Normal for Norfolk

Saturday, September 22nd , 2007

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My venture to Norfolk went reasonably well. I am a true Londoner at heart, despite my upbringing in Somerset, so I always have unreasonable city worries about the countryside, not so much Deliverance-style fears as about the standard of food I am likely to encounter. When we were driving down there are actually several places on the road atlas on the way to Norwich marked "danger zone", which turned out to be military firing ranges rather than the locations of the Little Chefs en route as I had first suspected. Still, Norwich has always (or at least for 17 years) had Adlards, a solitary Michelin-starred culinary beacon. It was quite a simple affair inside, and I felt odd oddly trendy, being the youngest diner there by a couple of decades. The British food was very attractively presented e.g. a salad of langoustines and leeks (pictured). Ingredients were quite good though not really top- drawer, and this showed up in an unmemorable crab salad, whose simplicity means that it depends on perfect crab. Technique was also mostly good rather than faultless: my loin of pork was slightly overcooked. Desserts were not as good as the rest of the meal, with a coffee and hazelnut cake with overly sweet pastry cream.

I suspect the glory days of Adlards are past, as this was really a 4/10 level meal rather than the 6/10 one might hope for from a Michelin starred place, though I don’t doubt that it shines in this location. The restaurant in fact closes for good today, which I am fairly sure was unconnected with my visit. I have to say that the service, though slow, was fine, and I didn’t encounter any "NFN"s (in the Lancet a few years ago it was reported that doctors were now forbidden from writing NFN in the notes of some patients, which meant Normal for Norfolk).

Safely back in my natural habitat, I was in need of a curry and went back to old favourite Diwana Bhel Poori near Euston. I have been eating here even since I came to London, and it is a bastion of reliability that ignores the march of time. The bhel poori snack here is a wonderful thing, bits of crushed poori, onions and potato pieces laced with very fresh spices with a little tamarind taste. They also make superb samosas here, fat parcels of spicy potato filling livened up by spices so lively that they seem to have only just been ground. Bhajia is a far cry from the onion bhaji that you encounter in high street places, here little balls of vegetables and spices deep fried and served with a lively tomato sauce. Good sweet lassi is an excellent foil to the heat of the chilli. Prices are going up here, and it is possible to spend as much as £15 a head, but there is always the £6.50 all you can eat lunch if that seems excessive.

Zafferano produced its usual terrific summer vegetable salad and this time we had a nibble of stunning bruschetta, one piece with grilled wild mushrooms, the other topped with the stunning cherry tomatoes that they get here three times a week from the markets of Italy. The toast was coated with a little garlic butter, just enough to add an extra taste but not so much as to dominate the tomatoes. To take such a simple thing as bruschetta and make it into something wonderful is to me the mark of a fine restaurant.

The most notable meal of the week was at Texture, the French restaurant that has sprung up in the place of the much lamented Deya near Portman Square. Quite why a Best Western hotel who can’t even be bothered to replace faulty lettering over their door should be host to a high class restaurant is beyond me, but there it is. The Icelandic chef here had made it to head chef at Le Manoir, and so I was hoping for something interesting. I was not disappointed, as several very ambitious dishes began to roll out, from superb scallops with "textures of cauliflower" to lovely black-leg chicken (pictured) with an oriental dressing. There were flaws in the meal e.g. a rather ordinary crab salad that needed some extra dimension to lift it, a mixed quality cheese board and a difficult, overly modern, dessert menu, but this was still a breath of fresh air to me. For the last two years in London all we seem to have had is bistros and gastropubs , and finally here is someone trying to actually make exciting, top of the range food. Good luck to chef Agnar Sverrison. The restaurant has only been open ten days and for me this is already at one Michelin star level.

I must apologise to those who tuned in to "Grandad’s Back in Business on Monday on BBC2 expecting to see me. It appears that my scene found its way onto the cutting room floor. We had shot a scene which was a rehearsal dinner prior to the final night’s meal, where the chefs could try out their three course menu on a restaurant critic. I can only assume that since my comments were perilously similar to those the chef panel made the following night that they decided it looked repetitive and dropped it, which was a shame. For what it is worth the young trainee chef was clearly better than the Navy cook, who in particular struggled with sauces that tasted like some 1970s throwback. It would have been nice if the BBC could have been bothered to warn me that they were dropping my scene, but then this is an organisation that can’t even name a kitten these days.

Next week - Portugal.