Roger Hickman's restaurant, Norwich
Sarah BrealeyIn its heyday Adlard's was the dining destination for Norwich gourmets, a safe bet for a special occasion and the city's sole holder of a Michelin star.Click here for more detailsSarah Brealey
In its heyday Adlard's was the dining destination for Norwich gourmets, a safe bet for a special occasion and the city's sole holder of a Michelin star. After it was sold by David Adlard it was never quite the same, and it closed in late 2008. Now it has been resurrected by its former head chef, Roger Hickman, who has shared his name with the restaurant. There is no ebullient David Adlard to welcome diners, but there is still an air of quiet elegance, and food which shows a mastery of its craft. Eating there is like encountering an old friend years later - you are not sure whether you are disconcerted by the similarities or the differences. After a refurbishment the walls are a neutral cream, and small pictures, mostly black and white and spare in style, on the walls. Prices seem a little lower, or at least no higher - �35 for three courses and the associated bells and whistles (olives, appetiser, pre-dessert), or �30 for two. Frankly, it is not worth saving the �5. Just treat yourself, sit back and enjoy the procession of courses.
The pre-starter was a little cup of Jerusalem artichoke soup, which managed to make something astonishingly tasty out of this humble root vegetable. It was accompanied by a pair of good quality bread rolls, one brown, one white, just slightly marred by not having been warmed all the way through. Later, seconds were offered and accepted, and these were more thoroughly warmed. The other half's starter of scallops with pork belly was a real joy - 'melt-in-the-mouth scallops, with melt-in-the-mouth pork belly', as he put it. A risotto of butternut squash was not quite in the same league, but still expertly done. It had also been scattered with flakes of sea salt, which made it a little salty for my taste. Like the scallops, it came garnished with pea shoots, which added a vibrant fresh pea flavour and just the slightest crunch. My main course - globe artichoke with curly kale, wild mushrooms and a parmesan cream - sounded a bit pedestrian on the page but proved to be perfection on the plate. The cream sauce had an unexpected richness and depth, and the whole thing proved that you do not always need meat to make an interesting dish. The other half enjoyed his venison, which came sliced with red onion, fondant potato, saut�ed cabbage and a port sauce. If it did not quite reach the dizzy heights of his starter, this was probably because there's only so much you can do with venison, cabbage and potato. The pre-dessert came in a dainty glass, with pretty layers of yoghurt, stewed prunes and tea-flavoured whipped cream. Prunes have never been my favourite fruit, but this was a pretty good way to use them, and they matched well with the tea flavour.
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A dessert described as chocolate and hazelnut cake with chocolate jelly was different to the impression given by the menu, though not necessarily the worse for that. The man at the next table looked thrilled with his. 'I've got three desserts,' he crowed. There was a slice of hazelnut tart, topped with a scoop of gloriously intense chocolate ice-cream. Then there was a tube of dark chocolate, pointing skywards like a tower, and filled with hazelnut mousse, tasting like a very superior Nutella. Finally there were a couple of spoonfuls of chocolate jelly, which was nice enough, but made me reflect that there is possibly a reason why you do not usually come across chocolate jelly. The whole thing though, was a real delight - it danced on your tastebuds and was clever with it. It was perhaps the most complex of the dishes, and reminded me of a dessert I once had at Tom Aikens' Michelin-starred restaurant in London, where Mr Hickman has worked. Cheese is available as a separate course for another �8. Many is the otherwise decent restaurant which has let itself down with a mediocre cheeseboard, but this was the real thing: a board groaning with eight different specimens, from local Binham Blue to something delightfully runny and French. My favourite was a new one on me - Oxford Isis, a beautifully pungent washed-rind cheese. The wine list, helpfully arranged by style, starts at �16 and goes up to �68 (or more if you want to splash out on Cristal). There are plenty of options in between and we had a decent Merlot Grenache for �21.
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It goes without saying that the service is impeccable, with a small army of black-clad waiting staff. They offered to top up our drinks, but weren't pushy about it. It also goes without saying that every dish is beautiful, and focused more on quality than quantity - though with three courses and all the nibbles, no-one wants a plate loaded with food. So has Roger Hickman achieved his aim of running Norwich's top restaurant? It is early days, but I think he might just have done.
Need to know:
- Where is it? Roger Hickman's restaurant is on Upper St Giles, Norwich.
- Do I need to book? Yes, especially in the evening. 01603 633522.
- Parking? No, but there is some onstreet parking in the evenings or you can use one of the car parks nearby.
- Vegetarian options? Yes, there should always be one starter and one main course.
- Disabled access? The restaurant is on the ground floor but the toilets are not adapted.
- When is it open? Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, plus some Sundays on special occasions, eg, Mother's Day