Food 2011 – Roger Hickman’s, Norwich

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Saturday, 14th May 2011 – Roger Hickman’s, Norwich

A weekend at Snetterton is not a cheerful thing, and therefore if we have to race there, then there has to be some sort of balance to the weekend, usually in the shape of the best meal we can find. This time, after a brief search of the Michelin guide online, we booked ourselves a table at Roger Hickman’s which used to be Adlard’s, which as I recall was a highly recommended but now sadly extinct restaurant. Now it’s being run by the ex-head chef at that establishment, Roger Hickman, and by most accounts (apart from some Tripadvisor reviewers) it’s going great guns. Anyway, we duly arrived at the restaurant after circling the town centre more than once, and parked up. On stepping inside the initial impression was certainly positive if more relaxed than some of the “posher” restaurants in the UK. The place was full and the atmosphere was lively. It felt slightly odd to walk straight into the dining area with no front desk or bar to stop the importunate lurching in, but we were quickly seated at our table, and offered an aperitif along with the menus. We all pretended to study carefully, but really all eyes were drawn to the tasting menu, and it was really a formality that saw all three of us decide it would be churlish not to go for it, and to take the wine flight that went with it. And so, it very short order, after we finished our kirs, we were handed a glass of prosecco, or to be precise NV Prosecco, Delle Venezie.

This was served along with a tiny pot of the Chef’s Appetiser, a chicken liver parfait under a foamy cover.

It was so rich you couldn’t have eaten much of it and so delicious that I would have been happy with just that and some good bread, which was duly forthcoming.

However, there was more to come, this time a Crab Salad with Avocado Puree, Lemon Grass Mousse and Confit Tomatoes. I love crab, but am ambivalent at best about avocado. However, it was good, and the lemon grass mousse was an interesting and worthy contrast, being both incredibly light and quite robustly flavoured. With it we drank a Chancet Rocks, Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, kicking off a New World wine tour.

Next course was Roast Smoked Salmon with Mushroom Duxelle and Poached Quails Eggs, which was an interesting step up from the crab, being stronger flavoured, and more solid in texture too. The mushroom duxelle were beautiful and the quail’s eggs were gooey as they should be; and knowing how hard it is to deal with quail’s eggs after I fried 12 of them last year for a rather outré breakfast, I have nothing but admiration for anyone who can get through the shells and leave the yolks intact, let alone poach them to perfection. The wine this time round was a lovely rose, Felicite, Newton Johnson, Sauvignon/Shiraz from South Africa and was sufficiently lively to be able to compete.

The next course could have made a main in itself but was actually just there to soften us up, which it duly did. A Warm Beef Salad with Truffle Potatoes and Pickled Mushrooms was full of earthy flavours, both from the beef and the truffles, and the pickled mushrooms were intriguing, not a flavour I could really compare with anything I’d tried before. With it we drank a splendidly robust Explorer Concha Toro, Carmenere from Chile. I have a soft spot for South American red wines, and this was a splendid example of the breed.

By now we were starting to get a bit shell shocked, though in a good way, so we asked the waiters to slow the service down. They duly obliged (something I’ve always appreciated in the front of house side of restaurants), so we drank some more water, and eventually we felt we were ready for the piece de resistance, at least to my mind. Now I believe that duck is the food of the gods so Roast Duck Breast with Roast Carrots and Crispy Egg was pretty much always going to be my idea of heaven. And so it proved, with the lovely, rich duck setting off the sweetness of the carrots, but also the unctuousness of the egg yolk (once you’d got through the delicately crunchy coating). It certainly catapulted itself up there among the best things I’ve eaten all year (and it’s been a good year so far). I also loved the wine, Bain’s Kloof, Pioneer’s Reserve, Merlot from South Africa, which reminded me that I really should start to investigate the wines of SA more closely. So many countries, so much wine, so little time!

Another pause and then we moved on to a Selection of Cheese with a glass each of Late Bottle Vintage Port. The portions were thankfully sane in size and it didn’t come with the normal British accompaniments (so often unnecessary I think) of biscuits, grapes, celery, butter and chutney. No, there were simply a handful of perfectly ripe cheeses, just enough to finish off any remaining red wine with, before the port, but not so much that any normal diner would feel they might explode if they ate everything in front of them. I do know people who would have been complaining about the portion sizes by this point, but we were filling up alarmingly, and felt the portions were perfect. But then, there are people who mistake quantity for quality…

And then we were presented with a small white spoon with a pre-dessert on it, a ball of some sort of Passion Fruit Mousse which we were advised to pop into our mouths in one go… We did as we were told and were hit with essence of passion fruit. Very good indeed although it does seem everyone’s doing the molecular thing these days – however, not always quite as well as this.

And finally we hit dessert, feeling alarmingly full now. However, the dessert was delicate and small, and a delight both to look at with the pink and gold hues of Poached Strawberries with Honeycomb, and Clotted Cream Ice Cream, and to eat, with the perfume of honey and strawberries mingling together and making an explosion in the mouth. This was also the point where the quality of the service made itself felt… Glyn was waving his arms about and managed to knock his dessert wine over. An almost full glass of wine went all over the table. Almost before the glass landed, one of the waiters was there cleaning up the mess, and then, without a word, a new full glass appeared at his elbow. And I’m very sorry that I can’t right now record what the wine was… It was far too good to throw all over the table anyway…

And then it was after midnight and we were finishing off with coffee and some tiny but wonderfully sticky and dense chocolate truffle petit fours which I didn’t take a photo of but we did demolish. Even emerging from the restaurant to find we’d got a parking ticket didn’t dampen our spirits much, though having to get up at 08:00 to get to the track the following morning wasn’t our idea.

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