wraps, plus a couple of more interesting dishes and a good range of mezze plates. The mezze are probably the way to get the most out of the Wine Press, particularly with a few friends and a few glasses of wine, though the smaller size plates can double up as a meal for one. There are three meaty and three veggie options, covering everything from Greek meatballs to grilled sweet potato and corn on the cob. My plate included salty-sharp feta, marinated with herbs, some “demi-dried” tomatoes (think the flavour of sun-dried, but without the texture of leather), and a couple of artichoke hearts. There was also some aubergine paste which, despite the name, was quite the sexiest thing I have had on a plate in a long time, with a silky texture and intense, almost smoky flavour. If I was being picky, then ciabatta and perhaps some olive oil might have been nicer than the grilled baguette slices which accompanied it, but the whole was a very pleasing meal.


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The Real Ale Drinker, who had made gloomy predictions about the quality of the food, was taken aback by the quality of his grilled sardines. There were five of them, hot and fat and with the skin just peeling off in patches. And there was salad, and a huge quantity of the by-now-familiar grilled baguette - which we thought would have been nicer replaced by new potatoes, or perhaps some of the skinny chips which the ladies around us were busy eating one at a time, with their fingers.

Being exceedingly greedy, we also shared a plate of nachos, an unsubtle and cholesterol-raising combination which I nevertheless have a soft spot for. The Wine Press version again exceeded expectations, with a chunky, good-quality guacamole with visible avocado pieces, and a freshly made salsa heaving with chopped tomato, onion and courgette. There was the obligatory sour cream and melted cheese, plus the making of the perfect nachos - little fire-bombs of sliced jalapeno scattered over the dish.

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We were so impressed, we returned for lunch a few days later - only to be disappointed by flabby potato wedges and a mezze plate featuring chicken pieces and Moroccan paste that did not taste of anything much. A different mezze selection was rather better, but by now the Real Ale Drinker was vowing never to return. The moral of the story being, choose what you order carefully - and that great expectations are the ruin of many a meal.

t The Wine Press, Woburn Court, Guildhall Hill; 01603 622134

t Where is it? Off the market place in Norwich, entrance via a passageway next to the taxi rank by Tesco Metro.

t Do I need to book? Not generally.

t Is there disabled access? Not really - you have to go down a flight of steps before you get in.

t Smoking? Allowed.

t Parking? Anywhere in the city centre you can - you could try the St Giles or St Andrews car parks.

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